More than just fun and games

Keri Beckingham looks at gamification, game-based learning, and the benefits of educational experiences beyond the classroom

The digital world has become a key fixture in schools, colleges and universities.  Many education providers are already exploring the ways that gamification and game-based learning can motivate students to learn. Compared to more traditional teaching methods, these concepts aim to improve educational outcomes by encouraging students’ competitive streaks.  Game-based learning is used to teach and gamification structures the learning itself.  What are teachers’ and industry experiences and does playing games work in the real world of education?  Where do apps fit in?

Charles Wiles – Zzish

Drivers to motivation

Charles Wiles is the founder of Zzish, an edtech venture who are focused on using gamification to make formative assessments fun. He has seen the impact that this platform can have within the classroom environment, and says: “Setting small goals that are achievable and measurable and using social levers such as competition and collaboration are key drivers to motivation. These drivers are hard to apply in a normal school setting, but, when it comes to software, they become simple and natural features that drive usage, engagement and improvement.”

Commenting further, Charles adds: “An interesting artifact of our own classroom team basketball game is that students are more concerned about scoring a basket than getting a question correct (although they are in fact exactly the same thing) and as a result teachers have observed that students learn to take much greater care in reading questions properly. This care in reading questions properly is then reflected in the fact that they make less mistakes of this type when taking normal pen and paper tests.” 

Learning beyond the classroom

Carl Sheen is an Educational Software Trainer at Genee World, a company that manufactures educational software. He believes that educational apps are key to encouraging learning beyond the classroom, and says: “Technology has had a huge impact on game-based learning, as there are a multitude of educational apps that can be used both in the classroom and at home. This gives teachers and parents the ability to place learning in the hands of students, and provide them with an engaging way of absorbing content and consolidating their learning through revision.” 

Exploring this idea further, Charles Wiles adds: “We find that teachers tell their students to go home and play our learning games with their parents.  Parents often struggle to find time to engage with their children’s learning and so gamifying the experience for parents too can be powerful.”

Getting the balance right

When it comes to educational apps, Simon Baddeley, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert believes there is a key balance between games that are educational and games that are fun. He says: “The mistake of many ‘educational’ games is that they neglect the fun element in favour of cramming in learning outcomes with the result being that the learner quickly becomes disengaged. 

“The recent craze for Pokemon Go wasn’t brought about because it involved lots of walking and physical exercise, it was fun to walk around places and find hidden creatures then compare them with others via battles. It was never marketed as a tool to develop physical exercise or to teach people about local landmarks but it did both brilliantly.” 

Southmead Primary School

Thomas Golightly is a Reception Teacher and Computing Coordinator at Southmead Primary School, and he believes the best way for students to make the most progress is for them to learn without even realising they are doing it. He says: “I have explored the gamification of learning by using Digital Badges with MakeWaves, a social learning platform for children that allows them to share what they make, challenge themselves and record their achievements. I experimented by using these with our Year 6 classes, as we wanted to find a way to excite and engage our children in their computing education in a tech-focused way.

“We created badges to award to the children for each stage of a simple coding project. By being awarded badges as they progressed through the topic, it was similar to awards or checkpoints which they experienced in video games which they often played at home. They would be keen to get as much work done in each lesson as possible to try and move onto their next badge or ‘reward’.

“From a teacher’s perspective, this made it really easy to keep track of children’s work as it was all uploaded to one point to easily review and give feedback on. The children were highly engaged and enjoyed sharing their experiences with their friends. By making elements of their learning similar to their experiences in video games, it engrossed the children and made them self-autonomous in their learning, rather than needing constant teacher input.”

Joel Mills – University of Hull

 University of Hull

Joel Mills is Acting Head of Technology and Enhanced Learning at the University of Hull, and believes that gamification and game-based learning definitely still have their place within the classroom. He says: “Game-based learning has certainly moved rapidly, especially in the last four or five years. Games like Minecraft have shown that it is possible to use games to teach a variety of lessons, from maths and computer science to softer skills like communication and cooperation. 

“With the introduction of Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), which allows integration of internet-based learning applications with online platforms, the possibilities have expanded even more. The VLE that we use at the University of Hull – Canvas – allows us to do this, as its open source system enables us to add educational apps quickly and easily.” 

“Much of the movement towards app-based and game-based learning has been led by student expectations of their learning experience. Many, if not most, of the students who arrive at university expect to be able to access their work, grades and assignments from wherever they are on their devices, and learning institutions have to adapt to support this.”