Gaming in the Classroom

Classroom Tools on August 22 2016

2959833537_af77ed5003_zWe’ve all been in the situation where we are playing a game and we realize that our opponent is doing really well, perhaps too well. Suspicion slowly creeps in, “Is this still a fair game?” It’s at that point that I usually walk away because a level of trust has been broken.

Gameplay has rules, it’s organized. There is an unspoken agreement when starting a game that all players will abide by the rules. Once rules are broken, randomness occurs, which can lead to gambling. This is because the outcomes are no longer predetermined by the rules. It’s the structure and determined unpredictability of games that give the player the confidence to make choices while still having some semblance of control. This is a form of autonomy and relatedness, which are parts of the self-determination theory, developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan. This theory states that we as humans have three basic psychological needs related to motivation; autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Gaming is very good at creating motivation.

Games test users skills with small wins and losses that generally form an overall upward trend leading to increasing challenges and eventual success. These small wins are usually larger than the losses with the goal of creating motivation in the user; small failures, bigger successes. Games scaffold users skills and create intrinsic motivation, just like teachers strive to scaffold lessons and create intrinsic motivation in their students. This combined with the comfortability of rules and structure gives gamers the perception of autonomy once again.

The “best” games keep users in the zone of proximal development, an idea developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky, through the use of achievements. This is a level of scaffolding in which the learner is able to advance through content on a fine line between needing help and being able to create their own understandings. Similar to how teachers aim to use achievements in the classroom.

AchievementExemplified by Ashley Brandin, music teacher and gaming theorist, there are four categories of achievement that relate to gaming and the classroom; perfunctory, exhaustive, difficulty, and exclusionary. Perfunctory achievements introduce users to the rules and reassures them that they are doing the right thing through a series of small mistakes. In the classroom this could be as simple as dissecting a meme together that relates to your chemistry topic. It’s at this time that users rid themselves of the associated embarrassment of making mistakes which, as Brandin states, “[opens them to] better chance of success later on.” Exhaustive achievement is when users learn all that is necessary to get to the next “level,” similar to memorizing all the flashcards or the alphabet. This type of achievement gives the user an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge which elevates competence and motivation by awarding them. The category of difficulty achievements is based on… difficulty. Users search for more challenging content to increase their skills and push themselves creatively similar to playing a more challenging music piece with zero mistakes. Lastly, exclusionary achievements is the level at which users try to be the best at something. Leaderboards in games and tests in a classroom are a perfect examples of that. In the classroom summative tasks are the mastery of skills to get to the next level, presentations or projects are the “missions”, and tests are the chances to be the “top dog.”

All of the components of gaming, rules and structure, social connections, and achievements, when implemented in the classroom have been proven to lead to positive experiences. These positive experiences are directly related to the self-determination theory. Fostering motivation to learn is one of the more challenging aspects of being a teacher, but it is a core concept of gaming. Overall, while not tested, many educators who are implementing gaming elements into their instruction are claiming to see higher levels of achievement and positivity. There may be some perception is reality here, where if you believe it’s beneficial it may just work, but given the evidence and increasing popularity it’s worth a shot. Have any of you introduced any gaming components into your classroom with any success? Failure?

Keep an eye out for out for our future blogs and online sessions for resources and ways to introduce these concepts into your classroom!