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NITLE Shared Academics - Gamification: Theory and Applications in the Liberal Arts


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Ten years ago, Beni Balak, associate professor of economics at Rollins College, began using computer games in his classes. As a long-time computer gamer turned professor, he had observed that many of the best practices in pedagogical research were adopted by the electronic game industry. Today, the electronic game industry leads the entertainment sector economy with $70+ billion in annual sales, influencing the economy, culture, and learning. While some teachers remain skeptical about the value of video and computer games in education, over the past decade, a body of theoretical and applied pedagogical work on the use of games as teaching tools has emerged. Gamification in higher education generally refers to video and computer games and involves two related, but distinct approaches: using games as teaching tools and structuring entire courses as games.

In this seminar, Balak identified the principles he employed and the specific structures of the courses he has gamified both using games (i.e., Civilization and World of Warcraft) as well as, more recently, gamifying the curriculum. Beyond the fundamental changes he made to the syllabi and the grading structure, he is beta-testing a learning management system (LMS) specifically designed for this purpose. In this seminar, he shared his progress developing a gamified course structure, how it engages students and accelerates learning, as well as the difficulties he has encountered as he continues to explore the potential of games in the liberal arts.

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NITLE Shared Academics - Gamification: Theory and Applications in the Liberal Arts

  1. 1. Gamification: Theory and Applications in the Liberal Arts Benjamin Balak and Connor Neve (Rollins College, FL) I see and I forget I hear and I remember I do and I understand (Confucius)
  2. 2. ● 1st generation gamer (1976: Star Trek on IBM 360) ● UNC-Chapel Hill: love of teaching + education tech ● Econ education is worse of the worse: irrelevant, doctrinaire, boring, anti-experiential ● Solutions: ○ Content: HoT, methodological pluralism, heterodoxy ○ Form: teaching experiments, media, role-playing ● Rollins (2002): finally did my homework on pedagogy 10 years using computer games
  3. 3. ● Reading Benjamin Bloom (1956): ○ Gaming industry uses sophisticated pedagogy ○ Schools don’t (not my kids nor my workplace) ● Learning by playing is not new: ○ Zoology, anthropology, psychology ○ Mind games: Socratic elenchus, debates ● Hierarchical opposition (Victorian?): serious work / frivolous play Overarching Insight:
  4. 4. ● Key: the fun IS the learning ○ NOT learning delivered in a fun way (edutainment) ○ learning in context: ■ Encyclopedic vs simulation (Zoo Tycoon) ■ Textbook = manual without the game (Gee) ● Hard to compete with almost $100 billion industry ○ Plenty of great games (I have a wish list!) ○ Not labor-replacing: teachers absolutely needed ○ Debriefing, modding/customization, guidance, ... Educational or commercial games?
  5. 5. ● Primarily Civilization (since v3 now at v5 + 2 expansions): ○ Over 200 discrete concept with multiple interconnections! ■ Lot’s of work by Kurt Squire ■ Games in Education: September 2013 Special Issue of Transformations (esp Todd Bryant and Ed Webb) ■ Ed Webb’s Seminar: Games in Education: A Classroom Perspective (Oct 17th, 2013) ● Also MMORPG: World of Warcraft (aka “g33k crack”) ○ Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game ■ WoW in School ■ Foreign language potential: immersion (e.g.) Which commercial games?
  6. 6. ● 1st in economic history elective (freedom to experiment) ● Ever since: Economics in Historical Perspectives ○ Rollins Economics Curriculum: ■ ECO 202: Starts with history (empirical) ■ ECO 203: Traditional “mic-mac” (theoretical) ■ ECO 204: Alternative Perspectives (method) ● Twice in freshman seminars: Deus Ex Machina: Social Evolution in Virtual Worlds* * the most pompous name for a course ever ;p Which courses using games?
  7. 7. ● See CIV General Comparative Analysis document ● A comparative analysis between: ○ Simulation processes and outcomes ○ Real world: history, institutions, processes, ... ● BTW: This is what is done in professional research using simulation methodology (Santa Fe, complexity) ● Variations: ○ Write in epic prose (role-playing) ○ Group work encouraged What do we actually do?
  8. 8. ● Broad enthusiasm for history (say no more!) ● Reaching upper cognitive levels of learning (Bloom) ● Higher retention (Dale) ○ in subsequent major/minor courses ● Experience economic concepts ○ Personally (ownership) ○ Meaningfully (in context of decision making) ○ E.g.: consumption vs. investment ● Systemic and strategic sophistication General Results:
  9. 9. Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956)
  10. 10. Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning
  11. 11. ● Hard to push students from the virtual world to the real world (semantic spaces) ● Nevertheless: ○ Even students who resist develop high levels of sophistication in the analysis of their game-word ● Effective only with good debriefing ○ Like any experiential learning ○ maybe why distance learning is generally awful? ○ Potential for gamification to contribute However...
  12. 12. ● CIV multiplayer (pilot this summer) ○ more intense use ○ in-class play (social epiphenomena) ● Other games: Expand use of MMORPGs ○ As social laboratories ○ Behavioral economics ○ Finance ● Simulation methodology: MMORPGs and Netlogo? Further Developments
  13. 13. >>> Q&A >>> Poll #1 Have you had any experience with using games or simulations in education? [] None [] Some [] Lots [] I play games but not in education
  14. 14. Since last summer so 3rd iteration/generation (see syllabi): 1. Summer 2013: ● Economics, Media, and Propaganda 2. Fall 2013: ● Economics, Media, and Propaganda ● Deus Ex Machina: Social Evolution in Virtual Worlds (WoW) 3. Spring 2014: ● Economics in Historical Perspectives (CIV) ● Economics, Media, and Propaganda (now “Blended-Learning”) ● Senior Seminar in Economics (individual research capstone seminar) To be definitely continued... Gamifying the Entire Course
  15. 15. >>> Prezi … over to you Connor
  16. 16. ● 3D GameLab ( ● 1st fully gamified LMS ● Individually affordable ● Thus possible for isolated faculty to try Learning Management System
  17. 17. ● Like games but applicable to entire course ● Most student love it for the best reasons: ○ Flexibility: ■ Time and Space ■ Learning styles ← VERY important ○ Feedback: quick, specific, clear ○ Security: ■ Low risk--can resubmit until accepted Preliminary Results
  18. 18. Technological change is not at moment of invention ● Change in social relations (social science) ● Change in the human experience (humanities) Consider the steam engine: 100+ years from invention to wide adoption ● Desktops are “19th century clerical metaphors” ● From FB to mobile devices: interface design is gaming-driven Games are leading tech innovation (under-recognized) ● Impacting social relations and the human experience (web2.0) ● Massive parallel processing of information (“dashboards”) ● Culture: most smart kids are avid gamers-- the new hochkultur ● of course there’s lots of junk; like when the novel was “invented” The “Information Revolution” has just barely started
  19. 19. >>> Q&A >>> Poll #2 Does any of this make sense?! [] None [] Some [] Lots [] In theory yes; but technology is being used as a cost-cutting racket in education!
  20. 20. ● Difficult without dedicated institutional support: ○ tech support ○ surprisingly tech-illiterate students ○ BUT: provide practical job-skills ● Solution: ○ Undergraduate TAs (Buffalo State) ○ Collaborative / Guild elements and quests ○ Active participation: “figure it out!” ● Working with students as co-researchers The Political Economy of Gamification
  21. 21. ● Difficult within a traditional institution’s system: ○ Experimental, evolutionary, and even anarchistic pedagogical ethos (oh my!) ○ Grading structure ■ unfamiliar culture of trust and cooperation ■ flexibility pushes me to bottom of to-do list ○ Popularity: gamified courses draw students ○ Lack of economies of scale Stay calm and give up control...
  22. 22. ● Lots of bad blood in many (most?) institutions today ● Technology in education is caught between: ○ Administration rhetoric: ■ MOOCs, blended, flipped, … ■ Gimmicky? PR driven? ■ Labor and property rights? ○ Faculty intransigence: ■ Luddites? sticks-in-the-mud? ● Is it political, cultural, generational, irrational? The battle lines are drawn!
  23. 23. Resistance IS very understandable: ● Most distance-learning IS awful ● Many worrisome developments in higher education ● Push to cost-cut and a sharp decline in the faculty ● Problem with ownership of the curriculum > web2.0: public content → private profits ● Problem with monopolistic power > MOOCs vs Distributed Open Collaborative Course see Fem Tech Net + Shared Academics here. A hard sell to many faculty
  24. 24. ● Teachers must be in control of teaching (tech ethos) ● Winter is coming (faster than you think!) ● Gamification in particular: ○ Labor-ENHANCING not labor-REPLACING ○ Unlike: ■ traditional distance learning ■ MOOCs ■ even blended learning (to an extent) On the other hand
  25. 25. We better grab the bull by the horns or it will grab us by the _____. TYVM. >>> Q&A