JACOB VAN GEFFEN
Wow, another week of suffering through OChem, Chinese, Calculus, and whatever other classes I happened to sign up for this semester. Who knew that my underwater basket elective could turn out to be such a bore. And English? I knew English when I was five. Why can’t I end my sentences with prepositions? What for?
This is how I felt throughout most of my general education requirements at UT. Certain classes seem pointless, have absolutely no interesting material involved, and keep students busy with a huge pile of meaningless tasks. Of course, that's not how general education should seem to so many students. English should inspire us to connect with our humanitybe inspiring. Math should incitespire a sense of accomplishment. Chemistry should create a sense of awe for the world. Great educators may get these feelings across, but general education topps are much worse at evoking interest.
Games, on the other hand, are often too addictive to point down. If you're any bit as unproductive as me, you've probably spend countless hours clicking away at flappy bird, candy crush, and the like. But what do we gain from putting so much time into these seemingly pointless games? And what are classes missing?
The answer: clear incentives. Games provide power ups when you reach the next level. Unlocking each achievement comes with its own set of gratification in game rewards. Every new challenge is fun and exciting, and overcoming them gives an amazing feeling of accomplishment. However, the incentives to do well in many classes are much less exposed. The only immediate reward you'll get for completing each dull homework is yet another problem set next week. An A in a class might not mean anything until after you graduate, which may be years down the road. Clearly, there are great incentives for doing well in class and expanding your knowledge in a variety of areas, but in day to day college life, these incentives can easily become obscured.
Gamification attempts to remedy this problem. The term “gamification” refers to the idea of making a game out of a seemingly dull task. If you’ve ever raced your siblings to see who can get in the car first or challenged your friend to see who can go to the gym more often, then you’ve already been using gamification in your everyday life.! And as you can guess, gamification can also be applied to classes. Furthering your knowledge in a subject is a great incentive, but concretizing your progress can make the experience much more exciting.
Khan academy (www.khanacademy.org) implements these concepts with great success. This site allows you to take a variety of video-based online classes and track your progress with different levels of “badges” and keeps track of your skills as your progress through different classes. The actions required to get these badges vary from ???? And while it may seem pointless to rack up these badges, competing with friends and showing off your accomplishments can serve as a great motivator. Seeing that your 5 points off from unlocking the a particularly rare badge can give you the extra motivation to study and do well on your next quiz.
Education games take the reverse approach. These are games that require some type of real life skill to make progress in the game. One example of this is GameCalc (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.hackrice.gamecalc). This android app makes a game out of a normal calculator - each button and number is unlockable, but it’s up to you to “derive” all the operations. BrainPOP (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.brainpop.brainpopfeaturedmovieandroid&hl=en) is another great educational game. BrainPOP allows kids to watch interactive videos about a variety of topics, then gives equally engaging quizzes for the students to prove their knowledge.
Gamified education has spread quite a bit in the past decade, but there are still limits on how far this technique can be applied. Standard education systems are difficult to overcome, and teachers are slow to adopt these new ideas. Likewise, educational games tend to be lower quality than the average game simply because very few game development teams even attempt to produce this type of game. However, don’t let this stop you from taking advantage of gamification! Set goals for your classes. These don’t have to just be “make an A in class” - understanding a difficult concept is an even better achievement.! Reward yourself when you do well on a project or test. Set your sights on the adventurous road ahead when last week’s quiz knocks you down. And if you feel intimidated by final boss at the end of the semester, don’t fret! Gather your teammates and level up. Fight for those experience points.