Gamification and Education: Value Added or Lost?
2013/06/06
By : Justin Marquis Ph.D - OnlineUniversities
There is a tendency in life to see things in absolutes. Sensationalist media thrives on the love/hate, friend/enemy, smash hit/trash it dichotomy. The proposition of including games in the classroom at any level is no different. There are those who love the concept and are all in for redesigning entire classes, curriculums, and even whole schools that are focused on game-based learning (GBL), such as Quest to Learn and the Playmaker School. There are also those who think that games and gamification have little value in education. In reality, however, those who are really using games for learning such as Susan Bohler (stay tuned for our upcoming Google hangout where we'll discuss this very issue) know that, like any innovation, games must be deployed in a measured and systematic way that maximizes their benefits while minimizing the negative consequences. That said here is a look at the possible ways in which games detract from students' educational experiences, and a consideration of the value added through gamification.

Those who have both feet firmly in the anti-gamification camp most often argue that there are no empirical studies that demonstrate real learning from games or that the skills learned in game play do not translate to the real world. That said, however, there are real negatives (and positives) that can be associated with the introduction of gamification into education:

The Positives

While the limitations above are daunting and require significant shifting of educational and societal priorities in order to be overcome, they are worth addressing, particularly if weighed against the positive effects of gamification.

● Technological literacy - Game play promotes literacy at many different levels, from technological to socio-emotional. At the very minimum, game play supports the development of skills necessary to run a computer, but it really goes far beyond that, as the installation, upkeep, and networking required for much game play also promotes high-level literacy skills in students (Marquis, 2009

● Multitasking mentality - The reality of our world is that we all multitask to a certain extent, splitting our attention between multiple screen, devices, and stimuli constantly. Games enhance this ability by forcing players to balance multiple kinds of inputs simultaneously in order to be successful. Try the fun multitasking game at the end of this post to see how well you can focus on multiple inputs.

● Teamwork - While the isolationist tendencies of gamers have long been a popular stereotype, many current games are built on a social networking paradigm that not only allows for teamwork and collaborative play, but often requires it to be successful. This is one of the key skills required for working in a hyper-connected global economy.

● Long-range planning - While the critique of games is that they shorten players' ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, the opposite is actually true. Game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal refers to the hyper-intense and prolonged focus that gamers can experience in well-designed games and sees importance in the concept of "blissful productivity," where players become so absorbed in the game that they lose track of time while working hard to achieve goals. The focus required to successfully navigate a long strategy game is intense and players must often weigh available resources against long-term goals and objective in order to be successful. There is little long range planning needed to succeed in a traditional educational setting beyond knowing that you must complete a book or write a paper by a certain deadline.

● Individualized instruction - Because GBL focuses on each student playing and learning for themselves, individualized instruction is a natural part of the equation. This means two things; each student can work towards mastery, and each student can work at their own pace.
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