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Arkansas State University

Gamification in Education

Increasingly, teachers find themselves in a rigged match when trying to convince students that learning is worthwhile, interesting, and important. While some students still respond well to traditional models, more and more, educators are finding that the diversity of learning types in their classrooms means achieving real learning is like trying to hit a moving target. What some educators and researchers are learning is that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Vicki Davis learned this when she brought the Bartle Test into her classroom. The Bartle Test was created around 1999-2000, and it classifies gamers according to four categories, resulting in a score that positions players on a chart of how they like to play video games. In Davis’s case, one of her students scored so decisively as a “killer” (one who participates best by pitting good against evil, turning interaction into a contest) that she was able to determine how to break through his classroom problems, which included a lack of interest in achievement or grades. “Now his face lights up when he sees me,” Davis tells us. “He’s one of the first kids to class. He’s an engaged gamer and, finally, an engaged student.”

Others like Davis, including sixth-grade teacher Michael Matera, are using gamification to turn classrooms and lesson plans into holistic models that have something for every kind of gamer—for every kind of learner. What gamification means is that Davis and Matera borrow from games theory<!–borrow from games theory–> to give students reasons to approach curricula in ways that interest them most. Students are allowed to “level up” as they master progressive levels of learning, and they can earn points to unlock achievements and earn badges—just like they do in their favorite console or app-based games. Using other tools like collaboration, countdowns, and exploration, teachers create a learning world that is open to all learners. Walking into the classroom becomes an exercise in choosing your own learning destiny: there’s something for everyone.

Gamifying classrooms and curricula is not without precedent. Educational games have been appearing in classrooms since the 1980s, where they were treated more as learning tools than as part of the learning process itself. In 2010, Jane McGonigal gave a TED talk about the potential for gamers to create a better world. Also since 2010, companies and organizations have been able to gamify themselves with the help of Badgeville, an organization of behaviorists and designers who turn work-based tasks into incentivized gaming. They make work fun.

As gamification comes increasingly to the classroom, it is moving beyond simply finding the best content for the students and into actively enabling them to create their own learning environments. With media saturation and constant connectivity challenging attention spans and motivations, the trick is no longer to hit a moving target in the classroom; rather, forward-thinking teachers are now moving along with it, and students across the nation are discovering that their favorite game is . . . learning.

Learn more about the A-State online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum & Instruction program.

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