19 Is Gamifying Your Curriculum a Win or a Loss?

Sabrina Coutinho

Sabrina Coutinho (sabrina.coutinho@uoit.net)

Ontario Tech University

Abstract

This chapter examines the use of gamification in education, specifically through an analysis of how technology is being incorporated into the lives of students on a regular basis, as well as the impact of  introducing technology at a younger age. The incorporation of technology offers both an opportunity to facilitate learning in a new way but also provides a challenge to educators as old teaching methods may no longer be beneficial to students. The concept of gamification, as the application of game design elements to a learning space, is explored through both its advantages and disadvantages.  One of the greatest advantages of gamification is to encourage and motivate students to engage in the underlying concepts of curriculum material, rather than focus on a single exam or question. However, integration and implementation of gamification into the classroom setting poses many hurdles, and remains one of the biggest disadvantages to gamifying a classroom. Within this chapter, Mindtools and ClassCraft, two examples of gamification application will be introduced. It is noted that gamification can be introduced and integrated into every aspect of learning within a classroom or it can be restricted to a single unit or subject.  It is concluded that although gamification may prove problematic in its implementation, it ultimately impacts student learning in a positive way. It is suggested that educators create a clear and simple framework before gamification is introduced into the classroom, and that caution be maintained as not all strategies of gamification are equally beneficial to students.

Keywords: classcraft, curriculum, e-learning, gamification, mindtools, technology.

Introduction

The Canadian education system has followed a top-down approach designed to meet the progressive economic needs of mass production and consumerism during the industrial revolution (Godin, 2012). The tenets of this system were once based on the ability to follow simple sets of instructions. However, as we move away from the industrial age to an era of technological advancements, modern societies begin to value a sense of digital competency and creativity as it prepares young learners to adapt to the complex dynamics of societies today (Scherer, Siddiq & Tondeur, 2019). While the integration of technology in the classroom facilitates increased engagement among students, it is evident that learners of the net generation use technology solely as a substitution for traditional instructional based approaches. This approach however, is not conducive to the development of digital competencies that are transferable in a 21st century, real world context (Buckingham, 2010). Rather successful integration of technology into the Ontario Ministry of Education Elementary Curriculum (2019), requires opportunities that allow students to build on their current understandings and interests of digital learning, while also enabling them to become collaborative innovators on a global scale (Trust, 2018).

The advent of technology has influenced the way this generation of learners acquire knowledge, suggesting a need for modified teaching approaches that better reflect these changes within the curriculum. For this generation, communication through digital tools has been built on the premise of efficiency and transformed into a  dependance on gaining information quickly through means such as images, artefacts and other visual symbols (Vasquez, 2004). Over time this style of gaining new information has resulted in lower levels of comprehension and lack of critical thinking, also referred to as surface learning (Booth, 1997). In order to help our students gain a deeper understanding of curriculum material, interest-driven learning approaches such as gamification can create opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking processes as they redefine, modify and problem solve through game creation and experimentation (Baradaran Rahimi & Kim, 2018). Gamifying the curriculum can help to redefine and transform the way we use technology as its use allows for previously inconceivable tasks to take place (Trust, 2019).

Background Information

There are two main ways in which games may be introduced into a classroom to facilitate greater learning (Wiggins, 2016).  First, game-based learning is a strategy in which actual games are implemented in the classroom setting. In contrast, gamification has been defined as the application of game design elements, such as video game design, reward systems and earning points, and problem solving, in non-game contexts.  Gamification is a relatively recent term, first introduced with regard to learning in 2008 and has gained popularity in courses and lessons (Dicheva et al. 2015). Gamification is not the same as an educational game because it is not simply designed to help students learn about a single subject, expand a single concept, or reinforce development, rather it encompasses an entire course or educational unit (Al-Azawi, Al-Faliti & Al-Blushi, 2016).  This chapter focuses on the advantages, disadvantages, and implementation of gamification within the classroom.

Integrating the philosophies and elements of gaming into the curriculum holds much promise for creating engagement with students.  However, Dominguez et al. (2013) have found that gamifying learning experiences do not lead to benefits in all aspects of student learning, discussed further below.

Advantages

One of the key advantages of gamification in learning are the motivational elements of gaming.  These elements are multifaceted, encouraging players or students, to engage with the material often through the use of a reward system such as badges and levels, and encouraging competition with other players (Dominguez et al., 2013).  Traditional methods of learning have been often perceived as static and gamification offers a novel approach to implementing the curriculum. Al-Azawi, Al-Faliti, and Al-Blushi (2016) point to the lack of constraints of digital learning, notably how it is not constrained by time and space. They note how the majority of outcomes of gamification have been positive, with regard to enjoyment over learning tasks for the purpose of learning as students are encouraged to try new things and not be afraid of failing.  When students are involved with gamification in learning, often student performance improves, strengthening the intention to continue to engage with the material independently (Varannai, Sasvari & Urbanovics, 2017).

Disadvantages

Using a gamification plugin for a university course, Dominguez et al. (2013) found that the gamified learning experience did not prove advantageous in all aspects of student learning.  Specifically, they found that students who completed the gamified experience excelled at practical assignments, determined through a numerical score, but performed poorly in other assignments.  Dominguez et al. (2013) noted poor scores in written assignments and less initiative to participate in classroom activities for those students who completed the gamified experience. This experiment by Dominguez et al. (2013) highlights the difficulties with implementing gamification in all aspects of the curriculum, and rather suggests discretion with implementation, with greater student success when gaming is used to facilitate learning as it applies to practical rather than written assignments.  Secondly, a practical disadvantage of using gamification in the classroom is the technical infrastructure required for the adoption of technology in the classroom. Dicheva et al. (2015) argue that in order to have effective classroom adoption of gamification, it requires both the technological infrastructure as well as an appropriate instructional framework for its implementation. Currently, gamification methods as part of the curriculum or learning in the classroom setting is most often used by Computer Science/IT educators, in part due to the necessary skills, time, and support system required with the application of gamification (Dicheva et al., 2015).

Applications

As aforementioned, gamification uses game elements to encourage learning.  There are many different ways an educator may use gamification to enhance curriculum material, as well as to motivate students.  Gamification may be used to implement a single unit or subject in a classroom, or may be utilized as part of everyday student activity. Outlined below are two such successful applications that have been used in a classroom setting. With consideration to the learning skills section noted within the Ontario Ministry of Education document Growing Success (2010), these frameworks will be used to demonstrate how skills such as responsibility, organization, independent work, collaboration, initiative and self-regulation can be fostered.

Mindtools.

Mindtools are computer programs that facilitate thinking and problem solving, such as databases, graphs, and concept mapping (Kirschner & Woperis, 2003).  Mindtools can be applied to better facilitate interprofessional communication between teachers and other experts. In addition, student’s have more meaningful opportunities to share information, their expertise and promote critical thinking through collaborative experiences this tool provides (Ontario, 2010). In a study conducted by Sung and Hwang (2013), the integration of mindtools allowed students to collaboratively engage in problem solving by making appropriate decisions based on grid analysis that allowed for effective organization of new learning. This form of documentation afforded students to engage in longer periods of discussion that reflected higher order thinking, significantly contributing to their overall achievement.

ClassCraft.

Gaming can be incorporated into the classroom setting as a single unit, or in the ClassCraft as part of everyday learning. ClassCraft creates a game-like environment as part of everyday learning, where students can create their own character and “play” as part of a class or team. ClassCraft is designed through a reward-based system, whereby students gain rewards by helping other students, participating in classroom discussions, and excelling in assignments (Al-Azawi et al., 2016). One example of a reward system may include a ranking feature also referred to as a leaderboard. This ranking system provides a visual or written display of how many points or badges a student has earned in comparison to their peers. Landers, Bauer and Callan (2017) reveal that student’s goal-setting increases through the use of leaderboards as they can stimulate student motivation and initiative within their learning. Having this visual display of student progress also fosters opportunities for self-regulation students take the time to carefully monitor their progress towards achieving their independent goals (Landers, Bauer & Callan, 2017; Ontario, 2010).

In addition, students may also experience similar consequences reflected through their characters participation within the game, for example by receiving negative feedback if their learning and or behaviours are inconsistent or poor. ClassCraft can also serve as a beneficial assessment tool for the instructor as they are able to track student behaviour with analytics.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

Ultimately gaming elements are a useful teaching tool that encourage student participation through alternative teaching instructions that respond to the interests and learning needs of a technologically advanced society. While gamification can provide a unique perspective that appeals to the interests of 21st century learners there are still inherent limitations to the effectiveness of gaming in the classroom as there are with all teaching tools. As games typically lend themselves to having stringent rules to be played by, and are meant to be accessible to a wider audience, the individual needs and challenges of a student may not be catered to by the designs of a particular game. As a result, it is encouraged that educators use simple frameworks when first introducing gamification to a classroom.  Moreover, it is important for educators to use discretion when applying gamification to the curriculum, as not all subjects or assignments may be benefitted by using gaming elements, and more traditional methods of teaching may yet prove useful.

References

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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 by Sabrina Coutinho is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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