Teacherpreneurs Mentor Edupunks: The Gamification of Education

Note: This post is the fourth in the nine-part series Teacherpreneurs Mentor Edupunks: Convergence Reshapes Teacher Preparation for Today and the Future and written in the vein of peering into Teaching 2030. Click here to read the previous post on the growth of digital literacies.

According to New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report 2012 K-12 Edition, “Despite steady interest from educators, game-based learning has been tantalizingly just out of reach for the K-12 mainstream.” Yet, the report predicts that the time to adoption is only two to three years out.

The Gamification of Education is defined as “applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” Although gaming in education is not new, take a look at Knewton’s Gamification of Education Infographic, video and app game development is growing, as programs such as Technovation and Youth APPLab support and spur students to become creators of their own apps, games. Programs such as iBuildApp, 3D Game Lab, GameSalad, Alice, Scratch, Gamestar Mechanic, CodeAcademy, and Globaloria (and there a many, many more) provide students the fun of creating learning games and digital stories, while digging deeper into content without having to learn a programming language. Moreover, students then publish their games, sharing them with a global audience. In turn, students can remix games created by others, making them their own.

Additionally, MIT’s Education Arcade has, for a number of years, researched the role of gaming in learning, as well as the Center for Game Science, among whose funders include the Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The Institute of Play, a leader in game-based learning, has several projects underway and has designed and implemented the school Quest to Learn, which “supports a dynamic curriculum that uses the underlying design principles of games to create academically challenging, immersive, game-like learning experiences for students. Games and other forms of digital media also model the complexity and promise of “systems.” Understanding and accounting for this complexity is a fundamental literacy of the 21st century.” And, that is something that those attending the Serious Play Conference discussed.

In a move to acknowledge the effective use of games in learning, the White House appointed “gaming researcher Constance Steinkuehler as a senior policy analyst for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.” “Steinkuehler is shooting for games to address grand challenges that bridge subject areas and gaming platforms. These games will be used to improve learning in many areas of national need such as STEM education, health, education, civic engagement, the environment and other areas where individuals can gain expertise and empowerment through play and the learning that accompanies play.” In another government move, but not game related, NASA’s release of a 3D augmented reality app to understand how robotic spacecraft work portends future technical feats having an impact on designing games for learning.

While there is increased interest in gaming to improve learning, cautions do exist, such as Jenkins has noted: making certain that games meet learner outcomes and avoiding the chase to accumulate points. Justin Marquis, Ph. D., blogger at Education Unbound out of Online Universities, wrote in the post The Trouble with Gamification:

In two very significant ways educators lack the skills and knowledge to delve into a rich integration of gaming in their curriculums. For starters, most teachers have not been trained in the pedagogy of gaming in their teacher education programs. Using games in the classroom requires a rethinking of the student-teacher relationship, a new model for ownership of tasks, complex structures for support of learners, new ways of evaluating learners, and a host of technological integration issues that most teachers are not prepared to undertake.

 Additionally, teacher-training programs seldom include even a list of educationally appropriate games. Consumer games are also relatively expensive and change with such regularity that it is challenging for teachers to evaluate them to determine their efficacy in the classroom

Today’s teacher candidates should not only create digital game-based, system-learning experiences but participate in them as well, guided by teacher educators and mentor teachers. Joel Levin serves as an example of how today’s teacherpreneurs are influencing teacher preparation. A private school computer teacher from New York City, Mr. Levin, co-owner of Mindcraftedu, is working in conjunction with the creators of the blockbuster game Minecraft and a “small team of educators and programmers from the United States and Finland” to use the game for learning.

As game-based learning increases, so will the use of mobile devices in and out of school, as well as in teacher preparation programs and professional development. In the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning, as part of a collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking, the state of mobile learning throughout the globe is outlined and offers examples of initiatives, as well as providing the five essential conditions for successful programs. Yet, “according to Sharon Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, …most colleges and universities in the United States and Canada do not train teachers to integrate mobile learning into their instruction, and teachers have not typically had professional development opportunities specific to mobile learning. “

With game-based learning, app development, and the use of mobile devices on the rise, traditional teacher preparation programs must incorporate these approaches immediately and embed them in their next-generation design. This emerging model of learning, championed by teacherpreneurs, will become an integral, common learning experience in preparing teachers for 2030.

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