Gamification vs Game-based learning

Quite often I have colleagues who confuse gamification and game-based learning. Webpages like https://blog.capterra.com/gamification-vs-games-based-learning/ and https://ashleytan.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/gamification-game-based-learning-serious-gaming/ try to explain it. But if these still leave you scratching your head, today I learnt a simple way of distinguishing it from a colleague, Mr Chia Hai Siang, who has expertise in gamification and games in learning. Simply put, if you can switch the content and still retain the game mechanics, then it is gamification.

For example, most escape room learning activities are gamifying learning. Switch the content of the puzzles from Maths to English and the game mechanics are the same. You solve the puzzles to get a clue to the next puzzle to eventually escape the room. Game based learning would be for example a player/learner having to apply physics to crank open a door jammed in a deliberate way. The physics content is baked into the mechanics of the game.

This simple distinction has been a eureka moment for me and I hope it helps you too!

Overarching narrative in Gamification

Just had a great talk with a fellow educator, David Oon, who’s the ICT HOD at Spectra Secondary School. He has been doing gamification with a knowledge web/map system for a number of years and it has worked well for the lower secondary levels. He even budgeted for various physical items which students can redeem with the experience points they earned. This is especially ideal for the socioeconomic group he’s working with, since the items are of high practical value for schooling and other aspects of daily life.

But over the years David realised that the upper secondary students are not so engaged by the gamification anymore. They tend to question the relevance of what they’re doing. This prompted my colleague to reach out to various educators, including myself, who have had experience with gamification to see what design additions can be done to resolve this issue. Unfortunately none of us have actually reached the stage he’s in. Most of us gamified at a topic level. He has gamified at a syllabus level! What a grand achievement! Edit: David has insisted that he is simply carrying on the good work that his predecessor, Wei Ren, started. You can find out a bit more about how Spectra Sec uses gamification and knowledge maps in this link. David’s not resting on his laurels, he still wants to level up.

And the next step in his leveling up is to bring a narrative flow to his gamification. He already has a narrative in mind. So the next thing is about how to implement/manifest this narrative. We recalled how the Marvel Cinematic Universe did it – by using post credit clips to link one movie to another. The advantage of this over the traditional method of a cliffhanger is that there is closure. The movie has already completed its small arch, the audience is satisfied with the closure and the post credits just tease a little bit more. For example Thor’s hammer was shown on earth in the post credits of Iron Man 2. It had totally nothing to do with the plot of the Iron Man 2 movie itself, but it piqued our interest. And when the Thor movie was shown, many of the audience quickly connected the plot back to the Iron Man 2 post credit scene of Thor’s hammer on earth, helping to connect Iron Man 2 with Thor, despite not much of a plot continuation or overlap. In later use of the post credit scenes for Marvel Movies, sometimes there are clear plot overlaps, but the fact that it’s not a necessary condition makes post credit scenes the underrated hero of the Marvel Cinematic universe.

To borrow this analogy for a narrative flow, perhaps it’s better for a topic, or as David calls it, a learning zone, to have a self contained capstone/boss-fight for closure, before having a transition activity or cinematic to connect to the next topic/learning zone. It sounds simple enough but sometimes we connect everything together thinking it’ll be better. Imagine if the ending of Iron Man 2 directly linked to Thor’s plot in-movie instead of via a post credit scene, the feeling will be very different. This was kind of what DC tried to do by foreshadowing future movies in Batman vs Superman with the Flash’s time travel scene in-movie to warn Bruce Wayne about Superman. We all know how well that turned out.

So tentatively, we arrived at the conclusion that self-contained learning zones with capstone projects/assessments, linked via videos or activities to other learning zones is the way to achieve a narrative flow. This understanding will probably evolve the more we explore and brainstorm with various educators. I’m excited to see where this will lead us!

Closing the feedback loop

It’s really a joy to see an initial design bear fruit. One of our big pain-points when designing feedback app MineGap was not knowing what happens when teachers complete marking a piece of work and it is returned to students. So we built in a reflection component as a final step before closing the feedback loop as can be seen below. And I am glad that students take the opportunity to clarify their doubts.

This makes me lament however, at the inefficacy of the old/traditional way. How many of these doubts were unaddressed simply because we didn’t design adequate stop-points for students to ask and digest what they have learnt? We simply plowed on with our content syllabus with an assumption that just because we said/taught it,  students have learnt it. This contravenes our own learning experience and all forms of evidence-based knowledge about learning. If we can put feedback and feedforward at the heart of learning, wouldn’t the students’ learning experience improve? And with a better learning experience, wouldn’t their academic results be positively correlated as well? WhatsApp Image 2018-08-02 at 9.30.14 AM (1)

WhatsApp Image 2018-08-02 at 9.30.14 AM

Different purposes of Gamification

It was such a blast presenting at FlipTech East Coast 2018 ! You can see some of my photos here. From the follow-up conversations with various participants, I guess gamification can be categorised into the following:

  1. Gamification for behavioural management – Tools like Classdojo and ClassCraft seem to be geared towards this end. Points are awarded for positive behaviour like handing work earlier and deducted for negative behaviours like being disruptive in class. Although for classcraft, @lucasconner did mention that users can repurpose the descriptions of “powers” and conditions for levelling up. So if that were done, I guess classcraft can move to purposes 2 and 3.
  2. Short-term or lesson-level gamification –  This would be more geared to gamification of a single or at most 2 lessons. Tools like Kahoot seem geared towards this end, you layer on game mechanics like points, leaderboards, time constraints, tense music during said time constraints for the learning objectives of a single lesson. I’ve heard that Kahoot is popular as a revision tool to inject a bit of fun at the end of a unit.
  3. Extended or progression-level gamification – This would be for a more extended period of time, I reckon 2 weeks is the minimum, with a more expansive set of learning objectives to cover. Existing examples include Khan academy’s gamification of the subjects it covers.SketchOld school paper examples include the card based Young Scientist Badges used in Singapore in the 80s and 90s as shown below. 1 star activities create a low enough bar to onboard most people. And once they’re hooked, they can choose other difficulties to tackle. Excellent gamification design on a simple platform. Teachers or parents serve as the gatekeeper to give feedback and implicit approval of the effort that students have made on their own accord. Image result for young scientist badgesDigital platforms that teachers can use for gamification of progress could be Edmodo’s badge system; Singapore based Coursemology, which is designed for computing but has been repurposed for K-12 subjects as well; and Smart Explorer (not sure if it’s available outside of Singapore). Sometimes though digital platforms can end up boxing your design so perhaps having a manual design, like what I did in 2016, might be helpful first for you to know exactly what type/style of gamification you want, before moving on to experiment with digital platforms. This would be literally chronologically pedagogy before technology.

If there has already been a more formal and better categorization than my above ones, do let me know in the comments! This was written under jet lagged and FTEC18 withdrawal conditions after all! Haha!

ICTLT2018 – Travelling the suboptimal path with Prof Manu Kapur

The 2018 International Conference for Teaching and Learning with Technology has come and gone. And as usual it was a blast! I was fortunate enough to enrol into Prof Manu Kapur’s (of Productive Failure fame) masterclass on exploratory problem solving. The workshop was very well designed with a good mix of peer and teacher led discussion.

What is and what isn’t?

He started off with getting us to discuss “what is” exploratory problem solving. The typical discussion among us ensued. What was interesting was the next question – “what isn’t” exploratory problem solving. This was a useful question I can use straight away for future lessons. Oftentimes things are defined against what they are not. E.g. atheist vs theist , flipped learning vs traditional teaching, good vs evil. So this follow up question was great for our understanding of what exploratory problem solving is. And this simple first activity was also a great example of why “discovery” of knowledge (mentioned later in the workshop) sticks way better than knowledge which has been given or obtained without much effort or thought. By spending a good 15 minutes discussing what is and isn’t exploratory problem solving, we were much better primed to learn the design principles to be espoused later on. untitled-picture.jpg

Design principles

The following design principles were later touched on via discussion activities.
  1. Activation
  2. Seeing/Noticing
  3. Awareness of Gaps
  4. Interest & Motivation
  5. Developing Intuition
  6. Grounding
  7. Problem Finding

Each of these principles were well explained and I definitely gained a lot from them. To prevent this post from becoming overly long, I’ll just mention a few things which really stood out in my own learning.

What stood out

This was the first workshop about learning which talks explicitly about developing intuition! As seen in my OneNote screenshot below, comparing and contrasting scenarios with slight changes allows students to both activate and develop their intuition. I think this activity also helps the “seeing/noticing” aspect as well. Debb2l3VAAEbfnmAnother eureka moment was about using games in learning. I have been an advocate of using games like the pit trading game for learning because I can see the “ah ha” moments when students are playing the games. However I did not observe clear evidence (e.g. via grades, clear change of mental models, higher order discussion etc.) of learning that stuck.

In a side convo during the break, reinforced later on in his workshop, Prof Manu talked about using games for “grounding” (giving concepts a firm practical basis) instead of the actual formal learning. This makes sense because formal learning often has to end up in some kind of written assessment. Games do not accomplish that particularly well. But well designed games can indeed provide simulations which allows students to experience concepts first from a practical level. After which direct instruction of the abstract concepts can come in to formalise the learning experience. That was a pretty cool eureka moment!

I had a great learning experience and will definitely try to incorporate concepts from this workshop into my class learning design. To end this blog post, I leave you with a great quote by Prof Manu celebrating the suboptimal path 🙂

The goal of exploration is the celebration of suboptimal paths and journeys…. It is via these suboptimal paths that we can learn the formal learning better…

Giving thanks

Sometimes we need to take a step back and appreciate/marvel at what modernity has enabled us to do.

I’m at my school’s canteen doing formal work with no need to be in the office at all! With WiFi, I have access to all cloud-based documents and email. With my phone I can communicate with anyone instantaneously and take photos (like the one below). But of course don’t forget that there’s still the productive joy of pen and paper.

Life’s pretty awesome =)

The intrinsic motivation inventory

It’s been quite interesting to see the Blended Learning Networked Learning Community take to using the intrinsic motivation inventory so readily. I was kind of just resigning myself to the idea that most school research will be confined to simple survey questions for expediency. But I am glad my colleagues in this community recognise the value of using a robust instrument that has been widely accepted in pysch. research. It need not be this instrument, just something more robust than the usual and I’ll be a happy camper =).

As with much of social science research, this relies on self-reporting of human participants, which has its issues. But this inventory has questions built-in to minimize validity concerns. So while imperfect, this is still much better than the usual surveys we use. One disadvantage however is that it’s a rather lengthy survey, which may reduce participation of students who are kind of suffering from survey fatigue ( we survey them for most things these days).

 

 

If it ain’t broke, Experiment!

 

Tharman

Tharman speaks about a few challenges 1) how to become a truly innovative society…. one where not just the forerunners innovate, but a pervasive culture of innovation that includes celebration of ideas and failures 2) A sense of togetherness even as divisive issues crop up

 

I attended the inaugural NTU Majulah lecture delivered by our DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam. There were many insightful things said, but one statement stood out:

If it ain’t broke, Experiment!

He was cautioning against the mindset of being satisfied with the status quo, even when indicators like PISA point to us being one of the best with regards to educational outcomes.

I wholeheartedly agree with his statement. It is precisely since we’re doing well that we have the leeway to experiment. We have the time and space before the need to change becomes urgent. If the experiment fails, then we can fall back on the old systems with relatively little damage to outcomes.  But if we were to wait, and wait, until the situation becomes critical, then we may not have the time and space to experiment until we get it right. The plight of Nokia phones should always be a stark reminder to us not to be too smug when we’re on top.

Photo 21-9-17, 10 38 48 PM

Gamified Flipped Learning: Designing for Motivation

 

This is a great video explaining what the 3 basic psychological needs as theorized in self-determination theory are. The 3 needs are namely, Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. This is narrated by Richard Ryan who’s one of the co-developers of self-determination theory with Edward Deci.  Gamified Flipped Learning, as designed by myself and conducted in my school from 31 July to August 29, is designed along these lines. Students have some autonomy of learning pace within the 4 week time period, tutors give timely and descriptive feedback to help students achieve competence and the more frequent student-teacher interaction that flipping content dissemination out of the classroom space would enhance relatedness.

 

 

 

 

Change mindset not content 

I’ve had two experiences with primary maths recently and both ended up as interesting and a learning experience. This is in stark contrast to other colleagues who take the difficulty as a source of anxiety rather than learning joy. We need to teach people how to learn. Once they get out of the “I know” comfort zone, they panic. But we should calm our emotions look at the syllabus and examine the big picture of what type of skills and learning is trying to be imparted and proceed from there.

We need to embrace the joy of not knowing the love the process of figuring things out.