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Posts Tagged ‘gamification

For the strategy in this tweet to work, you have to assume that learners cannot to see through this star-shaped chocolate-covered broccoli. Perhaps the strategy is to keep blinding them with shiny extrinsic rewards. 

Therein lie some problems with gamification. It encourages learners to depend on external rewards. Such rewards seem positive (stars or chocolate) to lower the resistance of students towards something that seems unpleasant (tests or broccoli).

When combined, the strategy does not teach learners to do something good for its own sake. It teaches students to expect rewards and it does not teach students how to distinguish what is good for them in the long run.

But what might be worst of all is that the uncritical use of gamification is perpetuated by teachers who see nothing wrong with this practice.

Several weeks ago, I was asked to conduct a pro bono session on gamification in the workplace. The group had already decided it was going ahead with this idea. I declined because I did not want participants to ignore my warnings about blind gamification.

If I did conduct the session, it might have started like this: Blind gamification has a few elements. One element is ignorance of when and how the gamification of work emerged, and what its limits are.

This recent Wired article summed up gamification simply. It is over a decade old and provides extrinsic rewards for in exchange for human effort. 

In a 2013 blog entry, Harold Jarche highlighted one problem with extrinsic motivation and rewards: Gamification “creates incentives that, when removed, may result in going back to previous behaviours”.

Jarche reflected on the disconnect between schooling/work and the gamified experiences. If the rules and conditions of school/work were different from the incentivised tasks, the students/workers were not likely to learn or change their behaviours. Gamification backfires because the student/workers feel manipulated or forced.

The Wired article also highlighted this disconnect by citing a study of how a group of paid workers were discouraged by a leader board while a group of volunteer Wikipedia article editors in a different study were motivated to work for free. The article concluded:

…gamification seems to work when it helps people achieve the goals they want to reach anyway by making the process of goal achievement more exciting.

If the gamified tasks are mandatory fun, the design is an extrinsic reward for already poor intrinsic motivation. Workers who do not buy in to a game-like leaderboard but are forced to participate have strong extrinsic motivation but low intrinsic motivation. 

On the other hand, gamification is more likely to succeed with volunteers who have already bought in to a process and are rewarded for their efforts. The design is to leverage on high intrinsic motivation and provide meaningful extrinsic rewards.

The takeaway: Gamification is less likely to succeed if the tasks do not appear authentic and if the students/workers do not have agency.

Another major element of blind gamification is the assumption that it is the same as game-based learning. It is not. I have reflected on the overlaps and differences over the years. I summed up some still brewing ideas in 2017. I reshare it here.

If I seem to pooh-pooh gamification it is because I do. I do not value an over-reliance on the extrinsic because these are functions of conventional teaching. Learning is ultimately intrinsic and I choose to start there.

Last month I discovered that I had been playing a mobile game, Clash of Clans (CoC), for ten years. I realised this only when a game update flashed this in its opening sequence.

Clash of Clans is 10-years-old!

While I played the game as designed initially (raiding and pillaging other clans), I have spent more time farming (tending to my resource generators and making repairs after being raided).

This led to my reflection on game-based learning (GBL). Teachers who try to leverage on educational or off-the-shelf games often take advantage only of gamification — the points, achievement levels, journey progress, etc. — because they align to circular and assessment standards.

GBL is more than that. It is also about creating a love for playing games and tapping on intrinsic motivations. The design of a game is critical. If CoC was designed only for raiding, I would not be able to farm. But I have been able to do this because it is a large part of the game (if no one farms, there is nothing to raid). I find farming to be soothing and I play the game to relax, not to get a hit of dopamine. That is my motivation and it comes from within.

But persisting with any game (even when the rewards are not obvious) should be important an outcome of game play and of GBL. This is a routinely ignored aspect of GBL design that puts learners off. They “play” not to play, explore, or satisfy curiosity, they do so because points are at stake. Such an extrinsic focus (get the marks!) is detrimental on the long run. It takes the fun out of play. It removes the intrinsic motivation.

I used to be able to run a few game-based learning workshops every year. Now I do about one a year as part of a course I designed. Sadly, changes to the structure of the programme that the course is part of might mean I might facilitate GBL just once every two years. Despite that change, I continue to play video games and use GBL principles in other courses. Why? I am intrinsically motivated to do so.

Samantha Bee is a comedienne and talkshow host. In the video below, she was interviewed by another talkshow host, Seth Meyers, on various topics.

The topic that pricked my ears was Bee’s app for promoting the midterm elections in the USA.

Video source

After watching the video, I had to ask: Does it take a comedian to plainly state the goal of gamification? Here is the segment where she made this point.

Bee conflated games with gamification — after all, she is not an expert in the field — but she also made a point that designers, developers, and users sometimes do not openly admit.

Gamification relies largely on extrinsic motivation to trick the user into doing things. This principle is also often applied in gamified teaching. The questions that instructional designers, teachers, and learners need to ask themselves might include: Is this good in the long run? How does this distract from nurturing independent and critical learners?

I get it. The notice above is about incentivising homework.

Now you get it. The actual doing of homework may not be fun. It might not even be meaningful. That is what gamification is good for — incentivising the unpleasant.

You can call homework a sword. I call a spade a spade.

The meaningful learning, the type where you can link the work immediately to something useful, is not the focus of most gamification efforts. Accumulation points, getting quick rewards, or otherwise relying on extrinsic motivation are drivers.

This is why the designers and facilitators of such experiences are key. They can help create conditions for meaningful learning. They can nurture learners who are intrinsically motivated.

Yesterday my wife and i sat through a series of cinema ads that screened before the latest Hollywood blockbuster. One ad made our stomachs turn and churn.

The ad was from a regional publishing and edtech company. It claimed to have a cool new app that gamified math. Their solution was a problem: It combined slick-looking graphics of a town and data “analytics” with conventional worksheets.

I have described this type of “gamification” as chocolate-covered broccoli. It is an attempt to get kids to consume something good for them (broccoli/math) by disguising it with something they would actually eat (chocolate/game).

Doing this spoils the taste of good chocolate and healthy broccoli. It also sends the wrong message and expectation that games are for incentivising the unpleasant work that is math.

Consider another way to picture the app in the hands of a young learner. Imagine sending a child on a mission to collect recyclables from her apartment block. Every time the door opens at each household, she is given a math worksheet to complete. As she walks up each floor, the math gets more difficult and she receives stickers for each completed worksheet. Oh, and chocolate to fuel her climb.

Was the point of the exercise the collection of recyclables or the completion of math worksheets?

The point of math is logical thinking and problem-solving. There are aspects that need memorisation and even drilling, e.g., multiplication tables. But math should not be extrinsically driven by game mechanics.

Case in point — consider the approach of Eddie Woo, a math teacher who was a finalist in the Global Teacher Prize 2018 and winner of Australia’s Local Hero award.

Video source

Woo leverages not on games or gamification but on the wonder, utility, and authenticity of math.

To the developers of gaming or gamified math apps that say “it just works”, I ask WHY.

You cannot be a-theoretical with your answer. If you are, you have not done your research. If your answer is that it works in the short-term, consider what it does in the longer-term with learners who rely on incentivisation over actualisation.

According to this STonline article about a bring your own (BYO) receptacle initiative at a school:

Pupils get a sticker each time they use their own containers or bottles when they order food in the canteen. They get a certificate of achievement once they collect 10 stickers.

Some adults might not question the practice of providing extrinsic rewards to children for doing what is right.

The initiative is an example of uncritical design that relies on an element of gamification to modify behaviour — immediate reward for desirable effort.

The stickers might not only obscure the point of BYO, they might also perpetuate childish mindsets (see screenshot about tray returns below). I wonder if the organisers started planning with these questions:

  • Why start with stickers?
  • Why assume kids want or need these stickers?
  • Why start with the assumption that young children do not understand the importance of BYO?
  • Why perpetuate novelty and extrinsic rewards?
  • What is the long term plan to wean them off rewards?

This sticker-for-BYO initiative may not have learnt from an older initiative to get children to save money in a bank.

When I was a student, the Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) started a scheme in which children exchanged money for postage stamps that they would stick on a form (see what this looked like)*. A teacher collected the forms and money was transferred to the child’s bank account. Sounds like fun, right?

*In researching this scheme and “time-travelling” to my childhood, I discovered that we might have learnt this from the British who started it in the 1950s.

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

It was an interesting novelty at first. Students could look forward to breaks from dreary lessons, but it soon became a chore. To add insult to injury, even a child could question the link between postage stamps and money in one’s savings account. The post office was an unnecessary middleman, but someone killed two KPIs with one blow.

That is what some gamified schemes and initiatives do in schooling — they look good on paper and are administratively innovative. However, they are short-term plans that do more harm than good. The POSB stamp savings scheme did not last and stamps are practically collectors’ items now.

But wait, someone revived it for the 21st century! I could go on another rant that we do not seem to learn from our mistakes. We rely too much on what educational psychologists call operant conditioning. Take this recent example of incentivising tray returns at new hawker centre, for example.

Instead of being seduced by over-simplified gamification, the designers of initiatives could start with the end in mind, instead of the ends justify the means.

In the case of BYO, children should learn early to do good for goodness sake, not for stickers. The effort then goes to education programmes and showcasing evidence of change. A long term problem requires a sustainable set of solutions, not a plaster-like sticker.

I wonder about articles like this in which “thought leaders” were asked to make predictions about gamification. None tried defining it and distinguishing it from, say, game-based learning or serious gaming.

That is a good strategy because when you are asked to gaze into a crystal ball and make predictions, it helps to be as vague or as general as possible so that something hits the mark.

I also wonder why there seem to be examples of “gamification” from everywhere else except schooling and education. For example, take this article from a site that says it is about e-learning.

The examples were about Dropbox, LinkedIn, Duolingo, Google News, Zappos, and a steel company. Only one example, Duolingo, was about language, but the paragraph was so short it could be covered in two tweets.

To be fair, the very short paragraph linked to a longer review. However, a review of an app and service is not the same as an argumentative article on good and bad examples.

So why are there relatively few examples of gamification in schooling and education? I suggest that their implementations were and continue to be:

  • Unsuccessful
  • Closed
  • Ungeneralisable
  • Not sustainable

Successful implementations tend to get published; failed attempts rarely are. Ask anyone who has tried to do this in educational magazines or academic journals. No one wants to look bad even as they try to look good by learning from failure.

Schools and universities tend to operate in a closed manner, both inwardly and outwardly. This not only is the reason why there are calls for them to be more open to the “real world”, it is also why you do not hear about gamification efforts, if any.

As much as one classroom looks like another, the students and prevailing culture in each school makes it difficult to generalise success or failure factors from one context to another. This is why we cannot have more Finlands and Singapores in the schooling systems of other countries.

Gamification efforts tend to be “lone wolf” efforts. These are driven by individuals with the talent, ideas, and capacity to take risks. The rest are happy with the status quo or unwilling to risk bad results or a dip in student feedback on teaching.

Some from the second group might try something new, but once bitten are twice shy. So efforts like gamification, rightly or wrongly implemented, are not sustainable.

Gamification is not sustainable for at least two more related reasons: Vendor platform and bad design. Edtech vendors need real trials and often seek groups in schools and universities to try something for free or a low fee for a short period. When the trial runs out, so does the patience of an administrator or decision-maker.

Earlier this month, I explained why such vendors take the safe route. In doing so, they offer much of the same disguised as different. For example, getting points and leaderboards simply recreate grades instead of focusing on formative feedback. Since little or nothing changes, the new effort is not sustainable because it is no different from the old method.

So if you wonder why you do not hear gamification news from schools, wonder no more. The efforts there might not have been successful or are not sustainable. If you hear anything, you cannot be sure it is generalisable. If you hear nothing, that is the norm from closed systems.

I have distilled some differences and overlaps in gamification, game-based learning, and serious gaming.

I focus on their use and integration in educational contexts. I exclude contexts like industry style performance support, commercial sells, VWO campaigns, etc.

I distill factors that govern the three in the table below without elaboration. The explanations are for another time because my thoughts are not complete and each factor could be a class in a university course.

I may add to or subtract from this table over time.

I am trying to make sense of several loose threads on the overlaps and differences in gamification, game-based learning, and serious gaming.

So far I have gleaned and coded from several articles categories like:

  • Game play
  • Objectives
  • Outcomes
  • Ties to content
  • Nature of learning
  • Role of analytics
  • Purpose
  • Main motivation
  • Locus of control
  • Narrative
  • Cost
  • Platform

There is quite a lot of snipping, gathering, and patchwork to do…

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