Gamifying Education: Not Just Playing Video Games

The observed motivators which engage children in free play are tantamount to the key elements found in games (1). Further, it is no question that video games are a dominant entertainment form in the twenty-first century and have the capabilities to engage users (2). Such game mechanics are beginning to be applied outside the immersive environments of games themselves, to create engaging experiences for participants in the real world. Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking and game elements to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ self contributions (3).

The gamification of education is NOT just playing video games in the classroom - sometimes it doesn't involve digital technologies at all.
Research reveals that the longer students stayed in school, the less likely they are to attend and feel engaged in their classes (4). Yet, game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk-taking, attention to detail and problem solving skills - all behaviors that would be ideal for students to possess in the classroom. Games are important as they embody four elements associated with how people learn; games are “immersive, they require players to have goals and make frequent decisions, they adapt to each player, and they unfold within the context of a community that supports the social dimension of learning” (5). Through the new media literacies of play and performance, players of games have the capacity to experiment with their surrounding as a form of problem solving, and can practice improvisation from varying perspectives (6). Guiding learners through the curriculum by encouraging thought and action is the foundation of intellectual engagement and aids students in the development of original work, collaboration, and confidence as knowledge-builders (4).
I synthesized my understanding of academic literature to create this visualization of the key elements of gamification:
Special thanks to @TyRiddick for his input.
The gamification of education supports the constructivist theory where knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to student, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner (7). Games allow for role play and the immersion in experience through situated practice (8). Well-designed games allow for players to “construct understanding actively, and at individual paces, and. . . enable players to advance on different paths at different rates in response to each player’s interests and abilities, while also fostering collaboration and just-in-time learning” (1). Since the cycle between choice and result is much shorter in games than in life, hypotheses are regularly tested and refined, lowering the emotional stake of failing and encouraging risk taking (6). With this increased willingness to experiment, players continue to make choices, contextualizing facts and information as tools for problem solving (9). The intrinsic motivations instilled in players of games is only increased through extrinsic positive or negative reinforcements such as awards, achievements, or loss of power often found in games. This sort of operant conditioning affects the users’ choices if faced with a similar scenario later in the game (10). Students are forced to use their power of reasoning to construct knowledge for themselves when immersed in a game, no matter their age. The relevance of these capacities beyond a games context, form the basis of a modern literacy that should be developed by all young people. See my (first) stop-motion video explaining the four principle elements in game that make them engaging to users:
James Paul Gee is a psycholinguistics researcher who has crossed over into literacy and learning. His book "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" is an excellent account of gaming principles and discuses how these elements can be applied to the k-12 classroom.
Again, gamification is not playing video games - it in the idea that the elements of video games can be applied in other areas.
See the video below for an overview of his work:
1. Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S. and Salen, K. (2009). Moving learning games forward: Obstacles, opportunities & openness. The Education Arcade. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2. Prensky, M. (2001). Chapter 5: Fun, play and games: What makes games engaging. Digital Game-Based Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
3. Deterding, S., Sicart, M., Nacke, L., O’Hara, K. & Dixon, D. (2009). Gamification: Using game design elements in non-gaming contexts. Vancouver: CHI.
4. Willms, J. D., S. Friesen, & P. Milton (2009). What did you do in school today? Transforming classrooms through social, academic and intellectual engagement — First national report. Toronto, ON: Canadian Education Association.
5. Mouza, C. and Lavigne, N. (eds). 2013. Chapter 1: Emerging technologies for the classroom. Explorations in the Learning Sciences, Instructional Systems, and Performance Technologies. New York: Springer Science and Business Media.
6. Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media Education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
7. Piaget, J. & B. Inhelder (1967). A child’s concept of space (F. J. Langdon & J. L. Lunzer, Trans.) New York: Norton (Original work published 1948).
8. New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review. 66(1), 60-92.
9. Gee, J.P. (2003). What video games can teach us about literacy and learning. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.
10. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

Using the Power of the Internet to Connect People

Online performance artist Ze Frank's discusses his "web playroom" in the video below. Traditionally, art endevours have been transmissive and do not involve the audience, whereas Ze Frank utilizes technology to connect humans to one another. What resonated with me was his pursuit "to feel and be felt." This is not a new idea, but rather a long time need for humans which has been augmented by the development of new technologies. It is a concept I think our Generation Z students struggle with on a daily basis.
I find the idea of interactive art is very common in Asia. Around the city there are frequently art exihibtions which encourage interaction from the audience. Holiday decorations are even built as small cities meant to be walked through and experienced. Last November, there was a participatory show in Hong Kong called MURS described as an immersive, interactive outdoor Smart show.
This show really hit home with me because it brought a crowd of complete strangers together in an engaging manner. In a city like Hong Kong, with one of the highest population densities in the world, a place where you are NEVER alone (quite literally unless you are in your home) there is an overwhelming sense of disconnect among the people. I still cannot believe how lonely it can feel standing in a large crowd of people. Hong Kong is a city always on the go: people are in a rush to commute, aggressive to close a business deal, storefronts and buildings are in a constant renovation cycle, and the workforce is transient. All these factors contribute to a place where no one feels grounded and are aching to connect. I think this is one of the reasons an interactive show like this was so popular, and why art which brings people together goes viral.

In my eyes this is one of the greatest capabilities of new technologies for educational purposes. Teachers can transcend the walls of their classrooms to reach audiences around the globe. I have long been a fan of Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model which helps educators to think about HOW they are using technology. 

Is a technology just a different way of doing the same old task or it is adding something and transforming the learning experience? 
I often refer back to this model when working with teachers to help them move up the ladder. Technology seems a bit less daunting when there are clear goals laid out to assist tech integration.

Exploring Culture, Identity, and Representation through Art Education

Culture is understood in Anthropology as the symbolic, ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies. The “essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, or other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them” (1). It is the values and beliefs based on knowledge and perceptions chosen and expressed through behaviour, image, and sound. According to my students, culture is about food and religion and clothing.
I realized that these slides my students created as part of a lesson on global issues are just the beginning of an authentic exploration of culture, identity, and representation. This realization was particularly important to explore on a more meaningful level in the multicultural learning environment of my school.
How are educators to challenge the assumptions surrounding culture?
How will we decide whose voices will be heard?

One approach to facilitate learning surrounding culture and identity is through art education. Art can provide us with a tangible object to discuss intangible concepts of identity, and help bring words and understanding to such abstruse constructs. Art is experienced through the senses and acts as a window into cultural representation. The representational power of art is intertwined with the interpretation of symbols used to communicate cognitive processes that are unique to each person. The creation of art can also be used to help students construct meaning surrounding culture and identity.

As an art educator, Stacy Friedman explores issues of racism through puppetry. She has students design, create and script puppets with a commentary on conflicts surrounding identity representations. She notes that the puppets “serve as sort of metaphorical Trojan horses helping us to enter into uncomfortable discourse through a seemingly benign medium” (2). Friedman’s intent is that the puppets open up a door to higher critical thinking and have the potential to become a mechanism for exploring the thoughts and voices of others. Art is an individual encounter based on the mental filters and prior experiences of a specific person.

French artist JR’s street art toys with identity by challenging preconceptions and reductive images propagated by advertising and the media. He work can be found in war-torn and conflict ridden areas of developing countries. JR snaps black and white portraits of local people and literally pastes blown up paper photocopies of these images in the streets. Powerful images of women were pasted around a slum in Kenya, Israeli and Palestinian portraits were placed next to one another in the Middle East, and portraits lined the streets of poor areas of India. JR does not explicitly explain the meaning of his art but instead allows the audience to interpret the art themselves by collecting the stories of those featured in his portraits. He also notes that his projects aid in the construction of his own mindset regarding culture and identity.

Shouldn't students become producers of art as an alternative to the traditional 
consumption-centred model to emancipate students from media bias 
and offer a different perspective of how meaning is created?
Authorship of media texts and tangible art can be applied to forms of critical analysis that “open up alternative positions from which students can think, debate, act” (3). Not only can art serve as a surrogate of abstract ideas surrounding culture, but the “truths” about identity and culture can be interrogated and constructed through the production of artifacts.
1. Banks, J.A., Banks, & McGee, C. A. (1989). Multicultural education. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
2. Friedman, S. (2004). Responsibility and re/presentation: Reflection on digital video and puppet-based inquiry.
3. Goldfarb, B. (2002). Students as producers. Visual pedagogy: Media cultures in and beyond the classroom (pp. 57-83). Durham: Duke University Press.