Insert Coin: Engaging Learners with the Essentials of Game Design

Part 1 – Introduction

“Insert Coin to Continue…” You have 15 seconds to decide. You have another coin, but you could also walk away and play a different game. You have made it farther than ever before, level 22, just three levels away from completing the game. You know exactly what you would do differently next time. Five seconds left.  Walk away…or “Insert Coin”?

Lately there has been an explosion of books and speeches touting the engaging power of games. This newly rising field of study about how we can harness the power of games is called gamification. Now, companies are paying big money to tap into this power, expecting greater customer engagement. In fact there are many arenas in which this power might be useful, including education. Teachers are always looking for ways to get their students to engage with learning, to get them to insert just one more coin into their education. So why isn’t every educator applying gamification to their classes?

Gamification is a concept that is simultaneously gaining and losing traction in the educational community. When they first hear about it, eager educators are interested in the potential increased motivation that gamification promises. Yet some teachers are finding that gamification is not delivering the engaging environment for which they were hoping. This is because a busy teacher can easily get pulled into the trap of simply applying the most obvious gamification buzzwords without truly understanding how they fit into a larger context of game design. It is not surprising then that some educators have found that implementing these tools without proper planning can actually create a de-motivating environment for a majority of students.

Gamification is not about playing games, like Minecraft, in the classroom. That actually falls under the scope of Game Based Learning (see my previous article Gamification vs Game Based Learning). Gamification is not about Badges and Leaderboards. Those things are not mandatory and are often just a very small part of the gamified environment. Gamification is not about using technology. Some of the best gamification can be done with paper, pencil, and stickers. Gamification is about careful design and thoughtfully created learning experiences that leverage all of those fancy buzzwords.

So what’s the secret? How do you make this whole gamification thing work so that your students get the fun, motivating experience you wanted them to have in the first place? The “Insert Coin” blog series is intended to answer exactly that.

Let me start out by saying that there is no one singular way to do gamification right. It looks different in every classroom that I have visited because each gamified experience should be designed with a specific learning goal, and specific players, in mind. This means that, even though I will be showcasing examples from well-constructed gamified lessons, each reader will have to figure out a system that works for them. This also means that sometimes I will be giving not as much of a “how to”, but more of a “why to” as we look at the educational psychology that informs the general rules that will help you design your own gamified classroom.

The Insert Coin Series will start from the very beginning by addressing the justification for gamifying a lesson and then move into the specific tools and techniques that are more commonly seen in the educational sector. We will finish by talking about how to combine those tools in appropriate ways and also address what could, and probably will, go wrong as you set forth on this endeavor. This series is planned to be released in eight parts(or more?) with weekly updates. Get your quarters ready!

Up Next: Insert Coin: Part 2- Why Gamification?

Related articles: Gamification Defined for Educators and Gamification VS Game Based Learning.

Catch up on the Insert Coin Series! Part 1- Introduction / Part 2-Why Gamification? / Part 3- Essentials of Game Design / Part 4- Identity Elements / Part 5- Challenge Elements / Part 6- Feedback Elements / Part 7: Some Assembly Required / Part 8- Your Epic Fail / Part 9- Game On!


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