Part I: The Unique Obstacles Teachers Face
Today’s 21st century students are not like their parents’ generation. Never before have we, as a civilization, experienced such a large generation gap — and the reason behind it is video games. Within the span of only one generation the world’s dominant form of entertainment has shifted from passive (TV, Novels, Comic Books, Theater, etc) to interactive. This represents a fundamental shift in individual interactions with the community, and other segments of society are struggling to keep up. The goal of making the rest of our lives as engaging, interactive, and collaborative as the entertainment our generation consumes is the essence of gamification, and nowhere else is gamification as needed as in the classroom.
Today, students are expected to pay attention and learn in an environment that is completely foreign to them. In their personal time they are active participants with the information they consume; whether it be video games or working on their Facebook profile, students spend their free time contributing to, and feeling engaged by, a larger system. Yet in the classroom setting, the majority of teachers will still expect students to sit there and listen attentively, occasionally answering a question after quietly raising their hand. Is it any wonder that students don’t feel engaged by their classwork?
In the upcoming months we’ll be looking at how gamification can be used effectively in schools to help students feel engaged by their lessons. Gamification principles are quickly being incorporated by the private sector to increase customer loyalty and engagement, but can the same tools be used by teachers to increase a student’s involvement with their work? In order to answer that question we first have to examine how schools differ from the private sector and identify the unique challenges faced by teachers who want to gamify their classroom.
￼In his 2006 TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case that our modern school systems stifle creativity. He argues that since they were based on the industrial model of the 19th century, public schools around the world over-emphasize traditional academics and ignore anything that isn’t mathematics or literacy. Gamification, if handled properly, could be what we need to make our classrooms more supportive of creativity while still teaching traditional academics. There are three considerations that must first be taken into account: motivation, administration, and budget.
The fact remains that engaged students are better students. A child who is interested in the lesson being taught will be a more productive learner and be less of a discipline problem. As long as lessons are properly planned to meet the core curriculum, gamification can be a great tool to help our students stay engaged and meet these objectives by allowing teachers to creatively differentiate their lesson structure. Much like a good game, students will always be preforming at the edge of their capabilities.
Secondly, before worrying about student engagement in a gamified classroom a teacher must also convince the school’s administration and the student’s parents that a gamified classroom is beneficial to learning. In the private sector, decisions to gamify can be made on the management level after carefully analyzing costs and benefits. But in a classroom, teachers who do things out of the ordinary may be viewed with suspicion. Our current educational climate focuses on high-stakes testing and national standards; Gamification may not be seen as fitting into the traditional mold and preparing our students for these tests. To best gain administrative and parental buy-in, the focus must remain on the core curriculum standards. Even teachers who are vehemently opposed to the idea of high-stakes testing must face a harsh reality; without tailoring lessons to prepare students to pass these tests, a teacher just isn’t doing their job.
Lastly, there is one overriding factor that we must take into consideration when we discuss gamifing a classroom: budget. With the current state of school budgets, teachers interested in gamification can’t depend on state funding to provide their class with the technology needed for video games. No matter how good a system, any gamification platform that relies on technology is sadly out of reach for many classrooms. We need a method for teachers to implement game mechanics into their classroom without adding to the financial burden. Any other solution, no matter how engaging, isn’t scalable. It’s easy to think that merely by adding technology to our classrooms we will be engaging with this generation of Digital Natives, but students do not merely crave more computer use. Students demand to feel as involved in their scholastic lives as they are in their online lives.
Next month we will explore the role technology can play in helping motivate our students to become active participants in their learning.
￼Andrew R. Proto taught middle school science for three years before going to work at Apple as a technology instructor. After teaching there for five years, he realized how much he missed his classroom. He is currently completing a Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education at Metropolitan College of New York.
The Gamified Classroom by Andrew R. Proto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License