Games, Engagement and The Game Taint in Online Education

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This post has given me a lot to think about. I’ve seen the magic that games can do on K-5, which actually probably doesn’t help your case from an optics POV. I honestly think that the best thing that what you’re talking about have to offer is in bolstering online education. One of the pitfalls of online education is that it’s going to include a lot of the more marginal students and they’re going to have to be more self-directed than a lot of them are. But if you can make things that are interactive that makes people want to do it, that could help a lot. And from there, I could see the more traditional universities having to let go of some of their biases.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The phenomenon that I see popping up is getting more gamification out there for such things as menial tasks. Blue dots, green dots, and gold stars on a task board, “fun” buttons on Technical Orders for you to press when you’ve finished each step, so on and so forth. Little tiny intangible rewards for little tiny easily half-assed tasks.Report

    • Avatar RJB says:

      Yes, “gamification” is getting some traction in business now. It works in the classroom too, even for execs (@ Will above–are grownups all that different from K-5 students?). I was surprised at some student reactions when I put my problem sets online: tiny, bite-sized questions that provide immediate feedback and points toward the final grade. I had more than one student say that they were “addictive” or have some other game-like reaction. As there were no bells and whistles, I’m guessing it’s for the reasons Jim notes below.Report

  3. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I’m very much in agreement with Prof Bloomfield. I use online interactive budgeting and gerrymandering simulations, and my students get a lot out of them–far more than me lecturing them on those issues. I wish there were a lot more such carefully structured political science simulations.

    And I use popular videos, too. You want to drive home the incentive structure of the prisoner’s dilemma? Watch this. You want to teach your strategic behavior class about credible commitment? Show them the scene from The Usual Suspects where Keyser Soze blows away his own family. Or you want to make the problem of response sets in survey research intuitively clear for methods students, show them this hilarious clip from “Yes, Minister.”Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I think “gaming taint” is a real concern. Learning shouldn’t be fun, afterall. 🙂

    This stuff excites me. I saw a Sal Khan interviewed recently and thought his ideas about online education were outstanding and promising. The part that sold me about is earnestness was his accurate (to my mind) critique of current educational practices based on a 130 year old model. That he correctly (again, in my mind) diagnosed so many of the problems with the current educational meant that he was paying attention to the right things.

    I think there’s tremendous potential for the use of online media to educate folks. In particular, I think games strategic interactive simulations can instill real learning (teh knowledge!) in ways that are comfortable and accessible, enjoyable for the student, and provide boatloads more practical experience than memorizing formulas and logical entailments.

    As evidence, I cite Ender Wiggin. He wasn’t just playing a game there.Report

  5. Avatar Jim Heffman says:

    The benefit of games is not the play. It is…

    *Easily-quantised rewards
    *Easily-identifiable goals
    *Short timescale.

    It’s easy, in a properly-designed game, to understand what the units of reward are, and how those units translate to a winning condition. Almost invariably it is some variant of “get the most points within a time limit”.

    And it is easy to understand how to get those points. Sometimes there are elaborate non-obvious optimal strategies for getting those points, but the basic mechanic of “do thing, get point” is clear.

    And a game is also short. Some are only short compared to the span of human existence, but it’s easier to play ten or a dozen games than it is to live a hundred lifetimes.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      also, less stressful than testing.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      *Easily-quantised rewards
      *Easily-identifiable goals
      *Short timescale.

      These three reasons, along with quick assessment-and-remediation, is why I am suddenly quite excited about the possibilities of computers in primary ed.Report

      • Avatar Riven Homewood says:

        Those are elements of gamification, not of games. Really good games go far beyond them. For example, none of those elements really applies to the endgame in World of Warcraft, which may be why it’s become one of the most popular games of all time.Report

        • Avatar RJB says:

          Hmmm…not sure I’d agree with that. It’s true that Will’s triumvirate leaves out narrative and many of the other elements of gamification that Reeves and Read describe in their book Total Engagement (worth a look if you haven’t seen it).

          But WoW provides all three of Will’s elements in heavy doses over the course of minutes and hours. Maybe its success is mostly driven by the long-arc narrative, but I’m not so sure. Without the short-term grinds and dungeon tasks, would the game be as addictive?Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          I would disagree with that, actually. Maybe not high-level raiding, but the more quotidian day-to-day stuff that you absolutely need to do to participate in high-level raiding, eg grinding for valor points or farming gold/mats/rep, shares all of these characteristics.Report

  6. Anytime you have more interaction or engagement in anything it shows that people are using their minds. That’s why I agree with Will Truman, more marginal students will mean more engagment between professor/counselor and student.

    Online Education does have the game side of it, very few schools use games. It’s easy to do your homework when it’s a game, and very easy to retain.Report

  7. Avatar Maribou says:

    Firstly, I think “game taint” is a real problem in the sense that people really do worry about things being too enjoyable for whatever reasons. I actually worry more about “fun taint,” because I feel like it results in taking the most successful parts of games OUT of gamification (as IMO, Jim H.’s approach above does). Really, the thing I worry most about is “reward taint” – that the whole educational system is already fatally extrinsically motivated (cf. grades), and it’s poisoning people’s love of learning, a la Alfie Kohl.

    Have you seen Scott Nicholson’s work in this field? I took a class from him last year (he was one of those I Must Take A Class From This Person profs for me) – and I pretty much don’t have a lot of ideas on the subject he didn’t have first :). (laidback layperson/undergrad-friendly 20 minute video here; academic papers etc here – I particularly like the one on museums from last October ; his background is in education and datamining and libraries – and games)

    One of those ideas I can’t really lay my own claim to is that I’m a lot more interested in whether or not it could work for (at least some) people to *build* games, to design their own game elements, or even just adapt them, as part of the learning process – it seems like an approach that has a megaton of potential across many different fields; and from preK to post-doc.Report

    • Avatar RJB says:

      Interesting stuff, and new to me! Also, Syracuse is a short drive from Cornell. I’ll have to follow up with Nicholson. This talk by Jesse Schell is a must see if you are interested in gamification. Highly entertaining, if a bit speculative.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        Yes! Highly recommend that video to anyone else reading this post. Actually, watching it when it came out was a key reason why I wanted to take a class on the topic in the first place… it stirred up some dormant interests :).Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      The thing I worry most about is “reward taint” – that the whole educational system is already fatally extrinsically motivated

      That was one of the two posts I was considering writing.Report

      • Avatar RJB says:

        I’d love to see that post! I’ve struggled a lot with extrinsic incentives in education. On the one hand, we know that extrinsic incentives can crowd out intrinsic motivation. (I’ve always loved Alfie Kohn’s response to the program that rewarded kids with pizza for reading books over the summer: that’s a recipe for creating a generation of fat kids who hate to read.) On the other hand, extrinsic incentives can get people over the hump as they try to learn new skills. A summer of reading can make reading so much easier that kids start finding it enjoyable.

        Also, I wonder if extrinsic incentives are so inherent in education that we aren’t losing much by using them in the day-to-day experience. Unless you think we are somehow going to get rid of the extrinsic value of grades, skills and credentials.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          as long as a real, primal, and primary impulse for guys is to “get laid”, I don’t think we’re ever going to remove the extrinsic value of learning.Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

        I expect I am going to disagree strongly with said post.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Building games, building experiments ought to be an integral part of psych methods.Report

  8. Avatar George Turner says:

    Nolan Bushnell (Atari’s founder) ended up in the same field from the opposite direction.

    Here’s a fascinating interview with him on Brainrush via Youtube where he talks about founding Atari, hiring Steve Jobs, but most of all about using computer games in education.Report

  9. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    As a recent college graduate with a ton of experience taking courses online, I consistently wish there was a way to increase the level of engagement. Using games sounds like a fantastic way to do this. Since it was clear that students weren’t the only people who needed an engagement boost, from my experience, I think it would be an exciting challenge for instructors to allow themselves to interact with their students differently.Report

  10. Avatar Reformed Republican says:

    Is there a way to subscribe to comments without leaving a comment? Because sometimes I want to follow comments, even if I do not have anything to add at the time.Report

  11. Avatar Peggy Sheehy says:

    It’s already been done for English Language Arts in Middle School. Please see WoWinSchool !Report

  12. Avatar Ashely says:

    Great post. I absolutely think everything is a lot easier to learn when it is a game. That is why they have so many educational games for kids these days. I wish they used games in the classroom when I was a kid. I think games keep every ones interest longer.Report