Playing games to aid learning applied as an innovative practice pedagogy has been gaining momentum in the literature over the last decade, principally due to the inherently flexible learning dimensions that games give us to create, imagine, explore and learn (Kirriemuir and McFarlane, 2004). But let's address the educational elephant in the room…”gamification of learning” as a concept is not a pedagogic magic bullet. Just as flipped classrooms, content capture and audience response elements before it, gamification suffers from hyperbole at best and fundamental misunderstanding of its strengths and weaknesses at worst, when touted as anything more than a useful approach to learning and teaching (Majuri et al, 2018). At its core, gamification is a flexible and creative philosophy of practice as much as any other educational philosophy, akin to how constructive alignment or scaffolded learning theories are now regarded as separate aspects of effective teaching and learning rather than a means unto themselves.
“That’s what games are, in the end. Teachers. Fun is just another word for learning.”
Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design
Good by design
The first critical step when considering whether gamification offers anything to you is to examine the nature of the pedagogic problem to be addressed in the first place. There are many accepted definitions, but a simple one is that “gamification” is game design elements and game mechanisms used in non-game contexts to increase player engagement. This requires the nascent teacher-gamer to articulate an educational need upfront and to consider their motivations for using gamification as a tool in the first place. Given there is no way to accomplish this without meaningful engagement with the literature, this approach guarantees that selection of a gamified solution is defensible and pedagogically informed from inception (Deterding et al, 2011). Once you know that a so-called, “serious game” (a misnomer if ever there was one!) is the way you want to go, next comes selection of the best mechanic or combination of mechanics as a critical step (Bochennek et al, 2007).
Serious game mechanics broadly break down into core themes of:
• Resource management-based
• Role-play / Simulation-based
• Technical / Dexterity-based
Selection of one or more of these routes of play goes a long way towards dictating the theme, play-time, core design and ultimate success of your gamified intervention and should not be underestimated (Landers, 2014). Whether you are having players discover, negotiate, create, share perspectives or challenge, the way in which you design the game will dramatically impact how players experience it….an idea analogous perhaps to many different contexts in HE learning and teaching, from classroom environment to assessments, the design of a thing impacts the perception of that thing.
“Communication and communication strategy is not just part of the game - it is the game.”
The critical piece of this pedagogic puzzle
As experienced educators as well as gamers, one fundamental piece of advice we would offer those taking up a gamified approach in their teaching is to consider that critical piece of the metaphorical puzzle when designing and implementing a gamified intervention, namely the evaluation strategy.
Imagine the number of under-evaluated but effective game-based learning interventions that are out there, either used locally without dissemination or worse, never having been evaluated in the first place! This might seem like an unthinkable scenario in the current HE climate of metrics for everything, but with more and more pressures on time, not to mention a pedagogic research skill confidence hurdle being the obstacle for many teachers, it is telling that we still see so few examples in the literature of excellent practices and games coming forward in aid of pedagogy in practice despite them being so flexible in application (Stierer and Antoniou, 2004).
One critical aspect of creating a “new” game rather than simply repurposing an existing one (for example, Top Trumps) is thinking ahead about how best to disseminate it as well as considerations such as intellectual property, copyright and commercialisation potential. As educators, we always get carried away with creating the innovation and protecting it comes a distant second for many. Setting aside commercial considerations, just making sure the academic input is acknowledged forms an important step in making sure any new gamified innovation benefits as many learners as possible and has the greatest impact it can.
These ideas are why we have continued our gamification workshops in our 20-21 Innovation in Teaching Practice Workshop series “Innovations in Learning and Teaching” Advance HE events. We will explore a broad range of key aspects intended to facilitate consideration of basic pedagogic starting points as well as how to use, design, evaluate and disseminate gamification of learning in practice as a flexible and multi-faceted tool for any contemporary educators repertoire.
Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R. and Nacke, L., 2011, September. From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification. In Proceedings of the 15th international academic MindTrek conference: Envisioning future media environments (pp. 9-15). ACM.
Kirriemuir, J. and McFarlane, A., 2004. Report 8: Literature review in games and learning. Futurelab Series, pp.1-35.
Konrad Bochennek, Boris Wittekindt, Stefanie-Yvonne Zimmermann & Thomas Klingebiel (2007) More than mere games: a review of card and board games for medical education, Medical Teacher, 29:9-10, 941-948
Landers, R.N., 2014. Developing a theory of gamified learning: Linking serious games and gamification of learning. Simulation & gaming, 45(6), pp.752-768.
Majuri, J., Koivisto, J. and Hamari, J., 2018. Gamification of education and learning: A review of empirical literature. In Proceedings of the 2nd International GamiFIN Conference, GamiFIN 2018. CEUR-WS.
Stierer, B. and Antoniou, M., 2004. Are there distinctive methodologies for pedagogic research in higher education?. Teaching in higher education, 9(3), pp.275-285.