04 December 2012

Blended Learning and Gamification: A Love Story

Let's make this quick so I can move on to my rant:
  • blended learning: mixing online and in-person instruction, ideally with the result of students being able to work at their own pace
  • gamification: adding (video) gaming elements to help motivate and reward students
Why I Got Into Blended
Since I started teaching all those (three) years ago, I've been frustrated with the varying speeds at which students complete their work, but I hesitated about the idea of tutorial videos. Part of me thinks it's lazy, and another part of me worries they just won't get it from a video. But absent students had to get help from someone, and my strategy of simply having their neighbors show them how to do it wasn't working as well as I'd hoped. So I started doing videos, and quickly found that not only does it aid absent students, but present students, slow and fast.

My use of blended learning evolved to take over projects. All assignments are required work for all students; they teach essential skills for whatever unit we're in. Projects are more creative and encompass several skills. I found that I had more project ideas than I had room for in the calendar, not to mention the varying levels of interest among students. So I just posted videos online of how to complete each project, then briefly told students about them at the beginning of class one day. It made a lot less work for me, I only had to explain the idea once on video and any student could watch it anytime they wanted. It meant I could do other things during class. Considering the number of 11-hour days I put in, I could use a little less work.

The Need for Feed(back)
Speaking of 11-hour days, even at that pace I still seem to run out of time to complete my to-do list. The one thing that takes the most time — grading — also happens to be one of the most important parts of school. In modern times, it's the only thing a real-life teacher can bring to the classroom that students can't get elsewhere.

Independent Learning = Lack of Motivation
I've taken a few online classes, and in every case I procrastinated like crazy and didn't care at all for the subject. I just wanted to get it over with at the end. And that's when I was in college. Can we expect much more from junior high age kids?

Part of the motivation in this case comes from the 'blended' and 'feedback' part. Having a human teacher there will push kids to stay on task.

Adding a Gamified Layer for Increased Everything
Video games are increasingly exploratory and independent. Using Super Mario as an example, the original NES version was very linear: you beat level after level until you get to the end. Super Mario 3 on the SNES let you occasionally choose which levels to complete in order to move on. Exploration peaked, I think, with Super Mario 64, which allowed you to choose which worlds to explore and which stars to go after. Total independence. Now, of course, with New Super Mario and Super Mario Galaxy, they're keeping both models of exploration there. The semi-linear model and the open-world model.

There's no one telling people to play video games because it'll mean they can get a job later. There's no cash reward for beating a game quickly. The motivation lies in how fun it is to play and the sense of accomplishment from unlocking new stuff or beating the boss. I don't think school can ever be that fun or as inherently satisfying, except occasionally, but I do think gamification can increase internal motivation for both the previously-unmotivated and the previously-only-motivated-by-grades.

So that's it. I just wanted to point out how blended learning and gamification were made for each other.

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