Insert Coin: Part 4- Identity Elements

Insert Coin: Part 4- Identity Elements

Who are your students? Who do you want them to become? Student identity is something that, intentionally or not, teachers contribute to creating everyday. One of the greatest rewards of gamification is that it gives the teacher a chance to temporarily modify the identity of the student and in doing so, hopefully modify the behavior of the student, at least within the game context. There are several ways that a teacher can influence student identity within a game by utilizing a variety of game elements. In this post, I will highlight three that are commonly seen in gamified classrooms.

The first, and possibly easiest to implement, is a narrative framework. Simply put, a gamified classroom can be more than just a set of rules and points; It can be an adventure. Perhaps your class will be settlers on a new continent, or deep sea explorers, or even UN diplomats.  Whichever story or theme you choose will determine the flavor of the rest of the game. A narrative framework not only helps put the students’ work in context, but also gives the whole class a fun, common language when discussing classroom rules and objectives. For example instead of calling quick assessments “quizzes,” in a detective themed narrative, they might be called “mysteries.”

There are many ways to create a narrative framework. A common method is to create a themed website that tells a story. A great example of this is “Clockwise” a site by Mr. Daley.  If you click around you will realize that his class is nothing more than an literature based ancient history class. However, his narrative structure allows the students to be time travellers who use literature to travel back in time. A more complex narrative framework is that of an alternate reality game. This type of narrative framework involves incorporating different media, such as social media, to continually advance the story. Twenty Twenty is an alternate reality game created by “The Teched Up Teacher.” In this example,  a Twitter feed is utilized to send students clues and information as the story or game unfolds. Of course the simplest way to tell a story is just by telling a story. It is as easy as saying “You are all meteorologists and we are going to be predicting the path of hurricanes in order to plan an evacuation route.” The only requirement for a narrative framework is creating an alternative, collective reality in which you and your students can play.  

3047085444_7ee4308a19Another way teachers can help students find identity in a gamified classrooms is through the use of avatars. Avatars are a representation of the player in the game. These representations can range anywhere from a nickname to a 3D online character. Some teachers write off avatars as a waste of time, but if used well, avatars can help students take chances in the classroom by creating a small buffer between the student and their failures. For a more in-depth analysis of avatars in the classroom, please read my previous article on the  3 Dimensions of Educational Avatars.

6972091704_a714310d16_bThe concept of guilds is yet another commonly utilized identity element. A guild is a group of individuals who combine their strengths to achieve a common goal. The biggest benefit to the guild system in a gamified classroom is that a teacher can simultaneously create an air of both cooperation and competition. Guild members can cooperate with each other while they compete with other guilds. The use of guilds increases the intensity of the collective success while alleviating the stress of failure by making it slightly less individualized. Guild members can share in their successes (and failures) as a team.

The art of identity creation is often overlooked in the classroom but it is one of the most important elements of the gamified classroom. In his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee encourages teachers to help students create an “identity of success.” It doesn’t matter if they are a CEO or a swamp monster. Just make sure that they feel successful.

Up Next:  Insert Coin: Part 5- Challenge Elements

Related articles:   3 Dimensions of Educational Avatars.

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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