Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What is Game Based Learning?

There are a lot of companies and people that claim to have great games for higher order thinking skills that are great for Game Based Learning (GBL).  Yet, even though they use the right words in their pitches, post, pintersets etc.. I am left feeling like Indigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: I do not think those words mean what you think they mean.

At the same time I wonder if I know what those words mean.  There are a lot of people who talk about what Game Based Learning is, and how to incorporate it in the classroom, but some of the messages I am hearing/reading are often conflicting and contrary to my understanding and/or personal philosophy around GBL.  Is there a widely accepted definition of Game Based Learning?

Here are some of the things I believe about Game Based Learning, and please add to my understanding or correct something that I don't represent accurately:
-Student lead
-Engages students in creative critical thinking skills
-Not just computer games
-educational without having to be "Educational" -if that makes any sense
-Games students can 'break' and remodel, revise, rebuild
(Here is where I would normally wax poetic about Minecraft, but you can just peek at the gamingeducators wiki I belong to with @MzMollyTL and @liamodonnell)

What I think I am seeing is more of lately is Gamification being called Game Based Learning.  I really think there needs to be more clarification here because the two concepts are very different.

Gamification (click for an infographic) -in my opinion- is like a sticker program for behaviour.  Students complete certain game labeled task, and get a reward in; badges, exp. points etc...  Sounds cool and often is.  What I'm afraid of is that with this kind of program students, with time, will see through the educational modification to their regular program and stop buying into what is being 'gamified'.  Students who do not have as many badges as their peers being among the first to opt out of the program.  I won't lie, I have often become a slave to gaining achievements in games I play  *cough* W.O.W. *cough,*  but after time, and seeing my friends out achieve me, I stopped caring.  Now playing Diablo III I see that there are achievements, and I do experience some satisfaction when I gain an achievement, but I don't really care, nor do I try to game in a way that will purposefully gain more achievements.

Honestly, as a teacher of close to 10 years I have not yet seen this type of modification work for a whole year, whether because of student rebellion against it, teacher burn out from having to administer it, or a combination of both.  That being said, I know there are wonderful educators who are able to overcome both the obstacles I mentioned above.  There are some great looking gamification programs that have been built by educators too. But I still don't think that makes it Game Based Learning. 

I do believe the two approaches to using games in the class is motivated by the same basic goal: to engage, motivate, and scaffold students so they can achieve more.  Yet the two have very different strategies for reaching their goals.  Kinda like the whole language vs. phonics debates.

Perhaps I am being a bit pedantic by stressing the difference I see between Game Based Learning and Gamification.  But honestly, I see them as two different animals.

So what is Game Based Learning anyway? Who should I read?  Where am I misinformed?

(Note: I used the word "scaffold" because I think it appropriate and just in case my friend @nodycer decides to read this.)

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