Games are serious business globally. One of the most important emerging trends in international commerce and education is gamification. Strictly speaking, this refers to using game thinking and mechanics in environments we don’t normally associate with games to help guide and motivate participants to reach their goals.
Game designer and gaming advocate Jane McGonigal convincingly argues that many assumptions we make about games and gaming – as time-wasters or worse – simply don’t provide a full picture of why games are so popular worldwide.
McGonigal asserts the main reason young people like games is because they provide an efficient delivery system of the things all humans want: hard work, which can lead to complete absorption in a task; clear, immediate feedback; meaningful collaboration in activities that encourage community; and epic meaning from a narrative that makes sense of one’s actions.
Global companies are integrating gamification in ways that are so commonplace, we don’t even notice them. For example, when you purchase an item on Amazon, as you follow the status bar along the top of the page, it creates a visual narrative. From putting your item in your basket to completing your purchase, you have been gamified.
There are several strategies that can be used in classrooms worldwide to gamify learning spaces:
Leveling up. Games often reveal new content or environments as students show achievement. This is called “leveling up.” In the classroom, this might involve breaking a curricular project into five levels and rewarding and recognizing students as they progress through each. A class learning platform like Edmodo offers built-in capabilities to let you easily award badges to recognize a student’s achievement. Students get excited about reaching their new levels and associated badge images. For added engagement, let students help design the badges.
Missions. A key idea in gamification is framing ideas and tasks in a meaningful narrative. A simple way to achieve this is to frame an activity as a “mission,” a larger goal encompassing smaller related tasks.
Visual maps. It may be helpful to design, or have students design, a visual map of your mission, such as a village with four buildings (each with curricular content to complete). Content could be accessed physically in the classroom or digitally. For example, some platforms allow teachers and students to create folders with a variety of media: videos, images, articles and other web 2.0 content.
Suddenly, content may not only appear more digestible to students, but it’s also presented in a motivating and engaging format that invites them to progress.
Design a game. At its simplest, a game is a set of rules with artificial obstacles. Frame your content as a game with some basic narrative (perhaps a class trip to the moon), with overcoming each content step bringing them closer to the stated goal. This can give content even greater purpose in the eyes of the student. For maximum engagement, let students generate the narrative and obstacles.
Extended simulations. As you deepen your narrative, invite your learning community to take on roles in a simulated environment. Students and teachers can take on the names of characters in your narrative.
All of these starter ideas invite games’ biggest offerings into the classroom – an organized, productive and collaborative workspace with specific feedback about levels of achievement. With help from the playful nature of gamification, educators can tap into students’ innate sense of fun and imagination to seriously deepen engagement.
Raphael Raphael, Ph.D., has been an educator, technology director and faculty member in american and international schools and universities for 20 years. His works in film and media include “Transnational Stardom” with Russell Meeuf and the ISTE book Let’s Get Social: The Educator’s Guide to Edmodo with Ginger Carlson. He is also associate editor for the Journal Review of Disability Studies, and lectures for the University of Hawaii at Manoa.