Can Gamification Help Struggling Students?
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of gamification, be prepared to thank the Millennials for its inclusion in almost everything. Gamification involves bringing in traits traditionally associated with video games and using them to engage people in other activities. The principle has been used in everything from employee engagement efforts to healthcare objectives about customer wellness. And the educational system is not excluded from attempts to gamify previously uninspiring activities.
But why is gamification popping up everywhere? It’s actually pretty simple; because it often works. In fact, it might be the ideal way to help struggling students get back on track.
A Gaming Culture
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a kid that doesn’t have at least some interest in video games. Though their preferred play method and style may vary, video games have found their place in almost every home in the nation. Between consoles, computers, and smartphones, most households have at least a few video games within easy reach. That means the paradigm of gaming is familiar to the vast majority of students and parents.
While video games have a reputation for “rotting” brains more than helping them grow, there are many platforms that promote learning. Even the most questionable games teach lessons about spatial awareness or map-reading. They may even help build a person’s vocabulary depending on the target age group for which the game was intended. Deductive reasoning is also a regular requirement of video games, especially those with puzzle-solving components. But some games actually focus on learning, and more could be created to achieve that goal.
How Gamification Works
The point of the gaming-style invasion in education is to peek student’s interest in the material by changing how it is delivered. Traditional video game mechanics are brought in to help change the energy in the classroom. But, instead of using standard stories to keep the game moving forward, principles of English, history, math, science, and social studies can be presented.
In fact, Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs is introducing the concept for elementary, middle and high school students. The goal is to bring new experiences into the classroom to appeal to those who may struggle to learn through traditional means or provide options for students who are already excelling.
Why it Benefits Struggling Students
It is hard to engage struggling students in the classroom. If they are having trouble grasping the material, they may be less inclined to be involved in a traditional classroom lesson. These aren’t the kids that will volunteer to go to the board to work out a math problem; they aren’t raising their hands to answer questions, and may even be afraid of asking for help.
Adding a video game component can increase their comfort level. Various studies have shown that African-American students traditionally game more than their Caucasian counterparts, so this can be effective for reaching out to certain minorities in the classroom. It gives them a system that they enjoy, allows the information to be conveyed in a new way, and may feel like a more level playing field psychologically.
Not every student learns well by simply reading the textbook or managing homework. Some students prefer auditory input while others need hands-on demonstrations. Video games have the ability to combine all of these traits into a single learning system. And the increased entertainment value might make it more interesting to students in general.
In some cases, it may help students achieve flow, a psychological state where the person is fully immersed in the task at hand. This increased focus and absorption helps improve performance by completely engaging the brain.
A competitive spirit can also be fostered through video games. Students that are struggling in the grades department may find more intrinsic motivation through video game-based success. Leaderboards and level advancement can help students see how they are improving, even if they don’t immediately connect the achievement with learning.
Gamification Doesn’t Hurt High Achievers
One of the points brought up against gamification involves the students who are already succeeding. The thought is that time spent gaming is a waste for those who don’t need the format to excel. But gaming within the learning context still benefits high achievers. It provides new methods for exploring knowledge and integrating new information and adds an element of fun that may be lacking with traditional mechanisms.
Video games are widely enjoyed by people of varying intelligence and are seen as a norm across most cultures. Both male and female students often game. Even if their preferred styles vary, the concepts behind gaming are fairly universal in relation to goal achievement, forward progress, and desire for success.
How to Gamify without Video Games
Gamification principles can be brought into the learning environment even if actual video games aren’t available. Here are some ways to bring the principles of gaming into the classroom even if you can’t access the actual tech.
Give Multiple Lives
In a video game, you have to save points and multiple lives. So, why is answering a question in the classroom often a one-and-done concept? Give students the opportunity to try again, and to learn from their mistakes. Perceived failures can ultimately lead to success if students are allowed to try again.
Give Feedback Immediately
When gaming, you know almost immediately if your move was right or wrong. Try providing instant feedback to students, or encourage them to do so when working with each other. Quick validations can build confidence, and fast corrections help them move past the error and onto the right track.
Create Levels for Progress
A gamer knows they are moving forward as they see the level advance or the experience bar fill. Take a similar approach by creating visual ways to show how they are moving forward. And then, give a clear indication what is needed to progress further. Celebrate forward achievement whenever possible to help provide the motivation to keep pushing ahead.
The idea of homework automatically carries a negative connotation for many students. But completing a quest sounds like an adventure. Even if the learning objectives are the same, consider reframing how you present the tasks. Quests feel epic, and homework is a drag; which option would you rather do?
Encourage Open Mindedness
Since gamification in edtech is relatively new, it is important to keep an open mind about its potential use in the classroom. If you see the value, then try to extol its virtues to those with decision-making authority. This may help your struggle students get what they need and give everyone a chance to have more fun. With the potential rewards so great, why not give it a try. Your students may do more than thank you.