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Not Just Playing Around

Image via http://www.mrtoledano.com/gamers

Image via http://www.mrtoledano.com/gamers

At InstructureCon this year, I tried to attend as many sessions on Gamification as I could.  I got interested in this topic last year when I saw Jane McGonigal speak.  She’s an amazing game designer who wants to do nothing more than make the world a better place by playing games.  McGonigal says playing games can increase resilience and creativity, and activates the brain in a different way than passive learning.  She dispels the stereotype that gamers are slack-jawed teenagers wasting time but rather highly engaged individuals who are thinking and working creatively.  She has a couple of fantastic TED Talks on the subject. There’s also a great set of photos by Phillip Toledano that illustrate the intense emotions experienced by people playing games.

The first session I saw about gaming was about a quest designed by University of Mary Washington to engage faculty in developing active engagement utilizing their Canvas course sites.  They integrated lore from their campus and university to get the community excited.  So, for example, if we did something similar at Northwestern, it might involve The Rock or an armadillo.  It was a fairly complex game but the goal was to get instructors excited about the concept of adding games to their courses as well as to get to know the school better.

One of the most interesting sessions I saw was by an instructor at McHenry County College in Illinois.  This instructor gamified his course in a really simple way, but it had a huge impact on his students and really motivated them to do better.  He even had data to prove that the students in the “gamified” course performed better than the students in his non-gamified course.  He structured his class around the principle of Judo – so, he called himself the Sensei and the students earned belts as they progressed through the course.  The gaming element was really just semantics – instead of referring to chapters, there were “belts”, instead of tests, there were “Boss Challenges”.  The result of this experiment was that the students not only performed better, but were motivated to challenge themselves more than they might normally have done.

I would love to hear if any instructors are already using game theory in their classes at Northwestern – please let me know if you do.  Or, if you would like to brainstorm ideas about how you could include gaming elements in your course, contact Faculty Support Services, we would love to help you integrate gaming into your course!