Dichotomy in the Classroom: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 3)

I started this series earlier last year (Part 1 & Part 2), examining how video games have become one of our culture’s favourite types of text. But this series is not just about video games. It’s about how the benefits of games can crossover into education. This series stems from my fascination with how people learn vast sets of rules and garner a variety of skills when they are engaged in games and play. So, how do we use games and play for learning?


Dramatis Personae

EK – Edna Krabappel. Jaded teacher from the Simpson’s.

BRS – Brent Schmidt, yours truly.

***

EK: Why would we want to infuse gaming in the classroom? Kids play too much video games.

BRS: Gaming doesn’t mean video games. Many teachers over the years have used games to help their students learn, or used game elements to increase engagement.

EK: “Game elements?”

BRS: Game elements are things like: mystery, narrative, conflict, chance, scores, strategy, uncertainty, aesthetic appeal, competition, progress, emotional involvement, and collaboration.

EK: Still don’t get it. How can we possible play video games in class? That’s not educational.

BRS: That’s not what’s being suggested here, although video games have been used to teach.  Think of it like this: how can we design our teaching and instruction in a way where lessons are more “playable” using the elements listed above.

EK: “Playable?”

BRS: Playable means a lesson, unit, or project is inviting. It means, it should pique a student’s curiosity . It means that play becomes part of the way we learn and practice skills. It also means that it’s done collaboratively.

EK: Whoa, whoa, whoa, there buddy! You can’t do all that!

BRS: Yes, you can! You just need to practice what it looks like in a classroom. You start with a setting, students have characters, there’s a problem, and the students need to learn and use the curricular stuff to progress.

EK: Okay, so what do we call this? What’s the acronym? EdGaming? Gamification? Game-based learning? EGGGBL?

BRS: A term my colleagues and I have used is  “Classroom Story“. It’s not about acronyms, a detailed methodology, or cookie cutter lessons.  It’s having an approach using narrative and game elements to drive the students to learn and create.

EK: What about other methods? Like Project-Based Learning, or Writer’s Workshop, and Lit Circles? And what about technology?

BRS: All are still totally viable! A Classroom Story is using a creative narrative and game elements to drive the class forward. Teachers can still integrate their own strengths, styles, projects, and personality!

EK: You just said “Classroom Story” again, and before you were talking about video games! What are you trying to pull here!

BRS: I’m just trying to be part of a grander conversation about culture and education. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between popular culture and education system. I’m trying to incorporate the ancient practices of storytelling and game-playing, with modern technology and pedgogical methods to create a positive, creative learning environment. All those principles packaged together became something called a Classroom Story. 

EK: This confuses me and now I don’t want to do it.

BRS: If you try and don’t like it, or it doesn’t mesh with what you’re trying to do, I get it. This isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a solution to education’s woes, but many teachers have found it increase student engagement, the quality of writing, creative output, and classroom cohesion.

EK: I’ve seen a bunch of stuff online about using badges, achievements, and level-ups. Is that gaming in a classroom?

BRS: Some will say yes, but I don’t believe it is. Just because there’s an electronic achievement with a little badge, packaged like a game, does not make it gaming. Remember learning about the “Types of Players“? Achievements and badges are just re-packaged grades, and there’s only one kind of “player” that goes for that; achievers. We need to teach to the “Explorers”, “Socializers”, and “Killers”, too. And I feel that the Classroom Story does that.

EK: Why do I need to do a song and dance for the students? Why can’t they just sit in rows, read the assigned texts, and do the work? Kids are lazy these days!

BRS: The human brain learns and retains information better when it is engaged. When there is purpose and joy. When students are working and playing in proximity and community. This is why we need to teach students differently.

EK: Well, I’ll just add more tech. And YouTube. Kids love tech and YouTube.

BRS:  ಠ⌣ಠ

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Bartle’s Kids: Teaching a Gaming Generation (Part 2)

In part 1, I explored ideas relating to the current state of video game culture; the way video games have evolved with the ubiquity of social media and video sharing and how our students participate in this culture.

Here in part two I’m examining: how gamers have personality types, why we should view students as gamers, and why we need to view and approach lesson design like game design.


Years ago, a friend of mine Gregory Chomichuk, introduced me to a great YouTube channel called Extra Credits that explores a variety of concepts related to video game design theory; quality storytelling, engaging game mechanics, appealing aesthetics, difficulty settings, quality level design, the creation process, and even gamifying education are but a few of the topics. The crew at Extra Credits excellently delivers information. Their approach using visuals to reinforce concepts is a major plus. They take challenging topics and make them understandable. It’s great, check it out.

Fast forward to autumn 2015, when the above-mentioned Gregory shows me the video titled “Bartle’s Taxonomy: What Type of Player Are You?” Please watch:

My observations:

I instantly started seeing parallels between the player types*, and myself and my students. The semi-eccentric kid who doodles on everything and marches to the beat of their own drum is the explorer. The eager go-getter who must complete all assignments with a high mark is the achiever. The kid who acts upon their peers through some form of attention seeking or type A behaviour is the killers. The kid(s) who ONLY want to talk and socialize…all the time are the socializers!

*”player type” is not synonymous with learning styles (kinaesthetic, verbal, visual, etc.) “Player type” is  the preferred way with which a player (person) interacts within a particular game or social environment.

I saw these player types in myself, both as a learner and a gamer. I quickly identified myself as an explorer and achiever. I like to go for the game’s (or lesson’s) stated goals, but I like doing it my way, taking the time to go on tangents and explore. These spectrums are flexible. Some people are clearly one player type, while some fall into multiple categories.

I was provoked by the part in the video that talks about the video game environment Bartle researched. How players played games for different reasons,and although there was lots of disagreement, there was not one type of voice that stood out. But neither was there 1000 different voices saying different things. It was uncanny how these massive roleplaying game communities sound a lot like a classroom full of students.

In the book OutliersMalcolm Gladwell examines some the reasons behind success from an interesting angle. Among other things, he cites the 10 000-Hour Rule as one indicator of success. The 10 000-Hour Rule claims that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

“World class expertise”- 10 000 hours. That means practicing something correctly for 2.5 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 15 years.

I teach 12-14 year olds. I doubt more than a handful of them are even close to reading quality text for over 1000 hours (2 hours per week for 10 years). But video games? That number is a lot higher.

The attraction of video games is that they are not a passive experience like TV or film, where the user takes in the content. Video games are an active experience where there is interaction, choice, consequences, achievement, and socialization. Our kids are gamers. It’s pretty safe to say that there is more gaming than book-reading happening, and that means that video games are the primary way in which our students engage with narratives.

Gameplay in games is fun. There are places to explore, people to talk to, and people to act upon, but a good narrative holds a lot of weight in the gaming world. Narrative weaves the details of the worlds, paints content, populates places with characters, and ultimately transports the player into that world. What if we took the same approach to teaching.

Oftentimes I don’t see a difference between how gamers engage in games, and how teachers engage students in learning. Can the player types be catered to in the classroom as they are in games?

On the game side, designers are always incorporating new data and technologies; innovating game design; creating faster consoles, better graphics engines, more responsive gameplay, a more immersive online experience. They are doing all they can to engage their gamers. Teachers have been designing unique projects and units, innovating with new technologies and tools, making classrooms places of inspiration and creation.

The big difference here is how Gaming is a large, international, multi-billion dollar industry. Companies want to make money and they are doing so in spades. They adapt to their market and provide the players what they want. That is the way the corporate system works in this world.

But is the education system listening to what its users want?

The education system has particularly catered to only a portion of the four gaming personalities; Achievers. “Here’s what you need to learn (goal), this is how to show (assignment), here’s your grade (reward).”

*Stop. Do I go on the anti-grade rant now? Wait. Save for a future post. Okay.*

* UPDATE* I did.

It’s not that we shouldn’t have things in our system for Achievers, but we teachers need to help balance the student-ecosystem from the inside.

Let’s get some fun back in our classroom and learning. Let’s Gamify a bit.

‘Til next time.

 

Breakout!

At a semi-recent PD day, I got the chance to try a Breakout Room scenario thanks to Tara McLauchlan. In a Breakout Room (or escape room), participants are immersed in a narrative that takes place in a single room and requires their escape. Escape is typically achieved by opening a heavily locked box. Elements have been placed about the room that are either clues or distractors. Distractors (red herrings) are meant to throw you off and make you chase your own theories. Solving clues allows you to unlock locks on the breakout box. Once the box is open the players win, if done within the given time limit. Participants are challenged to use their intelligence, reasoning, and teamwork to escape the scenario. So basically all the 6 Cs.

Breakout EDU has now adapted this experience to the classroom (watch the link for a much better description), which is the rendition that I participated in. They have all sorts of pre-made scenarios that teachers (or whoever) can put together and facilitate. You can order a pre-made kit or make your own.

I had been doing a greek myth/ancient hero classroom story with my students for a while and needed a good finale. Creating my own breakout scenario from scratch would be perfect! Tara loaned me the breakout box with all the locks, gizmos, and do-dads, as well as her personal knowledge on the subject. After many hours of creating scenarios, combos, puzzles, media files, and red herrings, the Breakout experience was ready for my students.

 

The pictures above are just a glimpse of the mayhem and fun we had. The whole experience from planning to completion was excellent. At no point did I think this wasn’t worth the time. I will undoubtably do a breakout scenario again, and now I have all sorts of different ideas on how to create more challenging and immersive puzzles, clues, and distractors.

One of my favourite parts was when the students finally unlocked the breakout box…only to discover that there was another locked case inside! HAHA

This experience reminded me of these quotes I read in an Atlantic magazine article a few months ago.

Learn Through Play

Learn With Joy

These quotes sum up not only Breakout EDU, but the fact that we need more gaming in schools. I would classify Breakout EDU as a way to “gamify” the classroom. The content of the puzzles can be created to suit any curriculum and students will attack that content without knowing that they are learning it.

I love seeing cool, relevant stuff like this being adapted to the classroom. I applaud those innovators in education who keep up with the culture.