Some of the blogs I have been reading lately about using game strategies in the classroom seem to be focusing on the class structure rather than the curriculum. I can see the benefit to that kind of strategy, but I wonder if that is really the most effective method for using games to motivate their students?
From what I have seen, teachers are using avatars, XP Points, character names for their students, and other game features to turn their classroom into a game. According to these blog posts, students seem to be motivated to earn the XP points, so they attend school, hand in assignments on time, and even do extra work. All of this is great, but if the curriculum isn’t any more engaging than it was beforehand, then I’m not sure that the game structure in class will be able to sustain interest over a long period of time.
Video games are not engaging because a player is assigned an avatar, a screen names, and given XP points for doing chores around the house. Rather, they sustain interest because players are immersed in virtual worlds during the game experience. The storyboard and game play require that students learn how to interact with the curriculum of the game in order to receive the short and long term rewards that allow them to navigate through the material. The key to their success is that the learning is directly relevant to succeeding in the game. Regardless of the type of game, there are things a player must learn that directly impact their ability to avoid roadblocks, and move from level to level. That is where the motivation to learning starts.
The other thing that concerns me about the strategies I have been reading about is something I have noticed with my own children as they play new video games. After a while, they tend to tire of a new game, and desire to move on to something different. They often prefer to rent games, or resell their games to buy new ones rather than keep a bunch of older games. Therefore, one can conclude that each particular game loses its initial impact over time. They are looking for new ways that video game designers and manufacturers can engage them. Although for a short time their home environment is “transformed” into a virtual world, that world becomes as “boring” relatively quickly, and they need the new game, with new avatars, character names, ways of earning points, and other things specific to the new game to re-engage them. Most importantly, the curriculum of the new game must not be too closely related to a prior game, or they return it for another.
Can you imagine how quickly they would bring it back if the entire structure of the game remained the same each time, and only the information they needed to learn changed? Also, think of how badly a game would be received if the primary motivations built into the game were showing up, and completing assigned tasks that aren’t directly related to the game play itself? Yet, that is what seems to be happening as teachers struggle to bring game motivations and strategies into the classroom.
In a classroom, in order to engage the students in a similar manner to video games, the teacher must make it so the curriculum is directly related to the game play going on in the lesson. Remember, game players are motivated to learn because the learning is completely relevant to surviving in an immersive virtual environment. If learning itself, regardless of the content and how the curriculum relates to the game, is the goal, then the game is destined to have a very short life. Rather, the most successful video games keep developing new content that is essential to learn if one is going to survive throughout the play.
Even the best, most engaging video games have a limit to how long they can keep a player’s attention. Video game companies understand this fact, so they are constantly coming up with new game designs. The successful, game-structured classroom must do the same. Rather than build the game into the class structure as a way to encase the learning environment, design a new game for each time the curriculum takes a turn. You can keep the structure for very closely related subjects, because the learning will remain relevant (assuming it was relevant in the first place) to success in the game. When the curriculum is no longer relevant to the game play, then abandon it and develop the different curriculum…a new game. This will keep the motivation fresh as the students will want to master the new materials, which are essential for success in the current game.
Rather than physically transforming a player’s bedroom or living room into a low-tech version of a game structure that is built to motivate learning that is not related to the content, video games draw the player into the virtual world using high-tech images, sounds, and storyboards that transcend the television screen or computer monitor to transform the entire room into a highly interactive learning environment for the duration of a game play session regardless of whether it is five minutes or five days. Teachers who chooses to employ a game-like motivation strategy into the classroom must realize that the game must change frequently, and the curriculum must be directly relevant to navigating the game whether it be done in a high-tech or low-tech environment. The goal is to engage the students’ imagination so that the classroom magically transforms into a virtual world for the duration of each game-lesson. While I applaud the teachers who are making an effort to try to motivate their students (and, in fact, they seem to have limited success from what I am reading), long-term engagement depends upon the relevancy of the material to the game play and constantly changing the game to make each new curricula a different, yet equally motivating, game.