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Gamification of Education

Isn’t there an old adage that says ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’? It looks like today’s education sector has finally woken up to this truth. The result is for everyone to see -gamification. The use of game-like thinking and elements in places that are not traditionally games, is termed as ‘gamification’.

The Gamification Wiki1 defines Gamification as the infusion of game design techniques, game mechanics, and/or game style into anything. It is possible that the term was first coined by Nick Pelling in March 2004 for his gamification consultancy startup Conundra Ltd. Gamification has attained such popularity that today it has found its way into non-educational domains such as marketing, politics, health and fitness. According to industry analysts gamification is predicted to become a multi-billion dollar industry by 2015 (MacMillan, 2011).

Let’s have a look at what makes it so popular, how it will fare in future and whether it is worth the hype it is creating. I guess most of the educators will admit that one of the biggest challenges facing schools today is ‘student motivation and engagement’. American schools, for instance, are facing an alarmingly high dropout rate with approximately 1.2 million students failing to graduate from high school each year (All4Ed, 2010). The excitement of playing a game, the adrenalin rush in competing with rivals and the exultation of winning – all these factors make games more likable than studying. It’s no surprise then that ‘Farmville’ excites a student more than a lecture on Physics does. This rationale has greatly inspired the evolution of ‘gamification in education’.

Pros and cons of gamification in education

In their paper entitled Gamification of education – What, How, Why Bother?2, Lee and Hammer have talked at length about the benefits of gamifying education. According to them, the cognitive benefits of gamification include the development of problem solving skills in a student. Players, in this case students, are supposed to finish progressively difficult sequences of actions which may cover subjects such as science, maths or languages. He gets rewards for completing one level and also proceeds to the next one. This motivates him to do better and constantly improve his skills.

Lee further opines that gamification can act as a powerful tool in addressing a child’s emotional needs. Apart from invoking powerful emotions such as joy and frustration, games help players face failures in the right spirit and strive to achieve success, thus transforming the negative emotional experiences into positive ones. This is something usually unseen and unheard of in a strict academic setting.

The authors Lee and Hammer suggest that games allows players to try new roles and identities, thus exploring different facets of their own personalities. Given that students are more likely to succeed if they have a ‘strong, school-based identity’ (Nasir & Saxe 1993), this is perhaps one of the most subtle, but powerful benefits of gamification. However, all is not hunky dory about playing these games.

To begin with, the need to quantify every aspect of learning – not everything about learning can be counted or graded or quantified.

Throwing too many and very difficult challenges at the learner. This could result in extreme anxiety and even frustration in the student.

Gamification doesn’t differentiate between skills, concepts and processes.

Additionally there are so many other things that just doesn’t fall into the grove of ‘gamification’ : discussions, debates, book studies, documentary creation, etc.

Susannah Jivotovski, in her article Gamification of Education4 says that there is a potential harm belying gamification whereby the student might lose the idea of learning for the sake of learning. They might start feeling the need for external rewards to motivate them to learn.

Whether gamification will stand the test of time isn’t known to us. But it’s definitely worth trying gamifying education in the right sense and right proportions to see how it helps our next generation.

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