Gamification and Behaviourism

I dig gamification. I also dig Games Based Learning (GBL).

But sometimes when I’m watching these concepts get promoted, big alarms go off in my head.

Take a look at this list of some key elements of gamification:

  • Points
  • Badges
  • Levels
  • Challenges
  • Leaderboards
  • Rewards
  • Onboarding

Doesn’t this remind you of anything?  Add that together with our enthusiastic embrace of digital and electronic teaching, and the ‘games & machines’ motif becomes really familiar.  I’m thinking Skinner, and Behaviourism, and Pavlov’s dog…which means that we need to think about the ethics of gamification, stat.


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  1. #1 by Bianca Hewes (@BiancaH80) on August 12, 2011 - 9:11 am

    I hear you LOUD and clear Kelli … it’s freaking me out – need to Sype chat with you about this BIG TIME. I am uncomfortable with the Skinner associations – gamification can be done terribly and for the wrong reasons. As with all quality teaching it is all in the design – the learning design. Another thing that concerns me is the prospect of the ‘game’ is actually just a unit of work disguised by colourful, interactive glitter – where have the students gone? Isn’t this still teacher-centred if the teacher creates the ‘game’? I really dig what james Paul Gee has to say about gaming and education, so really I am torn. What if the ‘game’ only engages with busy work? Jump this hoop – get this reward? It is really worrying. I have pretty much failed with my gamified Macbeth that i was SO stoked with – I will be posting a blog reflection about it very soon. I love this post Kelli – pertinent (as always!).

    • #2 by kmcg2375 on August 12, 2011 - 1:09 pm

      Thanks B 🙂
      ooooh, the glitter!! yesss…

      In the Good Game clip one of the guys says that Carmen San Diego was the last (only?) educational game to do well. Isn’t that sad? I wonder if we could make a killer Shakespeare game? Like, a REALLY fun one?

  2. #3 by bhewes on August 12, 2011 - 8:59 pm

    You need to join the education gamification group on edmodo and see how some teachers are using more Quest Based Learning style stuff in Language Arts – Mr Daley – he’s pretty amazing and kinda daunting. I don’t know if I have the creativity or brains to be able to design something so complex. I wonder what my kids would think about it? Would it be supplementary or the main source of learning? Embedded within the quests are there face to face collaborative challenges that must be completed? How does the teacher assess it all? Giving points for positive classroom behaviours and completion of daily tasks has been really hard to track for me – but I am off my game at them moment. Pardon the pun ;0)

    • #4 by kmcg2375 on August 16, 2011 - 12:08 am

      Thanks for the tip – I just joined the gamification group 🙂 The sharing on Edmodo is really great – a very tightly knit and technologically switched on Language Arts community at any rate! Wow. How do I get more badges?

      I think if we made a Shakespeare game we would have to start from some kind of holy-grail Ground-Zero kind of place. Like, start with what we know and love about the material, and what we know about games, and go from there. My feeling is that a good educational game doesnt box itself in with worrying about how a teacher will use it at the other end…like, can you imagine if kids ended up liking and buying a Shakespeare video game (or app even?) and playing it for fun, outside school? With no teacher even in the equation?? So I guess it turns out that my answer is that the game would be a ‘supplementary’ text…but perhaps so good that it could be the main source of learning’ 😉

      Did you ever play Carmen San Diego?

  3. #5 by bhewes on August 12, 2011 - 9:27 pm

    PS: I just actually watched the first vid you posted, lol – I am a bandit for commenting w/o going deep into the original post (oh the ego – but tis true!) … wow! Teachers killed education gaming … no duh! I love the narrative thing – this is what Alice and Hyle are doing but it is HARD work. I expect a small group of highly talented and creative teachers could be in BIG business designing gaming experiences that are available online – like Quest Atlantis. I really gotta sign up for that BUT just soo busy 😦 Wanna create some uber sick games together? Screw uni and teaching – let’s get creative!!

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