Can Game Mechanics Save American Students?

Can Game Mechanics Save American Students?


The results of an International Educational Assessment are alarming…  Out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. These poor rankings have caused many educators to rethink the methods in which we teach our elementary, secondary and collegiate youth; bring some educators to the doorstep of gamification.


At the University of Michigan, Associate Professor Mika La Vaque-Manty recently redesigned his Introduction to Political Theory class in a fashion much like a player moving through a game. Students are shown the course objective and then shown choices or paths that they can select to achieve the course goals. In this environment the undergrads have much more control over their assignments. Students choose two of three components to focus on during their studies, understanding that these areas will be weighted at 60 percent of their course grade. Their choices range from posting on a class blog or commenting on blog postings, participating in a group project or writing an old-fashion essay. The remaining 40 percent of their grade is determined by standard class attendance, participation and reading material.

As students completed the course, La Vaque-Manty discovered that his pupils did do much better on the assignments that they committed too over those they chose to weigh less. The average grade in the class rose from a B+ to an A-. The associate professor was quick to point out that there was no “compelling” evidence indicating that the students absorbed more, however many students commented to him that because of the course’s structure… they learned more.

In an interview with the Times Higher Education Magazine, Matt Kaplan, the University of Michigan’s Managing Director at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching further explained the benefits of using game mechanics in the classroom, “Students will have to think, ‘How do I learn in this class, or where should I spend my effort?’ And they have to do it very carefully,” due impart to the course being self controlled. From the onset, successful students are forced to establish goals and construct their own steps/assignments – game moves – to successfully achieve the course goals and master the subject matter.

Researchers at Columbia University, Joey Lee and Jessica Hammer recently published a paper, Gamification in Education, that detail the positive affects these updated strategies can have in the classroom. They found that teachers who employed gamification techniques had an easier time getting students to recognize the rewards for learning and that overall students within the “gamified” classroom were better motivated. “It can show them the ways that education can be a joyful experience, and the blurring of boundaries between informal and formal learning can inspire students to learn in life-wide, lifelong, and life-deep ways,” wrote Lee and Hammer.

What other ways have you seen Gamification used in the classroom? Has your elementary age child or college enrolled kid relayed any interesting game mechanics used by their teacher or professor?


Image (CC) –  by albertogp123


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