You may have read this title and thought, what does this mean? Is it literally about games? You would be right! The idea behind ‘gamifying’ a classroom is to reflect the best aspects of gaming and bring them in to education. We all know that many young people (and adults!) love to game. Online/digital gaming is an enormous industry, with approximately 3 billion active gamers in the world. That figure has increased by 1 billion in 7 years, due to massive advances in technology and social media.
What motivates gamers?
There is an old saying, ‘If you can’t beat them...join them’ and it seems that gamification is just that. Education can be slow to embrace technology for a number of very understandable reasons – equipment is expensive, it has to be charged in advance, cables etc always go missing, behaviour management can become more difficult. However, gamification is not just about technology, but about the principles of gaming. This could include board games, playground games, and card games – just about anything.
Quantric Foundry, an American organisation, did some research via surveys and discovered some interesting motivations. There were 12 of these: Destruction, excitement, competition, community, challenge, strategy, completion, power, fantasy, story, design and discovery. Quantric Foundry discovered that gamers seemed to gravitate towards the gameplay that mirrored their own personality traits – for a kind of immersive reality. Perhaps they could achieve things that they felt they couldn’t do in real life.
How would this work in the classroom?
Clearly, we might want to remove the element of destruction – outside the Science lab! However, many of the other 11 elements are really important for learners to be able to explore. They may also encourage some learners out of their comfort zone.
Excitement: we can’t pretend that every lesson is or can be hugely exciting. However, is there some element of surprise that you could include in your planning? Over time, could you include a guest speaker or organise some kind of relevant trip? Could you take the learning outside or use practical resources? There is usually some kind of ‘wow factor’ to be had in any subject.
Competition: some healthy competition can be very productive in lessons. Dividing the group into teams to take part in a quiz can be fun and also more engaging for learners who are more easily distracted. Perhaps you can also have awards for different aspects of learning, effort or progress – choose some rewards that are motivating for your learners. Encouraging an internal sense of competition is also important – if learners can see their progress very clearly, they want to achieve their ‘personal best’. In a game, you can see the next level and understand what you need to do next in order to get there; classroom activities can be the same.
Community: hopefully, your classroom is already a community. Is there a way that you can build this further? Opportunities for group work and group discussion can help this, as can varying the seating plan. Discussing targets as a group and encouraging each other to achieve them can be a really positive experience. Ice breakers are very helpful in community building. Their purpose is for people to get to know each other better and to break down some barriers.
Challenge: this doesn’t just mean making all the tasks more difficult – or giving out separate extension work. This is about knowing your learners. Through your questioning, you can target specific learners and encourage them to think more deeply about a topic. You could set a group project with different areas of challenge – perhaps working together is as challenging as the content. Games could literally be used here; perhaps the objective is for the group to come together cohesively, so playing a game might be the challenge. Learners need to recognise that not all classroom activities should be within their comfort zone – all should be challenged by content and questions.
Strategy, completion, power, fantasy, story, design and discovery
These aspects of gaming are fun to explore as part of your planning. If you look at your schemes of work with these in mind, you may be able to add in some engaging activities. Some of these concepts will be easier for your subject than others.
Strategy could be a logic puzzle activity or a discussion about a sport.
Completion gives learners a sense of achievement, just like in a game and this should be possible in any subject.
Fantasy, story and design may be easier to cover in English, Art or Drama but role play will be useful in other areas. Simulations or ‘world-building’ can be powerful tools in education – an interactive map or 3d journeys through the human body are examples of this.
Discovery should be an integral part of any learning process – ensure you are planning in some points in which learners discover something new and interesting about the topic.
Gaming is here to stay, in many forms. We can embrace it and learn from it. Talk about it with your learners and explain that you are using some elements of gaming in your teaching; they may find this interesting and motivating. Find out what games they like to play and why – what are they getting out of it? Is there something there that you can apply when teaching? Good teaching is about personalising learning and constantly finding new ways to engage your learners. The concepts referred to above underpin good planning and teaching – they are nothing new – but it is always a good idea to look at learning through a new lens.
Photo by Javier Martínez