Schoolrooms today look very different than they did just a decade ago. One major change is the addition of computers and tablets. Many schools provide a tablet for each child; some even allow students to take the devices home. This raises questions and concerns about kids, technology, and the latest trend: gamification.
You have probably already encountered gamification in your non-school related life. Customer appreciation programs and participation apps use badges or level increases to turn real life into a sort of game. Research shows that such incentives engage people the way games do, increasing perseverance, risk-taking, and creativity. The notifications I used to get from Foursquare when friends checked into locations or got a certain “badge” are a good example of the gamification of consumer choices.
These same kind of motivational tools are now being used in education. Educational games now offer information paired with platforms that allow students to take risks or attempt to complete a task through trial and error. The incentives you find in real-life gamification programs—badges, points, or new items for a virtual avatar—keep students motivated to complete the work.
It’s the power of games to teach and motivate that education tech companies are trying to tap into. We rarely have to encourage kids to check up on their online games like Sims or fictional worlds on Facebook games. The idea is to harness this type of motivation in the classroom. Today, some classrooms transform everything from note-taking to homework into “games” that earn points to earn rewards.
It’s easy to see the benefits of this trend—and it’s not too difficult to spot the downsides as well. The games provide external incentives, but how do we help students develop their own internal motivation to work hard and excel? If we reward students for every accomplishment, will they develop the drive they need to achieve both in and outside the classroom?
For now, I’m choosing to consider technology use in my kids’ classrooms as a positive development, but I plan to keep an eye on it. I’m also going to make sure they understand, in big ways and small, that life isn’t all fun and games.
If you’d like to read some of the academic research, you might enjoy Gamification in Education: What, How, and Why Bother? by Lee and Hammers from Teachers College Columbia University.