General Education

Using Gamification to Bolster Motivation in the Classroom

Board Game

The concept of games is one almost everyone in the United States is aware of. The history of gaming is rich, spanning from Milton Bradley board games to highly advanced, modern video games, all revolving around the primary goal of “entertainment.” Nowadays, however, that goal is changing.

Gamification is a modern term that has been popping up in many different fields lately. The experts at Bradley University recently published a piece stating that gamification can be used in counseling now, and technology’s slow, disruptive creep has ensured that gamification is finding its place in education as well — but how do you even start using such a method in the first place?

Gamification: Get In-The-Know

The true definition of gamification is the process of using game theory, design and thinking in a non-game context or environment — and it’s recently been shown to be pretty effective. Note: gamification is not the same as introducing games or activities to the classroom. Instead of adding games to something and calling it “gamified,” you’re actually using the principles of a game to augment success in non-game-related activities.

Such a process isn’t even that difficult when it comes to teaching because we already grade students; it’s really just a matter of converting the grade into something else like a level or experience points. Sure, it may seem like a lot at first, but most lesson plans are already built toward and within the framework of gamified theory, with segments, checkpoints, and ultimate goals. Use what’s already there and build upon it to create a sound gamified paradigm.

Executing the Gamified Process

Initial acquisition of knowledge may be half the battle, but there is still the matter of subsequently applying and executing the actual gamified process — which can be difficult if you personally aren’t familiar with games. If you are, on the other hand, look at some of your favorite games and how they reward you, motivate you, and drive you to keep playing and/or complete them. Utilize those motivations and their mechanisms to drive your own lesson plans and modules forward.

Overall, you need to start thinking about your classes in terms of gamified theory: What rewards can be obtained? How can you provide interesting and meaningful choices? Can you name your projects to be something that will catch their attention? All of these can radically alter whether students will get involved in the project or not. After all, if they have to read a novel and then write a review for it, you can spice up the droll “work” by applying a challenge: the more students answer comprehension questions correctly, the more “HP” a fictional boss loses. If they “slay” the boss, the whole class wins a prize. Think about it: reading doesn’t sound nearly as fun as getting to slay an epic boss monster by supplying the exact knowledge they need to be able to kill it.

You can also produce some natural competition between groups by grouping the students up, letting them decide on a group name, and providing prizes at the end for the group that did the best. This was an effective strategy that you actually see in books like Harry Potter. Points for Gryffindor, anyone?

It may seem like a stretch, but there are elements of life and learning that can be found in games and taught via gamified theory. For example, the concept of “grinding” has long been understood in the gaming to mean “activities that are a chore to do, but provide a reward in the end.” This is a lot like work in the classroom, or homework, that many students don’t want to do. The reward is a good education, and this isn’t instantly gratifying — so many students don’t want to engage in the “grind.” By gamifying our classrooms, we are providing short-term motivation and delivering long-term reward.

There are quite a collection of methods that you can use to go about gamifying your classroom, and most of them don’t take even require deep knowledge of games, but rather a basic background of “knowing what games do.” On top of that, while technology deployment is optional to classroom gamification efforts, opting for it will generally help rather than hinder. In fact, Regis College reports that “videoconferencing, robotic telepresence, and gamification are … becoming more popular” because of online courses and the inherent technological ties between. Use technology wherever possible to make your job easier.

While this is just a crash course in bolstering motivation through gamification, the process is just as much trial-and-error just as much as it is picture-perfect planning. Do your best, refine your process, and encourage your students to do the same — you’ll see motivation rising in no time!

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Andrew Heikkila is a tech enthusiast, a futurist, and a business owner from the Pacific Northwest. He believes in the power of technology to guide the world in the right direction, but also understands human fallibility means it won't always be used to these ends. Still, he has hope that people will transcend their natural devices, and become the beings we have the potential to be.

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