I had to do some research on the gamification of education. I thought I should record my thoughts and understanding on what I have learnt.
Game mechanics refers to rules to define the components of gameplay, such as levels, progression, rules, quests, etc. Here are more examples.
Gamification refers to the application of game mechanics to non-game processes in order to stir competition and motivation. Examples will be points, levels, badges in games such as the location based check in game, Foursquare. Some critics see gamification as a mere “pointsification” of a tracking system that is not true or meaningful gameplay. They see ‘pointsification’ as a means to inflate egos and add social acknowledgement.
Game based learning refers to achievement of defined learning outcomes through playing of games. The most popular game based learning method will be via edugames, which are games that were specifically designed with a learning objective in mind. Such edugames are usually niche and not popular outsude if the learning context. Examples of edugames are The Magic School Bus and Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. An educator I met has even labelled some of the less well designed edugames as “glorified multiple choice questions”. More recently, contextual game based learning has been applied using popular and mainstream games, such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and Angry Birds.
While many educators may be familiar with the concept of edugames, the idea of contextual game based learning using non edugames is relatively new, and perhaps even deemed unconventional by some. (I coined the term ‘contextual game based learning’ myself. Feel free to suggest a more appropriate term) Take for example, the popular iOS game, Angry Birds. Most teachers will deem it as a distraction from serious classroom lessons. But some physics teachers have actually find it useful in engaging students during lessons on projectile motion.
Many teachers may also find it hard to grapple with the idea of using WoW to teach Math, Economics, Writing and Literacy, and Social Group Dynamics. And yet a small community of educators are have been trying that out in class with reported success. What makes this even more interesting is that WoW, which requires a monthly subscription to play, has recently announced that it will make the game free to play until the game character reaches level 20.
Improving education using game mechanics
In the application of game mechanics to an academic curriculum, the design of the system can be approached by using game based learning or gamification, or a combination of both. Naturally, the method of assessment for the subject needs to be ascertained.
It is possible to create an edugame with missions and storylines tied into the existing curriculum. Varying resources and development time are required depending on the complexity of the graphics and game engine. It may be challenging to create a compelling storyline that does not feel artificial in the way it blends with the subject of interest.
An easier alternative is contextual game based learning, but it may not be possible to find a game that creates the context for the academic subject of interest. When choosing popular games, there is also a risk of gaming addiction, which may not sit well with parents and schools.
If gamification is to be implemented, a tracking system for relevant aspect of the subjects can be created. The tracking system serves to keep the students engaged and motivated. It can take input from the student being tracked, or from other people observing the student, such as peers and instructors.