Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Next Level Gamification"

Yeah that's right- I used to lead druids, enchanters, warriors, rogues, wizards, and other misfits in raids on dragons.

So I've been gaming for a long time.  It used to be something folks might turn a nose up on, but nowadays I can wave my game freak flag fly with abandon.  I started with the Atari 2600.  I beat Pitfall, ET (which I don't agree is the worst Atari game ever- that would be Journey Escape, thank you very much), and pretty much owned my brothers and sisters in Combat.  I moved through Nintendo and the Sega Genesis and eventually fell in love with PC gaming.  My first decent PC gaming was on the Apple IIGS, with favorites like Zork and Might and Magic.  PC Games were huge for me and I loved the old MUDs, moving through those like +3 broad swords through butter.  I chewed through many a fantasy RPG, notably all the Baldur's Gates, Neverwinter Nights, Morrowind, etc.  

All of which totally prepped me for my last big gaming obsession- Everquest.  The first MMORPG to make it big, EQ was awesome and there will never be another game like it....ever.  Not because it had the best graphics or interface- but rather because what EQ did was put a bunch of nerdy gamers into a world, without a map, without a handbook, without any spoilers or cheat codes- and we all had to figure it out together.  There were no answers when EQ started.  It was gaming at it's purest and best- people coming together from all over the world to figure out game mechanics, weaknesses, where the best loot dropped, developing strategies on harder encounters, mapping the world out for each other and above all- sharing, sharing sharing.

Yes, I was the nerdy guild officer.  Yes, I led raids on dragons, demonic bastards, and other nasties (I can't be sure, but I feel pretty confident saying I was the only kindergarten teacher on the planet that did this in their spare time...).  It may be surprising to some, but this was actually pretty hard work- wrangling people together, getting the right mix of classes, setting up the right groups, planning and implementing the right strategies, recovering after epic wipeout losses and trying again, making sure folks had the right equipment, getting fair and transparent loot distribution plans in place in case of success, plus loads of other variables made for hard sledding.  

This type of work, to me, is what "next level gamification" in classrooms should be all about.  Unfortunately, and to my huge disappointment, this isn't what many think about when they hear the term....  Last Friday, I went to an informal session during Hack Education whose organizer used that title as the jumping off point for conversation.  I wish I knew the young gentleman's name- he was very passionate about the work he had done with his students to "gamify" his classroom- turning points into XP points, awarding badges for behavior and work, keeping running leaderboards, calling projects "epic quests".  

As he was presenting all of this info and all the research behind it, all I could think in my head was "no no no no....please no...."  If this is what "gamifying" the classroom is all about- badges, extrinsic rewards, and glorifying status- then count me OUT.  I spoke up about my concerns about such a heavy focus on extrinsic rewards, which mountains of evidence shows diminishes human's interest and intrinsic motivation to learn the topic at hand (when you tie extrinsic rewards to behaviors and work, people work for the reward- not the learning or process- if you need more info on that, this guy can certainly point you in the right direction).  To my shock, there weren't many others to share this concern (at least not out loud).  I voiced it again and still the majority of the group wanted to press on to learn more about this gentleman's particular vision of a "gamified" classroom.  I decided to check out and go to another session- I'm not a wet blanket kinda guy and I didn't want to rain on anyone's parade- I just fundamentally disagree with the approach.

To me, the next level of gamification or gaming in the classroom should be much less about badges and much more about group problem solving and promoting the value of failure (or, better stated- iteration).  It should allow kids the opportunity to wrangle a motley crew together, strategize how to conquer a daunting task, give it a whirl.....then pick up the shattered pieces, figure out what went wrong and give it another go.

That's the kind of gamification I'm going to see if I can promote and we'll see how it goes...better than one's first stab at a dragon, I can only hope...

Forgive me blog, for I have sinned.

**Apologies for the slightly Catholic opening (I was, myself, slightly Catholic growing up and parts of it seemed to stick...)**

So it's time to come clean on a couple things:
  • Even though I wrote a book, I don't love to write.  
  • Because I don't love to write, writing a book totally burned me out on writing and I'm only barely recovering.
  • Even though I was always told my ELA-type scores and numbers were better than my math/science, I've always liked math/science a lot more.
  • I've convinced myself that in the past two years I haven't had time to blog much because of all the changeover in getting a new job, having a third awesome little girl, and a million other things.  But that's not true- it doesn't take long for me to share thoughts once I start tapping away.  
  • I like to share ideas, but I wonder how new friends and colleagues will take them.  Not worried, per se, just wondering.
  • I have about 20 draft posts that I've never fleshed out.  Maybe the idea that I have to flesh them out is the problem....maybe just quicker snippets is where I need to head!
So all of this adds up to me not really doing much blogging at all these past couple years.  But being at ISTE again has re-lit a bit of a bug in me to share.  So, blog, I beg for forgiveness for your neglect, gathering dust in the corners of the Ed Tech universe....  but I think I'm gonna drag you back into the light, polish you off, and see what kinds of stuff might pop out.