July 15, 2013

Feelings and games

I'm currently enrolled in a MOOC (I am unsure how I currently feel about MOOCs overall in theory, but am liking this one so far). It's the Game Elements for Learning (#GE4L) MOOC offered through Canvas.

One of the readings we have been directed to is Karl Kapp's post, The emotional toll of instructional games.

(Kapp also wrote: The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. 2012).

I am finding this very intriguing because I have been having reservations about incorporating some game elements into the badge pilot I have designed for our 1 credit course. I wanted to have a leaderboard so students could feel good about doing extra work, but I did not want people to "shut down," as Kapp says, for not making it onto the leaderboard. The intent is to motivate, but in reality, it could have an opposite, unintended effect.

Kapp says, "If you decide to add game-elements (gamification) or if you decide to create a learning game with winners and losers, you need to find a way to deal with those who do not win. You need to help them avoid some of the negative feelings. You may even decide that a cooperative game is better than placing someone in a losing situation."

In the class, we are not offering enough rewards where certain people would feel like everyone but them is winning, and I am trying to mix it up so that a variety of people are included. I am also incorporating easter egg "mini-badges" for exceptional work, cooperative skills, or etc. be varied so the same people are not winning for excelling at particular skills while ignoring other skills. Students can unlock them without knowing. Still feeling it out as I go, and since this is the pilot it will be great to see what worked and what did not. I'm honestly a little worried that there is the reverse effect, that students might not care at all about the leaderboard. I'm still getting great work from them, but I'm not clear on if it is factoring into their submissions or not. They are very likely more motivated by the grade. And since this is a summer class, people are traveling and might have their thoughts elsewhere. Looking forward to survey data at the end of summer. I think I'm going to need to revisit the game + instructional design to make it more well-defined, include more motivational game elements, and find a way to make it not so heavily grade-focused (if possible since it is a credit course).

Kapp lists 12 ways to "mitigate losing in an instructional game or gamification situation," and I thought it might be useful to comment on each:

1) Forewarn the learners that they might become upset or frustrated if they find themselves losing and that is part of the learning process.
I did not do this, but I have at least tried to address affective learning outcomes and how research can cause frustration; that it's not easy or linear and you have to practice. I hope these skills can be applied to the game mechanics and course content as well, but perhaps it's better to come right out and say it.

2) Inform learners that they might lose the game and that is OK, learning will still occur.
I have done this in a way to allow students multiple attempts at a badge. This really can tie in to taking risks and having a decreased fear of failure. Since assessment should be to improve learning, not just judge work, I try to make the feedback really count.

3) Carefully brief all the learners on the instructional objectives of the game and de-emphasize winning.
Since the badging structure is tied directly to the course, the course objectives are the main focus. In this case, badges are more of a visual way to track progress.

4) Acknowledge the frustration or anger at losing.
Similar to my response for #1.

5) Ask learners to find lessons and reason within the lose. Have them dissect why they lost. Ask “can those insights lead to learning?”
Perhaps I should have students do more cognitive work here, but when they get it wrong when submitting work for a badge, I reiterate and clarify what exactly I'm looking for so they have a better opportunity to "win" the badge when they try again.

6) Don’t spend a great deal of time extolling the winners. Acknowledge winning and move right to the instructional lesson.
Exactly. I post a leaderboard in the news section and just leave it at that.

7) Provide a list of strategies that will help the learner win next time. (After the game.)
I try to do this in the assignment description so students know exactly what I'm looking for. It might even be better to post the actual rubric next semester.

8) Within the curriculum, follow the game activity with an activity where everyone can feel positive.
I'm not sure how this would play out in my scenario, but I think the participation points for discussion might work in this way. Rather than being graded on what is said, general points are given simply for being involved.

9) If in a classroom, allow people who did not win a chance to discuss why they didn’t win. Online, provide chat opportunities.
More chances for reflection would be very beneficial. The badges offered are so incremental, however, larger reflection might not be a good fit.

10) Consider if creating “winning” or “losing” is really what you want in the learning experience. Sometimes it is appropriate. Often it is appropriate but be prepared for unintended consequences and negative feedback if you don’t handle the situation properly.
Yes, definitely reconsidering even having a leaderboard. Maybe these easter egg "mini-badges" could instead be private between instructor and student.

11) Create different levels of winning, can a learner win a round, or one task, can small victories occur throughout the game. This is helpful because if a learner falls behind early, they may mentally drop out early in the learning process. Find ways to keep them engaged.
Love this.

12) Finally, you may want to consider building a cooperative rather than a competitive game. Working together is far more inclusive than competition.
Love this too. Just have to find a way to track each student's own work to tie to badge earning.

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