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Incorporating Game Dynamics in the Classroom

In advance of this post, I’d like to apologize to the class for not being able to attend this week, as I have an unavoidable meeting in Cambridge. I’m disappointed that I will miss everyone’s initial presentations of their ideas, however I have been reading what’s been posted on the blog so far and I’m excited to see how these projects will develop over the semester. In that vein, here are my initial thoughts for my project.

I’m fascinated by the possibilities of game dynamics for several reasons. In the past I’ve taught game development courses both from a conceptual and applied standpoint, and I’ve always been struck by how games as a medium seem to consistently resonate and generate a great deal of enthusiasm across age groups and genders. Furthermore, as someone who regularly plays games and observes others playing games, I’m fascinated by the power of in game motivation and empowerment that is possible through the engineering of relatively basic reward systems. The success of the ESP game readily demonstrated the motivational power of abstract point systems- something that’s been replicated ad infinitum

Jane McGonigal, a game theorist who recently released her first book, Reality is Broken talks extensively about the concept of “Epic Gaming”. In her Ted talk in 2010 she discussed the empowerment one experiences while in a game, and poses potential methods of extending this empowerment to help individuals deal with real world problems.

While at points I feel that McGonigal is overly optimistic in the feasibility of the complex problem-solving mentality required in games to transition into non-fantastic circumstances, I think her analysis of the motivational power of games is sound. For a while now, I’ve been considering a method to pull some of the motivational power of gaming into an educational capacity by developing a game management system to apply to my own classes. Specifically, I want test ways of replacing the standardized methods of calculating grades through the routine tabulation of attendance, participation and success on assignments with a game-like leveling and scoring system. There is a precedent set for this structure. Lee Sheldon, a game developer and professor at the University of Indiana has applied a World of Warcraft like structure to his courses with great success. Katie Salen has gone farther and developed an entire school that is engineered around learning through different modes of game (or system based) interaction.

My personal objective is not nearly so grand and applies to my own classes.  I’m interested in generating a robust web-based system that measures students’ success through gaming metrics. There are already examples of existing solutions for WordPress that incorporate certain game like elements including a user level system (which has since been depreciated) and numerous forms of leaderboard plugins, most significantly Gamification for WordPress. Potentially I could immediately incorporate a solution like this, however ideally I would like to develop something a bit more customized and specific. Most importantly, I want to create a solution that allows for a variety of paths to success. any existing leveling systems allow for a different form of motivation, but still require participants to all compete in the same fashion. The feeling of achivement in games is often heightened when a player is given the opportunity to chose a particular style of play or set of strategies that apply specifically to them as an individual. Furthermore, it makes for more exciting and compelling game play, especially when collaboration is an option. Variation and customization is an optimal feature for a classroom setting where students may otherwise feel restricted to achieving solely in one fashion. While there are many specifics and practicalities to consider, my goal is to create a system that both facilitates and measures different paths or roles a student may take on through out the course of the class and reward them in a visible manner.

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3 Responses

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  1. Christopher Stein says

    I meant to add a bit in there about not making grades public if you makes points equivalent to grades. You may have seen this article but it and the comments on it, do a good job of discussing that among other things.

  2. Christopher Stein says

    I’m clear on your position that games have a power to motivate people into action and can empower them.

    You aren’t as clear about why this is needed in the classroom. It’s always easy to assume that students aren’t motivated in class but I think it might help to either give some specific examples from your own experience or to generally address lack of motivation and how your project addresses that.For example the kind of question you might have to address is whether it’s the course assessment that drives the motivation or the content.

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this but from what I gather you are going to replace the traditional assignment grading scheme for classes with a game-like system where students activities earn them points towards various levels. Also you would like there to me more than one path to achieving points and levels. I’m assuming that the game is for more formative assessment and that the summative assessment at the end of the class would translate the levels back into letter grades.

    It seems as though this part, especially the multiple paths to success, is where the conceptual difficulty of your project rests. Perhaps beginning with a single path to success and then building from there.

    One question I have is whether the activities students will be doing will be basically the same as what they do now only they will earn points, or whether you will also be developing new activities?

    Also are you building just an interface or visualization for the points students earn as they complete activities or will they actually complete the activities in your project?

    As I understand it you will focus for now on your own class (or classes?). This makes perfect sense.

    Based on the links for WordPress I’m assuming that you plan to deliver this online and through some kind of existing platform/CMS/LMS. You didn’t mention Flash. As this is a platform with which you’re familiar perhaps that is another possibility.

    I’d like to wait to see more about exactly what it is going to be before adding more here. That said your programming chops give you some flexibility here but also mean you have to be careful not to bite off more than you can chew (I’ve been there myself).

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Ed Tech Crew » Ed Tech Crew 150 – An Interview with Kevin Honeycutt linked to this post on February 23, 2011

    […] Game Dynamics in the Classroom – ITCP Core 2 Spring 2011 shared by Priscilla Stadle… Interview with Kevin […]

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