Tag Archives: Gamification

4 Ways to Make School Fun

Games are fun. School is usually not. The idea behind Gamification is that if students are having fun, they might learn more. To truly understand Gamification we should ask a few questions: Why are games fun? How do they create that fun? How can schools co-opt these strategies to become more fun?  A possible source of answers is the 4 Keys 2 Fun model. Nicole Lazzaro has proposed four types of fun that players experience while playing games. Each type of fun is created through a specific set of objectives and conditions. While I do not completely agree with the nomenclature and all of the specifics this model presents, I still find it a useful framework for this discussion. I would like to walk through the four sources of gaming fun and examine how schools might capitalize on each of them.

victory_cat_by_oman96-d3kzkd2Mastery is Fun- In Lazzaro’s model, Hard Fun is described as the feeling of accomplishment or “fiero” that players feel when finally overcoming a difficult task. The greater the challenge, the more intense feeling of “fiero.” Mastery is the mechanism that drives this feeling. Games are fun because they consistently offer the highest level of challenge that a player is capable of mastering. However, it seems to me that traditional schools miss the opportunity to activate this type of fun because they set the bar at the same level for everyone. If you accomplish the standard, you are proficient. Not much fun in that. For some students the state standard may be to difficult; for others, too easy. Either way, teaching to the middle will very rarely evoke “fiero,” but will often create frustration or boredom. Schools that offer diversified, rigorous challenge will engage students with this type of “hard fun.”

Exploration is Fun- Easy Fun is the term that Lazzaro uses to describe the type of fun experienced while exploring the possibilities of a game environment. I do not think that this term is very descriptive nor does it truly capture the hard work involved in exploration. I dare you to tell Magellan, Shackleton, or Indiana Jones that they are having “easy fun.” The act of exploring involves complex, systematic processes and risk taking. Terminology aside, schools can give students an opportunity to explore as well.  Properly designed learning experiences allow students to create their own paths, which turns out to be a lot harder and more rewarding (fun) than following step by step instructions.

Socialization is Fun- Lazzaro calls this People Fun. Any classroom teacher knows that students are highly motivated by interacting with other students. In multiplayer games, much of the fun comes not from the game structures, but from the other players in the space. The players themselves alter the game space by providing impromptu opportunities for cooperation and competition. School is the ultimate opportunity for students to interact with each other on a large scale, yet traditional schools try very hard to minimize student interaction in the learning environment. Everything, from the lesson plan, to the physical space, to classroom culture, indicates that students should limit their interactions. Unleashing the power of “people fun” a tricky balancing act that teeters between guided collaboration and chaos. When done well, a highly social learning environment can provide opportunities previously unimagined by the institution.

110917-N-BT122-446Making a Difference is Fun- According to Lazzaro, the type of fun experienced when players feel that their work matters is called Serious Fun. Thanks to our vast communication network, we are now all global citizens. I call upon classrooms to engage in some “serious fun.” We all have the opportunity to make a difference not just in our community, but all over the globe. Let’s use this network to find wrongs to right, plan our course of action, and unleash our solution to the world. Students should no longer be expected to turn their work IN, they should be encouraged to turn their work LOOSE.

School is already a game. There is an objective, rules, a feedback system, and a set of players. I believe in the power of Gamification and what it can do to increase student motivation.  However, at its core, I see Gamification as an excuse for students to have more fun in a game which at every turn is designed to stop the fun before it starts. If you need Gamification or Game Based Learning as an excuse to have more fun in school, by all means, use it. But maybe we should forego adding yet another thing to the pile and simply look to the potential for fun which already exists in schools. All we have to do is NOT get in the way of the FUN that students are ready to have.  Students want to succeed. Give them challenges appropriate to their individual readiness. Students want to explore their world. Give them the tools and leeway to find something other than what’s in the textbook. Students want to socialize. Let them exercise this in a productive, positive environment. Students want to make a difference. Leverage the power of connectivity to allow students to feel that their work is actually making a better world.  School already has the potential to be fun, but only if we do not get in the way.

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.

5 Tips for Badging Done Right

Badging is becoming a hot topic with the rise of the Gamification trend.  Many educators see badges used in game based learning platforms and would like to harness the power of badging in their classroom.  Many educators have asked me about how to properly go about a creating a badging system. Since every classroom, project and learning culture is unique, I cannot provide a detailed step-by-step guide to this process. However, there seems to be a pattern in the more successful programs I have seen.

AdventureMap_B-300x1841. Diversify the Learning Environment-  Before a single badge is ever given, the learning environment must be diversified. By that I mean that the system must allow for multiple pathways to success. A great example of this is the adventure map from Playmaker School. Inversely, imagine a non diversified learning environment where there is only one way to prove proficiency. At the end of the process, all students would have the exact same badges in the exact same order. In this type of system, a badge would be no different than a checkmark. What makes a badge valuable is the unique nature of the accomplishment. The more unique a set of badges, the more ownership a student will take. Applying a badging system to a standardized learning environment is a cheap trick that will eventually sputter out. Diversify the learning first. You may even find that the diversified learning structure would be enough to motivate students, even without badges. Why not stop there? But if you must continue…

2. Make Badges Highly Visible- There is no best platform for badging. Choose a platform that your users are comfortable with and go to often. For badges to maintain their value, they need to be VISIBLE and seen often. In a face to face classroom, would an online system be the most effective location for badges? Will they be seen on a regular basis or does it require a side trip? Football players sometimes have badges on their helmets and Boy Scouts display them on their sashes at troop meetings. A good badging platform should easily integrate with your daily routine and not require a series of complicated steps in order to distribute and display the badges. The more effort expended on the badging process, the less energy there is for teaching and learning. It is not about the badges. It is about the work behind the badges.

3. Be Flexible- The greatest thing about badges is that you can create new badges anytime a student is creative enough to forge their own pathway. This may sound like a lot of work but it really takes the pressure off of the instructor to preemptively create badges for all possible scenarios! Teachers and students may collaboratively create the badges as they go, giving the students more ownership in their own process of learning. Don’t forget to badge as you see fit to reinforce positive, unexpected behavior in the classroom even if it is not directly related to learning outcomes. For example, a student might be awarded a badge for sharing, cooperating, or helping. Stay flexible and be ready to reward unexpected achievements and positive behavior.

4. Be Consistent- Once a badge is created, record the specific criteria for attaining that badge and reward it to others who also complete those objectives. Students care very much about fairness and if they perceive that the system is not fair, the badges will be devalued. Make badging requirements available to students upon inquiry. Also, be consistent in the rewarding schedule. Set up a badge distribution schedule so the learners can expect when to receive their badges. This also makes those spontaneous behavior badges, given out immediately, more special.

10842834543_806a895b68_z5. Celebrate!- Badges themselves are not incredibly motivating. Receiving a badge can be exciting in the short term, but the badge in itself is not an intrinsic motivator. The successful learning and work behind the badge is an even greater reward. But the most powerful motivation behind badging comes from the status that badges represent within the learning community. (For more on this, see my last post on The Paradox of Badging.) If the learning community does not celebrate the individual achievements of its members, the badges mean less. The most successful badging communities celebrate, on a regular basis, the unique accomplishments of their learners. They create frequent events where their badges can be displayed and revered as they connect with others to compare the uniqueness of their individual journeys.

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.


The Paradox of Badging

What makes a badge valuable, desirable, or motivating?  It seems that the answer may be a bit counterintuitive. I propose that there is a “Badging Paradox” currently at work. When planning a badging system, leaders are focussing on the badges themselves when in fact the more a system focusses on the badge, the less valuable the badge becomes.  I see four levels at which badges accrue value. We will start with at the lowest level and work our way out.

The Award- The lowest level of value is that of the awarding of the badge itself. The instant the badge is awarded, there is a feeling of accomplishment. This moment can be slightly motivating for many reasons. Maybe the badge looks cool or it may cause interest from others at the time of the disbursement. It may also induce feelings of pride or catharsis. However, this is short lived and when the initial reactions dissipate, the badge is just a badge.

The Effort- Zooming out from the badge we see the work which the badge represents. The work and learning on the way to earning that badge is more valuable than the badge itself. Even without the badge, learners can take pride in their actions. If the work is not difficult or something to be proud of, the badge loses value for the recipient.

imagesThe Person- One level up, we see the badge as a smaller part of a whole. Although one badge may seem small when compared to the accumulation of all the other badges, every badge serves to reinforce every other as they create a visual panorama of acquired skill. Each piece of learning, each new skill, means more when you add it to the menagerie of talent that has been accumulated by each individual. The whole of this portfolio, just as with each person, amounts to more than just the sum of its parts.

The Community- The fourth level and the most important is what the badge represents within the community. The issuing institution sets the consistent requirements for attaining each badge. That means that everyone in the community understands and respects the work done by that learner. When the badge, and more importantly the badge collection, is displayed, there should be a shared sense of accomplishment. This is the level that most systems overlook. If the issuing community does not publicly recognize and celebrate the status and achievements of its participants, the badges lose a large portion of their potential value.

*Beyond?- Taking it one step further out, badges tend to lose value because, once you leave the community, the badges may not be looked at with the same reverence.  It is difficult to make our badges worthwhile in the realm beyond our specific badging communities. We can attempt to extend our community and create a larger unified badging culture like the Scouts program has done. Yet even in this organization, when a scout exits the program, the badges still tend to lose value in the greater community.  

Escher-WaterfallThe Paradox: Badging works not because learners receive badges. Badging motivates learners through what the badges represent: an award, effort, a person, and a community. The less focus we put on the badge, the more the badge means in the context of the community that values it. Earning a badge may be rewarding for some, but status in a community is highly motivating for all. Less motivating badging systems focus on the rewarding of the badges themselves. Truly effective badging systems focus on a culture and community of diverse learners.

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.

Gamification: Defined for Educators

“Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems” -Zichermann

“Gamification is a business strategy which applies game design techniques to non-game experiences to drive user behavior.” -Gamification.org

“Gamification is the infusion of game design techniques, game mechanics, and/or game style into anything.” -Gamification Wiki

All of the above definitions are valid. Gamification is a huge field of study which is growing every day. But as a teacher, none of these definitions are helpful as they seem a bit vague. The make even appear daunting as they apply more to the fields of gaming or business. These definitions leave it up to the teacher to bridge the gap between the finely tuned private sector and their classroom. That is why I looked for an alternative definition which can easily be ported to education. I found it in an article by Lee and Hammer called “Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother? “

Lee and Hammer define Gamification as “the use of game mechanics, dynamics, and frameworks to promote desired behaviors.” This definition resonates with me because this is ALL that teachers do all day long. They use pedagogy and classroom management strategies to evoke education-positive behaviors in their students.  This is the starting point of all my thinking about Gamification in the classroom. I consider how different mechanics could modify the behavior of my learners. Although the definition does not specify which behaviors, the article does defines three distinct areas of intervention in which Gamification has been effective in modifying student behavior: Cognitive, Social, and Emotional.

Lee and Hammer hit the nail on the head. As educators it is imperative that we mold our learners’ cognitive behavior towards inquiry and curiosity. We must allow them to play with yet undiscovered social identities, both individually and in groups. We must create a positive emotional correlation with both achievement and failure as well. Effective game design can accomplish all of these things by varying essential mechanics to specially, and simultaneously, target identified behavior outcomes.

As always, the devil is in the details. There is still the task of selecting and designing game mechanics that actually produce the desired changes in these three areas of behavioral intervention. Of course, each mechanic has its own set of effective practices for implementation in the classroom, but that is for another post. Before addressing any of that however, we need to have a definitive foundation from which to start. I would like to expand on Lee and Hammer’s definition by suggesting that Gamification, in the educational sphere, could be defined as the implementation of the principles of game design to modify the social, emotional, and cognitive behavior of learners. In this way, Gamification is really less about making your classroom like a game as it is about using the principles of game design to create a more effective learning experience.

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.

Gamification vs Game Based Learning

Recently, I have read a slew of posts which suggest that one could simply sprinkle some badges and video games into their classrooms and “Voila!”… Gamification. Okay, maybe they did not say that verbatim, but they did lump video games in with a whole bunch of other ways to “gamify” a classroom. We should not assume that using games in a classroom will “gamify” the experience. While it might make a learning environment more “game-y” it does not really fall under the umbrella of Gamification. Using games for learning in the classroom is better described by the term Game-Based Learning. Many people throw these terms around interchangeably. Is there a difference? Should we differentiate?  Should we care? I believe we should.

Gamification focuses on modifying the real world experience to better resemble a game. If properly executed, it will create an engaging, safe place for learning by invoking the basics of game design. Some of the common tools of gamification are knowledge maps, avatars, badging systems… but not games.  Games on their own do not qualify as an essential tool for game designers. That is why the use of games in the classroom should be considered Game Based Learning. When done correctly, this too is a valid form of engaging learners. The idea is to allow the learners to immerse in a game in order to learn something through play.

These two models are clearly different from each other. So why the confusion? Although they both involve games, they live on different ends of the same continuum. They both leverage the structures and mechanics of games to engage learners. However, one focusses on the in-game experience, the other on the real world experience. One modifies reality, while the other simply chooses portals out of reality.  That means that designing a Gamified environment should start at a fundamentally different place than designing a Game Based Learning environment. I suppose one could argue that they could be the same thing, but only in an extreme circumstance. Eventually, if one intensely gamifies their classroom, their students will essentially be immersed in a game, thereby learning through the game itself. In this scenario, intense Gamification could lead to a type of Game Based Learning.  But I digress…

It is because of this differentiation that I have a difficult time participating when a GBL Twitter chat has a discussion about badging, or when a Gamification forum has a discussion about the best math game for 5th graders. By not differentiating, we are diluting the design of both. If you want to use games in your classroom, by all means, go for it, but do not call it Gamification. If you have a gamified classroom, don’t assume that playing more games will shore up your system.  Maybe I’m being picky. Maybe more of us should be.

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.