Playful Pedagogy (University of Trento, May 2013)


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Invited talk given to members of the "Smart Campus" group at the University of Trento.

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  • Need photos of a board game (based on a classroom?), a gamification image (from zichermann, or badgeville?), letter grade “A” (from
  • We aren’t trying to turn education into a game. A game has a number of elements that our approaches didn’t have, including a set goal or win condition.
  • While in some sense, this could be called “gamification,” we’re not terribly fond of the term—it has strong connotations of marketing and exploitation. (Ian Bogost’s excellent if provocative essay “Gamification is Bullshit” calls it “exploitationware.”
  • Not everything we tried was successful. In fact, next month I’ll be presenting a paper in the “Hall of Failure” track talking about the many things we did wrong—some of which I’ll talk about today.
  • But it’s been far from a total failure, or I wouldn’t be willing to talk about it to so many people!
  • An attempt to use what we know about games to make learning more engaging and playfulAn ongoing and iterative experiment ((scientist with clipboard, maybe?)
  • Success and play often live hand-in-hand…
  • Inside the classroom
  • Outside the classroom
  • The idea for this came from a conversation one of our professors was having with some students in the spring of 2010, in which the students said “we should get achievements for being awesome.” She took that idea to our chair, who took it to Microsoft Research, who said “here’s some seed money—think this through, then come back and tell us more.”
  • We wanted to make the implicit map more explicit. What are the mileposts and markers along the way? How do they know they’re on the right track? How can we visualize their progress towards a goal?A personal narrative emerges…what does the narrative look like? How is lore disclosed?
  • The intention was less about pushing them to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do, and more about recognizing what successful students do, helping new students to discover those activities, and allowing all students to remember and reflect on their accomplishments.
  • What we wanted to emulate from FourSquare was not just the points and the leaderboards, but the aggregation of information about enjoyable activities, both for sharing and for personal recall.
  • When Andy first pitched this to MSR, he made a point of saying “GREAT DANGER HERE”…and he was right. The reason you don’t see this achievement approach everywhere in education is that it’s really hard to do well!
  • By adding external tangible rewards, we can actually do damage to our students’ willingness to continue activities that we know are beneficial, particularly creative work. We spent a lot of time looking at Edward Deci & Richard Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory, which Daniel Pink talks about a lot in his popular book Drive, but which is more nuanced than Pink’s book really indicates.
  • (Image by Scott Rigby, from his 2012 GDC presentation “Intrinsic & Extrinsic Player Motivation: Implications fro Design & Player Retention”
  • For this to be successful, it had to be voluntary, fun, and engaging. Students had to vest in it as creators, not just consumers.
  • Sebastian, who’s one of the most thoughtful voices in the “gamification” space, has also written some things that heavily influenced us, including this quote.….what feelings of competence did we want to focus on?
  • Big questions that guided our content development.
  • This was the model that emerged for us—the tension between the athenaeum and the mechanics institute, as well as the tension between individual and collaborative competencies. Bloom’s taxonomy informs the rings, but the important part is not just expansion but BALANCE.
  • Four kinds of achievements:Collectible cardsUser-submitted content (photos, URLs)System-assigned based on external criteriaCheckins at locations or events (unable to implement properly)
  • We got some things right…but we got a lot of things wrong, too.
  • RFID ProblemsCard ProblemsLogin ProblemsConsistency Problems
  • So, we rebooted. Took what we’d learned from the first year, and used it to make significant changes to the structure of the system in year 2.
  • We overhauled the quadrants, and removed leveling. Points still provided a sense of progression, but there were no artificial level barriers preventing students from successfully completing achievements and quests at higher levels.
  • We changed from the RFID keychains to QR keychains. This inverts the typical RFID approach of having users with smartphones scan in QR codes for information or credit. Instead, game admins use an app that we built (for iOS and Android) to scan in player codes. They can print the codes out in our office and put them in keychains, or they can print them on their own. They can even bring it up on a computer or smartphone screen and have us scan them from there.
  • We changed the cards from self-printed small format to full-size playing cards that we have printed in large batches. They’re kept in the school office, and students who want cards associated with their achievement can pick them up there. We’re also designing a card game that can be played with them.
  • We changed some aspects of logins and privacy settings as well, including adding the ability to make your profile and your achievements publicly accessible.
  • So, what was most successful? Event-based achievements, since they were social activities that had a sense of rarity to them.
  • Images
  • There’s an old English saying that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear;
  • Playful Pedagogy (University of Trento, May 2013)

    1. 1. Playful Pedagogy Elizabeth Lane Lawley, Ph.D. Rochester Institute of Technology School of Interactive Games & Media • MAGIC Center • slides online by tomorrow!
    2. 2. WHAT THIS ISN’T…
    3. 3. Flickr: Mike Fleming
    4. 4. Image: Sebastian Deterding
    5. 5. Flickr: amboo who
    6. 6. WHAT THIS IS…
    8. 8. JUST PRESS PLAY Outside the Classroom
    9. 9.
    10. 10. ―We are beginning to see ourselves not just from the inside, as an actor doing something on a daily basis, but from the outside— understanding what we look like to the world around us and developing a kind of hybrid identity.‖ – Aram Simmreich
    11. 11. I apologize for this next slide…
    12. 12. Project Goals • Provide students with a clearer sense of their accomplishments in various areas (academic, social, and creative) of their college experience, and provide them with tools to reflect on their range and balance of activities. • Increase students‘ awareness of activities and opportunities outside of their academic coursework, from wellness to collaboration to knowledge of the campus and city, and inspire them to sample a range of experiences. • Enable students to maintain and share a record of their activities. • Provide students with a sense of fantasy, whimsy and playful abstraction in dealing with the stress and growth associated with the transformational nature of undergraduate education.
    13. 13. Sounds good, right?
    14. 14. It‘s the autonomy, stupid.
    15. 15. ―My point is that the ‗fun‘, the pleasure of these elements does not come from some extrinsic reward value of those elements, but chiefly from the experience of competence they give rise to.‖ Sebastian Deterding
    16. 16. What behaviors did we want to reward and encourage? What feelings of competence could we engender? What did we want our students to remember and reflect on?
    17. 17. SO, WHAT HAPPENED?
    19. 19. Flickr: Skrewtape