Another dot in the blogosphere?

Gamification notes (part 2)

Posted on: July 29, 2017

This is a continuation of my reflections on a talk on gamification by A/P Tan Wee Hoe (WH). As with my notes yesterday, I share WH’s thoughts in plain text and mine in italics.

WH concluded his talk by summing up his main points and mentioning new ones.

To the absolute novice to gamification, he reiterated that it was about making activities fun.

I would add that the activities should be relatively mundane or tedious, and not already addressed by some other equally (or more effective) strategy.

There are two approaches in gamification: Game playing and game making, the latter of which is more powerful.

I fully agree that getting learners to create is more powerful than stopping to consume. However, I object to gamification indiscriminately swallowing up everything that seems to have “game” in it. There certainly are overlaps — game mechanics and challenges come to mind — but there are also distinctions. For example, game creation can also be part of the design thinking and maker movements.

WH repeated the three designs of strategic, tactical, and narrative immersions.

I have no arguments here. In my opinion, narratives are the most powerful and applicable in the realms of schooling and education. We are drawn to good stories because of the emotions they generate.

WH then shared four levels of assessment:

  1. Did they like it?
  2. Did they learn it?
  3. Did they use it?
  4. Did it impact bottom line?

These are borrowed from Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation. The questions are easier to understand than Kirkpatrick’s statements, but there are a few things to note. KH’s did not distinguish between assessment (keyword: measurement) and evaluation (keyword: value). He also combined the revised Kirkpatrick’s levels 4 and 5 into one about the bottom line.

So far it might be obvious that WH’s ideas on gamification borrow from many other concepts. It is important to acknowledge these and represent them accurately. This prevents the muddling of gamification with other related and not-so-related concepts like game-based learning and Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation respectively.

Finally, KH outlined some practical steps for gamification:

  1. Set game goals and rules
  2. Describe game play
  3. Prepare feedback for interaction
  4. Set up game space (the environment or context: online, offline, mixed reality, haptic experiences)
  5. Create the narrative

I think the narrative should be an overarching process in educational contexts. It is not a final step, it is a constant presence like evaluation should be in the ADDIE instructional design process. Mentioning it last does not make it the final step.

I conclude with one last and critical point. During the session, a participant answered KH with a correct answer to an idea for gamification. In his bid to provide encouragement, WH declared, “You’re an expert in gamification!”

I can understand his positivity. No one enjoys a speaker who shoots down ideas, even if the ideas are wrong or questionable. That said, I doubt that attending a talk makes anyone an expert in gamification.

Think of it this way: Being a student and attending classes for 16 to 20 years does not make you a teaching expert. As a student, you have a one-sided perspective and very limited pedagogical experience. Likewise, playing a game does not make you a game designer, a gamification expert, or facilitator of game-based learning experiences.

I am grateful to WH for sharing openly, plainly, and bravely. I do not think that WH intended for his comment to be critiqued this way. My comments do not come from a nasty place or an overinflated ego.

As an educator, I seek to address mindsets first. One mindset is to always balance creativity with criticality. Another is that the words we use have meanings intended, unintended, and negotiated. This is rarely acknowledged and explained. If we do neither, we run the risk of perpetuating wrong messages. I am sure that neither WH nor I want that.

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