Thursday, February 28, 2013

Game Based Learning, Gamification, & Game Design: A n00bs guide.

Lately, I've been doing a lot with games in my classroom. I've also been teaching other educators about ways they can use games and game design in their classroom. One thing that often frustrates and confuses newcomers to this discussion is the differences between Game Based Learning (#GBL), Gamification (#Gamification), and Game Design. Often the lines between these three distinct fields are blurred in conversation as well as practice. This isn't a good or bad thing; it just is. Sometimes though, it is helpful to make a distinction. For example, If I'm telling someone how successful Game Based Learning or Game design has been in my classroom only to have them ask questions about Gamification, the whole conversation can get confusing. Don't get me wrong, Gamification is awesome, and I use it to an extent, but it is not Game Based Learning or Game design. As a n00b* myself, I'm creating this n00b's guide to help clear up these topics and how they apply to our classrooms. It has taken this n00b awhile to unravel these mysteries, so I'll try to share what I've picked up along the way.

Game Based Learning

Identified on Twitter by the hashtag #gbl (and now the edchat: #gblfriday), Game Based learning is game play that has defined learning outcomes. In other words, GBL involves using actual games in your classroom that you've selected to reach specific objectives or goals. For example, a Physics teacher might use Portal 2 to work with concepts such as mass, friction, elasticity, and conservation of momentum. A Business or Math teacher might use Lemonade Stand or Coffee Shop to teach micro economic or computational concepts. A social Studies teacher might use games like Win the Whitehouse or We the Jury to teach Political Science concepts.

Game Based learning is not Gamification. You are using actual games in the classroom, be they Epistemic games (educational / serious games), Commercial Games, or Mods of Commercial games. I'll go over some great resources for these games at the end. For now, it's on to Gamification.


Code Academy Badges gamify learning code.
Gamification is the application of game mechanics in a non-game context, such as your classroom management system, your assessments, your grading procedures, etc. in order to increase user motivation and engagement. Gamification techniques use people's natural response to challenge, achievement, epic meaning (being a part of something bigger), and mission completion. Good examples of Gamification in the classroom include Chore Wars, which gives you an avatar and level-ups for completing classroom chore; Class Dojo, which uses avatars and badges to reinforce desired classroom behaviors; and even Edmodo badges, which can be used in a variety of contexts.

You can gamify parts of your classroom, such as my use of the ABI system to make grading more closely resemble leveling-up, or you can gamify your entire course, like Paul Anderson's Science class. Gamification is tricky, because it can easily be gimmicky. Simply replacing the language with which you present things, for example, but maintaining the same old methods of assessment and teaching are not gamification. They're just gingerbread.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grades: Gamification, ABI, & PBL

Thoughts on learning, grading, gamification, and motivation from a n00b. I'm just wrestling with these ideas. Conversation is more than welcome.

Games & Gamification: Addictive vs. Additive 

When the concept of Gamification is mentioned to most teachers, the reaction is neutral at best. I'm sure many people are visualizing trying to turn their subject matter, which they take very seriously, into something resembling Dungeons & Dragons meets Angry Birds. I'm not saying that's good bad or indifferent (See my earlier posts on games). There are others who would (legitimately so) argue that great games function a lot like great teaching. Therefore, Gamification is just a gimmick and really just good teaching. For an example, see the below graphs on "Flow" (a key concept in game design) and Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (educational psychology).

flow zone
Flow: A key Concept in Game Design Zone of Proximal Development: A key concept in scope & Sequence

Despite your thoughts on these issues, there's one area where games consistently kick our butts as educators, and it's not graphics. I would argue that games would be so darn addictive if they weren't additive. We wouldn't play so consistently and with such devotion if we weren't getting anywhere.

Leveling up: Games are Additive and Grading is Subtractive. 

Have you heard of leveling up? Your students have. For the newbies, novices and even the hapless n00bs, here's the 411 on Leveling up.

In today’s immersive multi-player games, you play a character (often represented by an avatar). That character typically begins in a state of ignorance, innocence, and overall inexperience. As you experience things in the game, work at tasks given to you by mentors within the game, and seek knowledge / make discoveries in the game your character becomes learned, savvy, and experienced. This process is reflected by leveling up (often making your avatar more awesome). If you're an educator, this concept should sound a lot like how you envision your classroom. Unfortunately, this vision of our classrooms is entirely romantic, wrong, and ridiculous. Our students see it differently...

You see, in public school at least, we have grades. Grades are not additive. They are subtractive. No matter what rhetoric you wrap it in, grades are punitive and demotivating to most students. Think about it. At the start of the marking period, most of us set up our electronic grade books. We enter categories, weights, and assignments. Our student rosters are listed down the left hand side. Down the right, we either see a black space or 100%. Once our students receive scores for their first graded assignment, the right most column may contain three to five one hundred percents. This tends to decrease further, the more assignments that are entered. Basically, every new challenge is an opportunity to lose more points. One could easily look at our class in the following light: "If I just never showed up, I would be better off."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Epic Tale or Epic Fail: Designing User-centric narrative experiences in Gamestar Mechanic

As mentioned in earlier posts, I've been using Gamestar Mechanic to facilitate technology fluency and systems based thinking in my Computer Information Technology class.
The following activity, developed with the help of several of my students, is appropriate for lessons
in game design, plot development, user-centric design, and creative writing, among other things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves "Systems-Thinking" and "User-Centered Design". To develop even a simple game, a student must act as sociotechnical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with a system and how said systems shape both competitive and collaborative social interaction. This is the 21st Century Story Tellers Art. This is where Liberal Arts meets STEM. This is why those of us in our 30's remember and even revisit a great old game, much as though it were a great piece of literature we had read in childhood. I'm not trying to blaspheme here. Please do not attack me for putting Cloud and Frodo in the same basket.

The Lesson

This lesson assumes that students have:
  1. Completed the quest, "Addison Joins the League"
  2. Completed some challenges from the workshop (Message Block, Level Map, & Background Challenges are highly recommended).
  3. Completed the Challenge Card Activity or similar activity in making a game from scratch and getting feedback.