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my thoughts

The Games We Play...

In class we talked about the distinction between off the shelf commercial games (e.g. Oregon Trail, WOW, The Sims) and games that were created for learning purposes (e.g. Kahoot, Jeopardy, Educaplay). We discussed the difference between the two forms, what makes the former so “addicting,” and what we can do to bring this same super-engaging quality to our learning based game. As I thought about my own gaming behavior, I realized that it all boils down to motivation, which for learners is very, very largely dependent on context. We can think of motivation as related to what is required (what does society, our parents, our jobs, etc. force us to do) versus what is self-determined (what we wish we could be doing while we’re doing what we have to). A lot of times people take up commercial games because they’re “fun,” but what does fun mean? For me it is a distraction; it’s an entertaining way to escape from reality or boredom. Fun can take a lot of forms— for some people it only requires a creative outlet, for others they may need physical movement— for me, fun involves creativity and a competitive element or a sense accomplishing something (e.g. finishing a mansion in Sims or putting together a new deck in DuelLinks). That’s probably why for me, quiz games aren’t super entertaining because there’s little creativity involved for participants; I like games that are little more complicated and require problem solving. All of this is to say that, knowing what I enjoy as a gamer, I can easily find and start games that I think I would enjoy. But for teachers, how can we bring the positive aspects of gaming to a classroom when so many different students’ tastes and personalities are involved?

I think that the solution is much simple than it may seem. We discussed interactive multimodal learning/instruction earlier in the quarter and stressed the importance of “using different representation modes and modalities to promote understanding” (Moreno and Mayer, 2007). Moreno and Mayer made a distinction in “learning” between information acquisition and knowledge construction. At some point in class we touched on the possibility that games for learning (mostly comprised of quizzes) seems be most useful for discrete point assessment as opposed to going problem solving or critical thinking skills. But as I’ve been reflecting on this notion while wrapping up my own teaching for the quarter, I’d like to contest this idea. As a competitive person myself, I wonder if we can’t make some of our instructional materials more explicit competitive (of course, while fostering a safe, and friendly classroom environment). My hunch is that competition might create that extra motivational boost for some learners, and if the activity is designed well enough, could allow for some implicit learning (information acquisition and knowledge construction) at the same time.

For example, in the high school ELD class I was teaching, I had students play a sentence relay game. For this game they had to race across the room to a paragraph that was taped on the wall. The point was to read and memorize it as much as possible and then race back to their team’s designated “writer” and dictate what they had read. The first team with the whole paragraph rewritten would be the winners. This game went over super well in this class. They were extremely competitive even though the only prize was bragging rights. When I was planning this activity I was worried that I was just adding a game for the sake of making class fun, but then I thought of an additional step that might encouragement some more engagement with the content. I chose paragraphs that specifically talked about our content (it’s a sociolinguistics class, but that day was introducing the social science research process). I scaled the language to be appropriate for this group of students. Then I created some comprehension/discussion questions that were based on the paragraph. So, after the paragraph was effectively rewritten, as a group they had to respond to the questions to be “finished” and “win”. Of course, this is not a tech-based game, but I could easily envision how it could be modified for online or hybrid learning. All of this is to say that when we talk about gamifying our lessons, what I think we are really getting at is how we can make instruction more “fun.” And I think I’ve arrived at the same conclusion I arrive at for most issues in education and that is as teachers we need to be sensitive to the needs and personalities of the students in our classrooms and try to modify our instruction accordingly— whether that means making things a little more kinetic, creative, or competitive!

Do you agree/disagree? Comment below! Let me know if you have any ideas about how to modify the activity I described for online/hybrid learning.

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