NWeLearn: Using Gamefication to Increase Engagement

Centralia College

Centralia College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I was at the North West eLearning Conference in Eugene, OR. I highly recommend the conference. What I like about it most is that there are usually few presentations by vendors and a lot of sessions by teachers and education professionals. I was fortunate enough to make it to Erin Baker’s presentation called “Using Gamefication to Increase Engagement – Myth, Magic, and Reality.” And what you think should be a no-brainer at a conference on elearning, but is often exceptional, instead of telling us about it or reading off her paper, she had us actually do things. It was as much a hands on workshop as it was a presentation. Erin is an Education Technologist from Centralia College’s eLearning Dept. At the beginning, our “ice breaker challenge” was a scavenger hunt where we were meant to find others in the room and answer 8 questions about them which ranged from who had used gamefication before to funny questions like “name five pokemon” or “can you sing all the words to the theme song from ‘Gilligan’s Island.'” Her presentation also utilized scenarios on various facets of student engagement (or disengagement) and the room broke up into groups to come up with solutions. There were fill in the blank note sheets for getting down the ideas of the presentation. We were given an sheet that was an “Objective Bingo” which you could fill out as you met the objectives of the presentation. And if all that wasn’t enough, she had stayed up until 3:00 AM to make us all a series of ten collectible cards that she used as awards. We were given the opportunity to get complete sets at the end, but that required us to spontaneously organize into groups of sorters. If you could not make it to the session and would like to talk to her about it, she is on Twitter @erinanddelijah. The session was informative and inspiring and the cards alone were worth the price of admission.

So I have used games in my English comp classes before (a version of Nomic, for instance), but they were always separate events or assignments, not something built into the classroom or assessment. I learned a lot from using Nomic in the classroom – there can be a lot of positive, unintended consequences for using games in the classroom. The philosopher Peter Suber wrote about the game in his book “The Paradox of Self-Amendment: A study of law, logic, omnipotence, and change” in 1990 where he defines Nomic as “…a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes, deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it. Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed.” This game teaches the students more about politics, communication, and getting things done in one day than they can learn in four years in college. But what I liked most about using a game was it brought out the voices from the back of the class, the introverts in the back realized that the three or four extroverts in the front were getting all the points, so they started to get together to create voting blocks and even passed a rule that said that anyone with more than 400 points had to give half back to everyone else! Now what I think Erin is getting at is that the kind of engagement I found in that one assignment can be part of the design for the whole class.

Some of the connectivist MOOCs I have participated in have gamefied elements. There are elements of gamefication in classes like DS 106 where the students have the ability to create their own assignments and the entire curriculum is in the spirit of a “choose your own adventure” game.

I did not have a chance to post about this over the weekend, but I did manage to read more articles about it – that to me is the sign of a good conference experience and what I mean by “inspiration” – I am led to explore and experiment more. Any way, these were some articles of interest to me. If there are some essentials I am missing let me know in the comments or contact me online via Twitter @geoffcain. The first three participants may be entered into a contest to possibly win a brand, new car! See? I just gamified my blog!

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