Next Thursday, Paul Driver is taking part in an online discussion at #AusELT chat about gamification that promises to be very interesting. In preparation for this, Paul has written an article, Well done Josh +1 for teamwork: Gamification and Crabs which outlines his stance on this new(-ish) trend that has started to enter the ELT classroom.
Paul makes some very valid points about gamification, which is often defined as the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity. He doesn't sit on the fence when it comes to saying what he thinks of it, implying that gamification is "at best, an over-hyped and misguided fad, and, at worst, an evil and manipulative strategy for getting people to do things they normally wouldn’t want to."
It's not the first time that Paul has spoken against the trend. In 2012, he wrote on his blog, Digital Debris that "in the majority of its current implementations, it is not game-like enough" and "by overlooking the depth and breadth of the potential games have to empower and motivate learners and create meaningful experiences...gamification is doing a disservice to both learners and educators."
A lot of what is written in both articles rings true, and should be taken as warning shots for any educator who thinks they turning their classroom into a game is an easy undertaking that will work wonders. As Paul implies, there's a lot more to game-based learning than first meets the eye.
As a practitioner who is interested in exploring this area with young learners and teenagers, I have encountered the difficulties first-hand at the (digital) chalk-face, first when using Chore Wars in 2011 to gamify a class preparing for the FCE exam, and then in 2012 gamifying speed-writing with a group of young teens. The former worked only partially (yes for the younger teens in the class: not at all for the older teens) and the second required a number of adjustments over the course of the term when I used it in order to keep it working. I'm currently finishing off a chapter for a forthcoming book that details this action research.
So, where do I stand? Somewhere in the middle ground, I think. I'm attracted to the idea and my own experience tells me there is definitely something in it that is worth exploring, but it requires caution as it could have the opposite effect to what is intended if badly implemented.
|this sort of 'gamification' has been going on for years in classrooms|
In his latest article, Paul mentions Class Dojo as a high profile example of gamification being used in the classroom. Although he doesn't say so in the article, I suspect Paul does not think highly of this behaviour management system. If this is the case, I think he hasn't spent enough time teaching primary or secondary kids. I was introduced to it at a conference and know immediately that I was going to start using it in class at my first opportunity, and I blogged about it enthusiastically.
Say what you like about it, but it works very well. When I introduced Class Dojo to the language academy where I worked, it swept through the place like wildfire and is still being used today. In some ways, it's just taken the place of the star chart on the wall, which is actually proof that prior to the introduction of gamification as a term, this sort of stuff was happening in classrooms all around the world.
In conclusion, I doubt whether there are many YL teachers out there who don't use some sort of star chart or other behaviour management system in the classroom. And whilst Ian Bogost and Jane McGonigle are certainly leading experts on game design, I suspect they know little about the practical realities of teaching a group of 20 eleven-year-olds. I also suspect there anti-gamification stance is more targeting the tidal wave of simplified pointsification that commercial enterprises have started to embrace than the digitalisation of something that has been going on long before videogames were ever invented.
What do you think? Although the time isn't ideal for me, I'm hoping I can make it to the #AusELT chat next week - hope to meet some of you there. Come along and join in the debate.