Tom Starkey's world of ed tech

6th February 2015 at 00:00

I had to sell my last games console because of a mild first-person-shooter addiction. I wasn't foaming at the mouth if I couldn't get my fix of "pwning n00bs", but when I added up how much time I had spent running, jumping and murderising from my living room sofa, it was slowly edging towards the "weeks" mark. So many weeks that they might, in some quarters, be classified as "months".

With a heavy heart, I got rid and vowed to use my free time for the betterment of my profession and those whom I teach. My goodness, I've never been so bored in my life. Instead of attaching explosives to a quad bike and using it to blow up a tank, I was marking. Great.

So when I first heard about gamification - the use of game design elements in non-game contexts such as education - I was intrigued. The prospect of transferring some of the things that had kept me up until 2am to the classroom (that feeling of "just one more go"; the satisfaction of levelling up after you've put the work in beheading countless trolls; the sense of a community with a shared purpose, even if that shared purpose is wreaking destruction with oversized bazookas) was powerful. I don't necessarily believe that learning has to be fun, but I've spent a lot of time and energy on video games and they are great motivators.

Is this aspect of gaming easily transferable to a classroom setting? Many projects are looking for an answer to that question and elements can already be found in apps such as ClassDojo, which uses avatars and point-scoring to turn behaviour management into a game-like process. The data analysis it offers can also be very useful. Construction game Minecraft has been used in a number of ways in schools, leading to the creation of MinecraftEdu. And Mozilla's Open Badges offers achievement rewards for non-traditional and often less academic tasks.

I can foresee a few problems. Gamification seems heavily reliant on extrinsic reward. So what happens if students find themselves in an environment where there are no extrinsic rewards for learning, where gamification isn't central to the learning ethos? For example, in the more self-reliant world of higher education. Learning can be a hard grind with little or no obvious, immediate reward; could gamification create a generation of quitters who demand that their learning is presented in a certain way?

Maybe, but then again maybe not. I don't see anything wrong with giving it a go. If I can get my students to approach their learning with the same zeal and enthusiasm I once had for the new release of Zombie Grand Theft Battlefield Smash Naughts, we could be on to a winner.

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212


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