Learning how to play…. Nice

Playing the game

(Photo credit: Hancock 2009)

As part of unit 4 we are considering gamification. I came at this topic a slightly sceptical, but has got me thinking there may be more to this than I initially thought.

I am also not convinced that this is a ‘new’ phenomenon in education. There has always been an element of competition and achieving results within the education system and this to me has firm roots in gamification!

What this unit really has done is made me think about the use of games and gamfication in education. It has caused me to reflect on a few aspect of my own learning experiences. And actually as I started to think about it, gamification has actually formed the basis for a number of educational experiences through out my life. Two experiences cropped up in my reflections:

Firstly playing to learn is actually quite a key concept in sports coaching. Making drills and sessions game-based is a key aspect of coaching, relating skills that you are asking players to practice in an abstract way is not as effective as situating the skill within the context of where in the match or the game it might apply. This for me is an important aspect to the idea of gamification, it can be an excellent tool for motivation, but it needs to be designed in context and well defined in terms of applying to specific learning outcomes (Hanus and Fox, 2015 p.160).

The second experience that cropped into my head was actually learning from my dad, who is a clockmaker. Often the problems he encounters often require a bit of out-of-the box problem solving. His approach to learning I would call a little bit playful and experimental- for instance he had to fix a Bulle clock which is one which has an electro-magnetic mechanism. He needed to re-magnetise the magnetic bar in the clock. This to me brought alive all the GCSE physics lessons on magnets, and vague memories of conversations about coiling wire around a bar in certain directions to magnetise the  bar and to work out which end would be North and which would be South. We had fun playing around with the concepts to re-magnetise this bar, eventually coming to  the conclusion that we needed more tightly coiled wire to make it a stronger magnet (http://www.markedbyteachers.com/gcse/science/electromagnets-what-factors-affect-strength-of-an-electromagnet.html). The practical act of playing around and the trail and error with this, has made it stick in my mind and has illustrated the practical application of it to me. Which I guess is something that my GCSE textbooks failed to do to some extent. My dad’s playful learning style chimes in with some of the key themes in a lot of Chrissi Nerantzi talks about in her recent blog post for Jisc: Learning to play, playing to learn: the rise of playful learning in higher education. She talks about it being an experimental learning style one where it is ok to sometimes make mistakes and learn from these. 

Which got me thinking about whether there a difference to playing and gamification and do I confuse the two and is this where some of my scepticism is rooted? Do I confuse ideas of experiential learning with gamification?

Well to some extent, but having taken part in the reading game as part of this unit, I think I now have a firmer idea. Gamification seems a more structured approach, where as I guess play is a more organic process. There are rules attached to games and this makes them structured and there is a win, lose or draw mentality.

I don’t doubt that gamfication techniques can improve learners motivation and can have a positive impact on some learners. However I guess that some of  my scepticism also stems from the same idea, while gamification can lead to increased motivation for some, for others it might be a de-motivating factor. Some of the readings do actually confirm some of my scepticisms. Elements of gamification seem to have very positive effects on some (but not all) students motivation to engage (Hanus and Fox 2015, Dominguez et al.2013 and Glover 2013). Hanus and Fox specifically find that further research needs to be conducted about the effectiveness of specific elements of gamification have motivational, psychological and behavioural impacts (2015 p.160).

There are a few key messages to draw from most of the research. There is a fine line with gamification to be drawn, game mechanics need to be carefully considered and sometimes introduced sensitively I think. As long as gamification is well designed and for a purpose I think it can have a really positive impact. Its almost down to us as teachers to play around with these aspects of gamification and learn what works and doesn’t work so well for our style of teaching but also our students learning styles.

So we will see how this next week of the unit develops the idea of gamification for me and where I see it’s use in my practice. Let the games begin!!

Domínguez, A., Saenz-de-Navarrete, J., De-Marcos, L., Fernández-Sanz, L., Pagés, C., & Martínez-Herráiz, J. J. (2013) Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers & Education63, 380-392.

Glover, I. (2013) Play as you learn: gamification as a technique for motivating learners. In World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (Vol. 2013, No. 1, pp. 1999-2008)

Hancock, J. (2009). Humble beginning. [Photo] Available from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/3583038761 [Accessed: 10th April 2016]

Hanus, M. D., & Fox, J. (2015) Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers & Education80, 152-161.

Nerantzi, C. (2016) Learning to play, playing t learn: the rise of playful learning in higher education. Available from: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/inform-qa/learning-to-play-playing-to-learn-the-rise-of-playful-learning-in-he-25-feb-2016 [Accessed 9th March 2016]

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