Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Gamifying vs. Playing Games.

I will preface this post with: This is a brain dump, it will probably jump all over, and while I will re-read and edit the post, it is just a dump of information to get things clearer in my head and ready to start thinking about how this applies to my next MinecraftEdu lesson (which I am currently planning).

This all came about because I just had a meeting with my admin, in which we were discussing games in education, what they should look like, how they should work and what they should do. This is not just digital games mind you, but any 'educational' game.

So my understanding of gamifying a classroom is that you make the learning part of the game, as is the instruction. One game I think that does this well is Historia, it is a classroom game where students play to learn, play while learning and reflect on their learning as part of the game. So how is this different to playing games in class?

Playing games in class does not necessarily integrate the learning within the game, take for example my planned Spore project, or my Plague Inc evolution lessons. These are not the same as the base for Historia, these are utilising a game to start a discussion with the class. So within the game there is no 'space' for playing to learn, playing while learning, or reflecting on their learning as PART of the game. Don't mistake my meaning, these games do teach things, innately, however I as the teacher then tie all this together through discussion into what I hope is a powerful learning experience for my students.

So what should games in school look like? My opinion is, whatever suits the learning space. However in my classroom it is more along the playing games and leveraging relevant and powerful discussions from them. However after the discussion with my admin, I am going to try to 'quest' (similar to the Measurement lesson) my upcoming MinecraftEdu lesson, which may have to become a project instead, so that students, while playing the game, learn, show their learning, reflect on their learning, and then move on to the next 'segment' of learning. This will, maybe, tie more into the gamifying category, as students will play the game to learn, learn as they are playing it and reflect on their learning within the game.

So how will it be different to my Measurement lesson? Well the newest version of MinecraftEdu has a much wider scope for 'tracking' student progress and rewarding for each step, as well as triggering the next section afterwards. Which the Measurement lesson was sort of geared towards, but the version of the software was not fully operational in this sense as the current.

So what am I planning? I have a very 'limited' plan at the moment, and I will share the whole idea once I have fleshed it out a bit, so stay tuned for that. I can tell you that it will be based on Algebra, and students will be required to learn algebra skills along the way, and utilise these skills to progress in the game. There will also be small 'rewards' along the way as students progress, as this is something I feel that was missing with the Measurement map.

As when I think about what makes me play games, why I enjoy them, it is different for different games, but the overarching reason is small rewards for progress. Whether that is levelling your character, the chance of epic loot, or unlocking certain 'hidden' parts based on progress, it is all about the rewards. So I think one of the reasons students were not overly 'driven' to complete the Measurement map, and therefore plodded along slowly may have been because they gained no 'value' by moving forward.

Ok, enough brain dumping for now, if you stuck around to here, great job, thanks for reading. If you would like to share what makes you continue to play a particular game in the comments below, please do.


  1. Nice post Elfie! Just a comment on the "it's all about the rewards" statement - I think it's actually not really about the rewards themselves (extrinsic motivator) but instead more about what the rewards stand for, such as progress toward mastery (intrinsic motivator) or unlocking the next part of a storyline = having meaning or purpose (intrinsic motivator). Most gamified classrooms tend to rely on extrinsic rewards because they are easy to do, but the best and ultimately most engaging gamification systems focus on intrinsic motivators, such as mastery, purpose, social relationships, and autonomy. So, it's better if a reward is given as feedback for an intrinsic motivation, not as a goal to achieve. Just my two cents on this. Thanks as always for sharing your posts!


    1. Thanks for your comment Randall, you make an interesting point. If I think about the games I am currently playing, Dragon Story (I know, I know :D) I think the reason I go back to this silly time wasting game is because 'I' want to collect rare dragons. Is this intrinsic, or extrinsic as the game gives me those dragons? Diablo 3, I go back to this partly for the social aspect, but also I continue to play for the chance of gathering rare items that make my character stronger. Again same question, is this intrinsic or extrinsic?

      So if I think about your comment, and how it applies to my planned class activity, if the 'game' rewards students with unlocks, or rare items that is intrinsic, however the reward itself is not important unless it 'drives' the students to continue to play? Am I on the right track here?

    2. Alright, I am going to try this again…. and since it is my blog I am allowed to right??? So the motivation to continue playing the game is intrinsic, that is, 'I' want the rare dragons, or rare equipment. However the 'reward' is definitely a push start towards that, if I think back to my Angry Birds addiction, I would play the same level over and over until I got 3 stars. Now that is intrinsic motivation to get 'mastery' of that level, however the game rewards me with 3 stars and therefore lets me know I have achieved mastery. Dragon Story tells me I have achieved the rare dragon by labelling it so, Diablo 3 highlights very well when you get 'legendary' or 'set' items. So while the motivation to continue playing is intrinsic, it would not be there if not for the 'message' or 'reward' I get by playing. Does that make more sense??

    3. Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head - a good reward system is simply a feedback system for the intrinsic motivation of the player. One star for you for your progress toward mastery of good gamification :) When I do gamification workshops for teachers, I end with the acronym "SPAM" for social relationships, purpose, autonomy, and mastery, which are key intrinsic motivators to strive for (from Self-Determination Theory and others). Here are the slides to my workshop in case you're interested: http://www.slideshare.net/randyfuj/motivation-37285546

    4. So now the real question…. I have 1 star on the way to mastery, how many stars is complete mastery? And also tell me the link to the slides is rare and epic loot that I have been lucky enough to stumble across in my journey thus far. :D

      Thanks for engaging in the discussion Randall, much appreciated, I now think that perhaps trying to grab something together for my current topic of teaching is a bit optimistic, so I may hold off and do some really in-depth planning for a 'future' topic (or maybe this topic next year).

    5. Sorry, I can't help thinking classcraft.com or at least in my swedish mind it seems that some of your questions have answers in classcraft as a tool.