15 March, 2011

Thoughts on Gamification and Higher Education

We've talked about games before on this blog from the perspectives of using them as learning experiences, and learning environments. What we've perhaps explored less is games' role in motivation.

I think that a fair number of teachers see the potential for using technology and games as a novelty to get students' attention. While this might work, it seems to me that there is a high cost of development when novelty only lasts a short time.

With the resources available we might gain more from using techniques from games to increase motivation. I've watched some talks over the last year or so which bring different perspectives, but look at how games and game techniques can change our culture.
Game mechanics is a very interesting area to look at. As Seth says, we see those used by business in many ways. But how can HE use them? And how do these claims fit in with the work of people like Alfie Kohn who see issues with extrinsic rewards?

Jessie Schell's talk includes a lot about reward systems. We’ve long had reward systems (Nectar points, Airmiles, etc) but the possibilities are expanding with services like foursquare and SCVNGR making it easier for smaller organisations to offer similar and potentially more interesting reward systems.

SCVNGR is especially interesting as you can easily set tasks for people to do, and even offer them a reward when they have. In the HE context this could be used as a potentially interesting, alternative way of giving new students a list of tasks to do for induction. It would have to be voluntary and done on trust, but we could create more complex location aware tours of campus with QR codes to scan, or tasks to do such as check out a book on your reading list from the library or access an ebook on a topic you are interested in.

I've created an example task to show how this works. You'll need the SCVNGR app on your phone, and you'll use it to search for the SOLSTICE Centre (there are two so find the one with the 'Pay us a visit!' quest on it). Scan the QR code on our door and you'll get 2 points. Woo hoo!

I couldn't resist thinking up a list of Xbox style achievements relating to an induction and library activity:
  • 10 - Borrower: Check out and return a book from the library
  • 20 - Book Worm: Check out 15 books from the library
  • 10 - Are 'Books' Electric?: Log into the library catalogue and access an eBook
  • 10 - What Shelf are the eJournals on?: Access an eJournal article
  • 20 - Virtual Learner: Access Blackboard
  • 10 - Big Spender: Spend some money from your UniCard
  • 30 - Egghead: Complete the quiz at the end of InfoZone with 100% correct answers.
However they wouldn't work in reality as they would require a big, complex system to track student activity.

Regarding concerns that motivational techniques might harm intrinsic motivation, I'm not really aware of the discussions around this. I think it might be less of an issue here as we are talking about games, which are by nature voluntarily participated in. Before you join in with the game you make a decision to do so, meaning that these techniques could be presented as a tool for the students to motivate themselves to do things that they know will help themselves learn.

This post is a quick overview of my initial thoughts on an area which is being talked about a lot, and I'd be really interested to hear other people's too.

[image by Bodum]

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