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Posts Tagged ‘drill-and-practice

I shared this cryptic tweet during the last #edsg fortnightly chat.

We had been focusing on the possible “game”-based changes to the Primary mathematics syllabus in Singapore.

I use “game” because what a teacher might understand as a game is not necessarily what students experience as gamers. A drill-and-practice “game” might be a welcome addition to the teacher toolbox, but it is not necessarily a game as the child understands it.

Hence, Godin’s blog entry was timely, specifically this part:

That’s why it’s so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

Another dimension of differing world views is the focus of the activity. To a teacher, it is MATH game; to kids, it is a math GAME. For an adult, the game is for learning a math principle; for a child, the game is for racking up points, being the fastest, or topping the charts.

The students are likely to enjoy game initially because of the novelty effect. They might even participate over a longer term because of the extrinsic rewards provided by gamification tools (which are not game-based learning).

Neither a reliance on novelty and extrinsic drive are desirable because a teacher might be forced to take part in the race to hyper stimulate and entertain.

If a teacher does not get forced into the “engage them” race, it is because students soon realise that drill-and-practice is not really a game and they reject this practice.

Adults rarely get into the child’s headspace when trying to plan activities that are supposed to be good for kids. So here are three guiding and core questions (as contextualised in game-based learning):

  1. What does the child think (is a game/about gaming)?
  2. How do they think (as they game)?
  3. What can I design based on sound educational psychology principles and rigorous research?

For the good of kids, we need to focus on what is good for kids. We start with a focus on kids, not curricula, syllabi, assessments, or policy. To be learner-centred, you have to be kid-centred first.

Ask the average teacher how s/he implements game-based learning and you might hear a description something like this. The “games”:

  • are not designed by them but by a vendor of an LMS or CMS.
  • are colourful to “attract” or “engage” the learner.
  • might look like the screenshot below.

None of these factors make the learner’s experience one of gaming nor is the activity designed around authentic game-based learning principles.

When my son did his vacation homework recently, this “game” told him that his dog was trapped in a burning house. He had to rescue his pet by answering questions about fractions.

What is wrong here?

The designer of the activity hung the threat of the dog dying in a fire as a disincentive. Just as gamers do not like being made to play, you do not guilt a learner into learning.

The task (solving fractions) had nothing to do with putting out the fire or rescuing the dog. This was thinly veiled, more colourful drill-and-practice. The task was not authentic. I offer our proof-of-concept mobile game, Dollar Dash, as an example of a more authentic design.

When my son completed the exercise and saved the dog, both my son and I wondered what the graphic would have been like if the dog died in the fire. A gamer would explore that outcome because there are no adverse consequences. However, this experience is designed largely with one outcome in mind, not several.

Experiences like this “hotdog drill” create a wrong impression of how educational technologies can help learners, and worse, perpetuate this sort of thinking.


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