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Posts Tagged ‘gamification

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…

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.

Tan Wee Hoe sharing this thoughts on and examples of gamification.

Two days ago, I had the privilege of attending a talk on gamification at SUTD by A/P Tan Wee Hoe. Wee Hoe (WH) was there as a visiting scholar and I was there for a meeting. My host mentioned the talk at the end of our meeting and I was game.

Here are some notes I took about gamification and I share some thoughts in italics.

WH did not distinguish gamification from game-based learning or serious gaming. He stirred all three in one pot. In his opinion, gamification:

  • was for making a task fun
  • had to be planned and organised around rules
  • be based on a contrived situation, competition, or experience

I liked WH’s illustration of fun. He described how one could shoot ducks for food (a survival tactic) or for a challenge (a sport). The former was a necessity while the latter was for fun.

Was the message then that gamification helps learners do the same thing but for different purposes or in different contexts?

WH offered three main gamification designs:

  1. Strategic immersion (provokes deeper thinking and requires more time)
  2. Tactical immersion (depends on fast reactions)
  3. Narrative immersion (based on storytelling)

These are game designs and gamified activities might borrow from them. If gamification is the act of borrowing elements from games but not actually playing those games, then gamification designers need to know where the elements come from.

The overall purpose of gamification is to turn a formal non-gaming activity to a gaming activity. The process should be iterative to encourage involvement and participation.

One might return to examples like incentivising physical therapy or returning your food tray or showing up to work on time. This is why gamification is sometimes described as offering chocolate-covered broccoli.

WH made the distinction between playing and gaming. He gave the example of playing with a bottle by tossing it vs creating a challenge around bottle-tossing complete with rules, scores, timing, etc.

This most basic distinction was one of my bigger takeaways. It addresses the criticism that gamification and game-based learning are peripheral to task or pandering to learners. They are not just about playing (oh, the fun and games!); they are structures for learning as participants game.

Last Saturday, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel on game-based learning and gamification.

I had questions that I could not address in the limited time during my keynote as well as the panel at the end of the conference. These were from the pre-conference poll.

I wish to address these questions, but I will focus only on questions that I understand.

How to tie in GBL with small-wins or short-term rewards?

I have no idea how to do this with GBL because I have not implemented GBL with this design or intent. Nor will I ever. During the keynote I described how games could be integrated to focus on thinking skills, attitudes, values, and intrinsic motivation. These take time to develop and I would rather invest in these.

How would I use this technique if the University has a set of rules I have to follow and present?

The university (or partner university in your case) is unlikely to have rules about pedagogy. If it did, that is not a university that is looking to serve for today and tomorrow.

You know the content, context, and your learners best. The WHAT of a prescribed curriculum might be very full. The HOW is your responsibility and limited by your creativity.

Must it be IT based?

The “it” could be games or gamification. Both could be enabled with current technology or not. I gave examples of both during the keynote, so I have addressed that part of the question.

Here is the other part: ICT is a more current term than IT since the former is often more interactive and multi-way while the latter is more transmissive and about regulations.

What types of subjects are suitable for game based learning?

Any and all of them are suitable, especially if you do not limit yourself to content-based learning and expand the possibilities to include critical and creative thinking, socio-emotional learning, soft skills, attitudes and values, etc.

Can Gamification ideas be implemented not through a game but just mere teaching activity?

Gamification does not employ games; it uses deconstructed elements of games, e.g., points, levelling up, leaderboards.

Your question seems to hint at game-like instruction. There are strategies like putting the problem (assessment) first or early, and focusing on just-in-time learning instead of just-in-case front loading.

I would like to try this approach but I am afraid it might take up a lot of the class time. How do I go about it without sacrificing too much of the contact time?

Can you have a cake and not eat it? 😉

Something has to give and if it comes to that, you might have to use your judgement to see what to push out in order include something else.

How viable would it be to introduce gamification within a primary/secondary school classroom? The aim is to use gaming elements to increase engagement between the students and the teacher.

It is certainly viable, as apparent by the number of vendors and parties outside of schooling and higher education who want to do this.

Unfortunately, these groups sell you on the low-hanging fruit of “increased engagement”. Do not play this game because this is not why any technology-mediated strategy should be used.

Trying to engage is like trying to take control of light switches: You try to flip them on so that your students see the light. But they are just as easy to switch off or learners can move on to something else.

Engagement is something you do to try to help your students; empowerment is something you pass to students so they help everyone. By all means engage, but do not forget to empower. Vendors might tell you how to engage with gamification; I would rather see learners empowered by game-based learning.

how to know which game is appropirate [sic] for teaching when we don’t game?

You do not and cannot know. So play!

My replies to these questions might have a perceived tone. I assure the askers that my replies come from a good place and with good intent: I want us to collectively change and improve our practice.

Participants of the session observed how the panel and I approached the Q&A. The same tone and concern should be applied here.

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