The Game of School

2324234097_6e8e0ef794_tI am four weeks into my Gamification coursera course by Kevin Werbach and decided I am ready to “put pen to paper” so-to-speak and get my thoughts down.

Gamification is not turning everything into a game; rather, it is finding what makes games interesting, fun, motivating, and engaging and taking those elements, designs and techniques and applying them in a non-game context like a business or a classroom environment. There is a whole lot more to this definition but this is the gist of it.

One of the activities that Kevin posed during the first week of the course was to make a list of the things in our life that involve games or play and see what distinguishes them. To preface, there are differences between Games and Play:

Games are:

  • closed, formal system, resolves itself in winners and losers (unequal outcomes)
  • series of meaningful choices (think checker moves); something happens based on what you do
  • problem-solving activity approached w/a playful attitude

Whereas Play= Freedom, doing whatever you want within limits

  • spontaneous,
  • for own sake
  • voluntary
  • exuberant energy,
  • free movement w/in structured environ (think, “Magic Circle” by Huizinga),
  • helps child become better

School and Testing immediately came to mind as games that students and teachers are involved in.

  • Schools are closed, formal systems that resolves itself in the forms of “winners”- the students that perform well and receive good grades, follow the rules; and “losers”- those that don’t
  • Students make meaningful choices where something happens based on what they do (or don’t do). So, the students pay attention in class, study for the test, perform well on the test OR students don’t pay attention in class, don’t study and don’t perform well (or variations of the above). Students choose to follow the rules and stay out of trouble, or they don’t
  • Students are involved in the daily problem-solving activity of doing school

Testing fits in with the definition as well. Testing is a closed, formal system that resolves itself in the form of winners (the students who perform, the teachers whose students perform and the schools whose teachers had students who perform well); and losers (the students, teachers and schools whose students do not perform well).

Here is where the definition divides: The schools make the “meaningful” choices to align the curriculum. Now the teachers will teach the students the material that they need to know in order to perform well on the test. The schools that perform well can receive the funding and the teachers will be evaluated positively because their evaluations are tied to these test scores. The students, unfortunately have no say in the matter and the teachers, though they may not agree with the mandates, are left to make the “choice”; if you can really call it that.

Unfortunately, what is often missing from the Game of School, is the Fun. The joy of learning for learning’s sake. The joy of reading for reading’s sake. The free movement within a structured environment. “Whoever Must Play, cannot play” (Mary Poppins); once someone is forced to do something, it is no longer fun. In fact, it can even de-motivate students (and teachers) from doing what they originally enjoyed.

More to come on schools and motivation in the next post.

Image credit: “Lost”

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