Let the Gamification Begin


photo © 2009 Erin! Nekervis | more info (via: Wylio)
A few years and a few less pounds ago I belonged to a gym that had, what I thought, was a brilliant way to get people motivated to come to the gym and exercise more. The gym sponsored contests which had members do various tasks in the gym for some kind of reward. One example had members keep track of the number of minutes they exercised. Once a member reached a required number of minutes they were given a t-shirt. Another contest tracked the number of miles a member walked, ran, elipitaclled (okay, I made this word up), or biked. The member was given a toy car he or she moved from Bluffton to some destination with those arriving alive also receiving a t-shirt. Along with myself, many other members killed themselves in that gym not to get fit and healthy but to get the blasted t-shirt. Those shirts became badges of pride by those who put forth the blood, sweat, and tears required to get the reward. Instead of becoming fit, what happened is gym members were motivated by receiving the t-shirt reward. The term for this is gamification which is defined as "the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications". Gamification is being used more in the tech world as a way to attract people to websites to achieve multiple hits on the page. This is usually done as a marketing tool or a way to attract "eyeballs" to advertisements to a site.

I got to wondering if gamification would work for education on a large scale. The economist in me says that people do respond to incentives. Instead of grades, students who achieved certain levels of mastery or proficiency would earn rewards which would be tracked. Achieve mastery in all the levels of a unit then a larger reward is given. Achieve mastery in a number of levels of unit mastery then receives a larger reward. I have seen teachers do something similar with something as simple as candy (much to the chargrin of teachers who later greet students hyped up on sugar). Our school is trying disciplinary measures which students collect points or signatures based on behaviors such as doing classwork, meeting dress code, and behaving in class. Those students who receive the required number of points or signatures are eligible for priviliges, participation in special activities, allowed to go on field trips, etc....There are also negative rewards such as demerits which punishes those who score too high on total board. In the movie Freakonomics, at risk students at a Chicago area high school were paid for good grades each quarter with a bonus given to a student who won a lottery at the end of the school year. Unfortunately, grades did not go up overall but was there too much time between pay days? I wonder what would happen if students were paid every week or every other week?

Would students, conditioned to working toward a goal by demonstrating prior knowledge or performing learned tasks to get an instant reward when they play their video games, do the same if given similar instant rewards for learning in school? I have heard this argued at conferences and in blogs or articles. However, many students have told me school for them is boring because they are forced to sit down, be still, listen to someone attempt to give them knowledge that has no practical meaning for them because it will help them in some distant future they (and we) cannot comprehend. Given this uncertain outlook, is it any wonder students are not motivated? Perhaps educators should add gamification with its quick and relevant rewards for success to help motivate students to achieve more in the classroom. Why not get the local movie theater to give movie passes or a local restaurant give free meals to students who beat their targeted goals on Measures of Academic Performance or other test predictor assessments?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.