Sunday, September 28, 2014

Game based Mechanics at School

Last week I went with my kids to their school's "fun night". The fun centers around a fair like set of activities that generates funds for the school. My kids love the little games and winning all the nearly worthless little prizes and punches on their cards. This time the organizers decided to simplify things by taking the stuff and punches out of the activities.

I was watching my son Oren walk around trying to decide what to play. "Why don't you play this one?" (pointing to bean bag target game) I asked. He looked at me and said "You can't win anything so what's the point?". The organizers have definitely simplified the organization of the fair but they completely missed the game mechanics. To keep humans motivated and in this case creating enjoyment the game has to have a point. The point can be a prize, points, a leaderboard or boasting rights but it has to have a point.

I think this is the point that people miss when we talk about how our understanding of games can inform education. It is not about making educational games. Instead it is about importing the idea of feedback and rewarding incremental progress. Education has always been very good about long term rewards- semester and course grades, GPA and even entry to college. We are considerably less adept at rewarding incremental progress and specific achievements. The only example that I can think of in recent years is the work in RtI (Response to Intervention) on reading fluency. In it students receive weekly probes and chart their progress. This has worked almost too well encouraging students (and teachers) to focus on rate too much. This however highlights the enormous promise in using feedback on incremental achievement progress. Badging anyone?

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