Recently, I finished reading The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game* by Lee Sheldon. In this book, Sheldon shares his experiences of gamifying his classroom. Having been a game designer, Sheldon set out to test whether or not game mechanics could positively influence the classroom. This book details the lessons he learned and the processes he explored. In the book, he criticizes current education methods and highlights strategies for learning that he picked up as a game designer. I like what he has to say.
In the introduction, Sheldon points out that games handle mistakes different than classes. In games, individuals can repeatedly make mistakes until they learn and conquer the objective. In schools, students are typically given one chance and the result is permanently recorded. Because gamer can explore different strategies, gamers are willing to take risks because the consequences are insignificant. They spend more time trying to negotiate problems. Games also have an element of fun. Children naturally play until they enter the education system, then the fun is removed and children are challenged to act like adults. Education takes what is natural and forces participants to conform to a particular mold. Everything is standardized. We even have standardized tests… where is the creativity?
Sheldon has turned his classroom experience into a game. He begins by adjusting the terminology used in the class. Game terminology helps create the correct atmosphere such as defeating monsters (quizzes), crafting goods (writing papers), and completing quests (assignments). Students take on gaming roles, create avatars, and join guilds to negotiate the monsters and quests. As students progress through the quests, they earn rewards, achievements, and experience points. With experience points, “gamers” advance through levels. Each level becomes increasingly more difficult and challenging. Throughout the process, student experiences are being positively reinforced. As Sheldon points out, everyone starts with an “F” unless they complete enough quests. From that point, gamers play their way to an “A.”
This book has a number of case studies where other teachers and professors explain how they are using Sheldon’s strategies with success. In these case studies, a number of great ideas are explained and can be quickly adapted for any classroom. Sheldon does a great job of presenting his syllabi and explaining why he made certain curriculum decisions. Sheldon and the other instructors note two important benefits from this change in instruction; students are completing more work than traditional classes, and students demonstrated increased quality because they could choose quests where they were proficient. To achieve this success in the classroom, instructors will have to put in more effort because there are more products to be graded and more products to be created. Educators must create enough repeatable assignments and rewards to replicate the feeling in an online role-playing game.
If you have read about gamification and are looking for ideas for implementing a game-based strategy for your class, I would recommend reading this book. It is a quick read with a myriad of ideas. But understand, this is not about using games in the classroom, it is about turning your classroom into a game.
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