As a pre-service teacher– someone who is training or soon-to-be training as a teacher– I was immensely interested in non-traditional pedagogical methodology.
I think this is obvious as it is a societal cliche– what is more well-worn or good for a laugh than the idealistic teacher who tries to reinvent the wheel and love their students through a good old-fashioned educational swamp? In this scenario, if the teacher is not new and idealistic, they are too immersed in their job and end up like Amy Squirrel from Bad Teacher.
Regardless, my interest in non-traditional pedagogy is my standard; any field that I end up in, non-traditional is my by-word since I detest the tried and true (or, more the blase indifference behind the ‘tried and true’). Naturally, then, as a casual gamer, and a hardcore gamer in my youth, I was drawn to high-concept ideas like “gamification.”
As can be seen in my projects before my entry to Secondary Education, projects like Enchanted Assemblages and Living Annotations ask players to imagine a fun but educational world. Each of those projects oriented me in slightly different directions, some either the emphasis on fun (Living Annotations) while others, like Enchanted Assemblages, with the focus on scholarly endeavors. In each case, however, the central idea was placed firmly on education and the idea that learning could be made fun, perhaps even seamless.
Moving on from these projects, I began to devise my biggest idea yet– an idea hat stated an entire course could be a game.
Was I being absurd? After reading Lee Sheldon’s The Multiplayer Classroom, I can say that I was not being absurd.
Honestly, it wasn’t that I thought it couldn’t be done; I knew of the existence of educational video games and my brief investigation of Classcraft further made me believe that gamification was possible. What I didn’t know was the degree that research and attempts had been made to really make the idea of the game-classroom a reality, and whether I would be going into things blind or with prior research at my back.
Sheldon’s book is the textbook par excellence when it comes to detailing and advocating for “gamification” of the classroom. Sure, I have not read many texts at this point about education and games, but I can tell a classic when I see it.
The multiplayer Classroom has a thesis like this: the “gamer generation” has fundamentally changed education. With their hands-on experience with video games’ point systems and robust systems of combat and narrative, youth are well acclimated to complex methods of engagement without much need of teacher drilling. Sheldon builds on this given by arguing that, that base may be re-oriented toward education by re-coding classroom terminology– grades, points, teacher, pencils, etc.– and monster slaying.
Admittedly, it sounds ridiculous out-of-context. It sounds idealistic and like a copout that a new or burnt-out teacher might imagine covering for a lack of original research. But, it has a lot of validity whatever knee-jerk abuse one might conjure up when initially presented with such an imagining of education.
Over the course of the book, Sheldon takes the reader through his educational experiments in what he calls “gamification,” or, the turning of non-game material into games. Several years and several universities later, Sheldon has taken the reader on a journey through a classroom where student groups are guilds, levels are grades, and the syllabus is a call to adventure.
Interspaced between Sheldon’s own in-depth discussion of the logic for his decisions are “Case Histories” of other educators who tried their own hands at gamification.
These case histories were actually my favorite part of the book. Because Sheldon’s courses were taught at the college level, and in subjects directly related to game design, I felt that they weren’t near my own interest as a Secondary English Educator to-be; additionally, many of his first attempts at building a game course were, at my current understanding and desire to make an elaborate game classroom, limited and basic, a one-to-one coding schemata that only began to become involved in his final iterations. And though I did learn a lot nonetheless, it was the case histories that showed me how gamification could be completed not only at the college level in game-related classes, but at the middle and high school levels, and even at the graduate school level (!).
While reading, I took careful notes and found myself continuously, chapter-by-chapter, saying to myself, “ah, yes, that is something I should keep in mind” or “brilliant! I can definitely use that for my own future class!” Many of the case histories in this book allowed me to see beyond Sheldon’s vital initial theorizations to how his ideas can be implemented across the board. Because this review is already becoming long, I will not comment anymore on how important these case histories were to me, especially when I will talk about them at length later in another post.
What I can say is this: any educator, at any level, who wishes to try turning their class into a game, should read Sheldon’s book. It is a must and something which will provide one of the best arguments, both practically and pragmatically, for why gamification works; story after story, after all, ended with this– grades increased, attendance shot up, and student happiness soared.
I know that I am strongly interested in gamification and will read more on the practice of gamification. More testimonies, more on game design and logic. I feel this is an educational tool of the future and feel blessed (as melodramatic as that sounds), to have discovered Sheldon’s book. If you want something more for your students, then start here.