Education isn’t a game but should it be?
You may have heard of the terms ‘gamification’ and ‘game-based learning’ (GBL), and you could be forgiven for mixing them up! They are actually two very different strategies, both using games (in very different ways), and both yearning to increase student engagement and attainment.
When is the last time you played a PS4 or an XBox One? Have you experienced the attention they demand? We can’t and shouldn’t try to compete with technology. However, we can use the theory behind the games to enrich our students learning experiences.
What is Gamification?
Gamification uses, but is not limited to: points, badges, leaderboards, competition and achievements.
Have you ever awarded ‘House Points’? Well done! You’ve already gamified your classroom. Gamification has taken the world by storm, it’s marketing genius!
It’s not just education either, my local car wash has even gamified (9 car washes, the tenth is free). Coffee shops and many retail brands are now using gamification in one form or another to encourage patrons to return through increased engagement!
Gamification has the ability to increase student engagement for a prolonged period of time and this for me is it’s biggest advantage. To connect lessons and projects across curriculum areas to a single motivation focus can greatly improve students engagement and it can be implemented on a school-wide level.
I can’t help but feel that education shouldn’t have losers therefore you need to control how points and leaderboards are designed and communicated. As recently discussed in The Shame Game this could even give you an opportunity to teach children how to deal with criticism, and learn how to face challenges and prepare better in future.
The basis of GBL is to use games to enhance the learning experience. Again, student engagement is a big winner but GBL also has many other advantages.
Students can use Minecraft for example to create a Motte and Bailey castle or a Gothic Cathedral, engaging students in an unforeseen manner. Imagine students discussing the difficulty of creating the flying buttresses! This engagement and enjoyment of learning is hard to beat. Technology comes hand in hand with GBL, but is not always necessary. Imagine students using Snakes and Ladders to explore positive and negative values in a maths lesson about integers.
Minecraft Education Edition
Usually when I start talking about my experiences using Minecraft in my class to colleagues, I lose all credibility, but hear me out! Minecraft is an incredible tool where students are given a blank canvas to create whatever they want, alone or in teams.
All across the curriculum, from maths (area and perimeter), to developing explanation skills, students can can create ‘anything’ they want. It can even also be used to teach coding, which was demonstrated perfectly in their Hour of Code, which also works as a fantastic ‘golden-time’ (KS2).
Breakout Edu is in my opinion, a fantastic mix between project based learning and game based learning. They describe their own product as “an immersive games platform for learners of all ages,” and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Students must work collaboratively and creatively to solve the challenge, whose objective can be changed and redesigned countless times using their ‘game template sheet’. Theses breakout boxes were previously available open source, but have unfortunately since been removed. You can follow Breakout EDU’s founder James Sanders and there’s a fantastic blog detailing more information about Breakout EDU here.
New research from Vanderbilt University has even indicated that “students who played edgames outperformed their peers on standardised tests”. There are many ways to increase student participation, to suit subject content, time available and age… but the solution usually isn’t found in a textbook.
With innovations in education a now daily occurrence, it’s easy to dismiss these new ‘fads’ until they gain momentum and traction. Strategies need to be developed and honed before teachers can fully utilise their potential. The game may have changed, but there’s no better time to level-up your classroom and go for a new high score to reap the benefits.