Gamification – Relatively New Concept in Education

Copious amounts of literature could be found on professional development of teachers while ‘gamification’ is a relatively new concept in education. However, marrying the two subjects was relatively straight-forward as professional development furthers the education of teachers, and gamification has been used to further the education of students and employees for the past twenty or so years. The purpose of the study was to see if providing a gamification choice for teachers would be as effective as providing a gamification choice for students. Furthermore, would professional learning be internally motivated if there were perceived incentives involved for teachers to learn new concepts, technologies, or teaching strategies through the gamification processes.

The main focus of this study was to emphasize the importance of quality professional development for teachers. With gamification of professional development materials, teachers would then be able to more effectively fill gaps in skill sets for new teachers specific to a district or building, and continue to develop the expertise of seasoned professionals, all at their own pace. Professional development is necessary to keep teachers current in the ever-changing educational world.

The Historical Perspective of Professional Development

High quality professional development is commonly defined by many as having certain characteristics. These characteristics include: how and what students may learn; project-based learning opportunities; objectives defined and commonly connected to high standards; potential for teachers to participate in leadership roles; and the collaboration of teachers in similar schools, departments and grade-levels. Although lists of characteristics such as these commonly appear in the literature on effective professional development, there is little direct evidence on the extent to which these characteristics are related to better teaching and increased student achievement (Desimone, Porter, Garet, Yoon, & Birman, 2002).

Historically, in education being a lifelong adult learner has been integral to the teaching profession. Professional development many times must address the needs of the teacher, the student, and even the community. Learning potential in a variety of subjects can be addressed in the professional development arena including budgeting, special needs of students, state and national standards, technology advancements, specific content area learning, classroom management, student motivation, and many other essential elements to teaching in today’s world (Badri & Mohaidat, 2016).

The needs and impacts of individualized professional learning, while seemingly evident, are many times difficult to measure. Professional development success requires well-planned activities and high-levels of engagement in order for it to be effective (Badri & Mohaidat, 2016).

Targeted and pre-determined topics are essential for competent staff development and maximizing learning potential. Technology integration through gamification could assist in topics being pre-planned and creating high-levels of engagement.

Defining Gamification

Gamification does not require the use of technology, but rather in the beginning, was a process for collecting points which has since evolved into a call for social action according to some researchers. Other researchers based the definition on levels of engagement by participants, while still others clarified the difference between game elements and gaming systems (Shpakova, Dörfler, & MacBryde, 2017). However through technology integration, gamification of everyday activities is readily available to the masses. Examples of gamification outside of education include applications many use daily, such as LinkedIn, which uses a progress bar to encourage completion of a user profile. Additional examples might be a consumer using a FitBit to reach a goal of 10,000 steps or even the application “”WaterMinder,”” with users creating water consumption goals. Both applications employ the element of “”earning”” a badge to achieve user defined goals. These applications incorporate one of the most common game elements. Game elements can be defined as and include: badges, leaderboards, time constraints, variety of game styles, and aesthetics (Cheong & Cheong, 2014).

Many companies already reward their employees for demonstrating their knowledge on the job through contests and recognition. Many times corporations are encouraged to think outside the box for gamification possibilities. Utilizing a badge system for gaining additional trainings, having employees rate materials, or even receiving additional compensation for participating in advanced training could be gamification possibilities for educators (Shpakova, Dörfler, & MacBryde, 2017). Researchers Shpakova, Dörfler, and MacBryde (2017) caution that certain criteria should be considered when implementing gamification including, but not limited to: age, gender, technology experience, and cultural background.

The Educational Perspective of Gamification

Numerous case studies have been conducted on game features being utilized to support formative assessment practices for students. To highlight one such study, the A-GAMES project (Analyzing Games for Assessment in Math, ELA/Social Studies, and Science) was conducted by the University of Michigan and New York University on how educators were using games, specifically digital games, to support their teaching and delivering formative assessments to the classrooms. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the project in the Spring of 2014 (Fishman, Riconscente, Snider, Tsai, & Plass, 2015).

In the A-GAMES case-studies several commonalities were found that educators could use for improving student learning. Those same findings could be applied to professional development for teachers when gamifying content. Those commonalities included: learner engagement through clear feedback, commonly symbolized by points, stars, or badges; dashboards effectively displaying information on the learning processes; utilizing screen capture commonly provides leverage for learning and reflection; essential questions can provide a path for learning, while review questions provide self-checks; and finally, replayability allows the learner to progress at their own pace. There were other elements such as the ability to unlock levels, completing quizzes, and scaffolding graphic organizers that were also evaluated (Fishman, et al., 2015).

Utilizing these elements in the classroom for students has been assessed to be effective, therefore, utilizing similar gamification methods could easily be applied to professional learning for educators.

Professional Learning and Gamification

The business world has utilized knowledge management to assess success of products, marketing, and other forces that drive profits in business. Knowledge management is the ability to disseminate and manage knowledge of an organization to better the organization, therefore making it more efficient and productive. Overall, knowledge management has not always been a successful endeavor. There were many studies cited that showed the failure of knowledge management for an organization. However, the organizations that were able to prove success with knowledge management systems had some type of motivation including gamification of capturing, sharing and transferring knowledge among members of the organization. Gamification is not a solution, but rather an enhancement to employee engagement, productivity, and positive behavior (Shpakova, Derfler, & MacBryde, 2017). Therefore it can be assumed that gamification would be effective in professional development for teachers.

When incorporating gamification into professional learning, what are the important elements? The three most important aspects for gamification to be effective are: to understand who is participating in the gamification of the learning concept (audience), what you want the participant to do (objective), and use the appropriate elements of a game to motivate the players to increase their learning (Cheong & Cheong, 2014). The first two elements are equally important in professional learning, while the last element is specific to the gamification model.

Advantages to utilizing technology in personalized learning are numerous. Gamification allows continuous learning to be available for professionals. Teachers do not have to go to a conference or wait to attend a PD day in order to learn new concepts or information. Gamification of professional development can be adaptive. Checks for understanding in games are implemented to determine if the user understands the concept or strategy before they are allowed to earn a badge or points. There is instant knowledge of who is understanding new material and who needs more practice. Gamification can create a personal response by allowing participants to see their progress and move at their own pace. “By definition, a game is assessing a player all the time,” states Barry Fishman, co-author of the 2015 report, “The A-Games Project.” Embedding gamification allows professional learning to keep participants on track and engaged throughout the learning process (Davis, 2015).

Summary

It is beneficial to incorporate technology related professional development when there is joint participation of teachers from the same school, department, or grade level. This is homogeneous with thoughts about the way teachers learn and implement best practices within their own classrooms. Findings are also consistent with the idea that professional development characterized by “active learning,” where teachers are not passive “recipients” of information, also boosts the impact of professional development activities (Desimone, et al., 2002).

Gamification promotes “active learning” instead of “sitting and getting,” the traditional approach to professional development. This type of learning further supports that teachers benefit from relying on one another in developing technological skills.

The introduction of web-based information technology has presented new opportunities for offering professional development and knowledge online (Berkant, 2016). Attitudes toward the use of technology and computers is a predictor of teacher attitudes towards computer supported education (Celik & Yesilyurt, 2013). Additionally, teachers use of technology is affected by their views of technology and beliefs of what their capabilities may be (Teo & Koh, 2010). Education professionals must have positive attitudes and self-efficacy beliefs about technology due to the fact that they are expected to use computers effectively in classroom activities. Professional development implemented with gamification would assist in achieving this goal, while also provide engagement, choice, and self-paced learning experiences for educators – everything a teacher wants for their own students.

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