The Active Ingredient for Games in the Classroom

Posted: October 12, 2014 in EC&I 831 Social Media & Open Education, ECI831 Final Digital Project, Ed Tech
Tags: , ,

The sixth and last module of my Gamification MOOC brought the concept of games in the classroom full circle for me. The most basic reason to use games with students is to make learning fun by adding a special element to grab their attention and engage them in the experience. The last module focused on that ‘active ingredient’ that tweaks a student’s attention. The MOOC likened it to selling snake oil…the buyer must only BELIEVE in the experience.


His very enthusiasm caused people to buy.”

The MOOC author, Dr. Tom Benjamin, discussed the pedagogical impact of a number of innovative methods including novelty, fortune teller (feedback likely to be true for anyone), John Henry (outperform a machine or standard), placebo, Hawthorne (social response to the ‘experiment’), and intermittent reinforcement.

With the novelty, placebo effects and others, there is a decay effect wherein the effect will wear off. Yet, just like in medicine the benefits of the placebo cannot be undervalued. Patients need to believe in the treatment just like students need to be engaged in the game.

Dr. Benjamin challenged us with the following task:

How would you level the playing the field for a traditional method

by adding placebo effects to make it fashionable and esoteric?

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Traditional method – Lecture & answer questions
  • Level the playing field – team element, roll dice, draw for questions,
  • Placebo effects – earn points, earn levels (esoteric)
  • Fashionable – submit answers by video/pic using iPad; tweet answers

The second of three videos addressed tailoring games to the particular audience using their interests and personalities rather than abilities as direction. He suggested Holland’s RIASEC model as a framework for tapping all of those areas of interest. Once you target a task for game development teachers should look at the opposite RIASEC spectrum as well. A gamelet (mini-game) could be developed for each component and could help students with their weaker aspects. For example, someone strong in hands-on (Realistic) skills would benefit from a game to help with the opposite component like role playing to strengthen Social skills.

RIASEC model


Here is a metagame (unit) I sketched out about Owls using the RIASEC model:

Gr. 2 Life science Animal Unit – Owls

  • Realistic – Look at images of owls, Outdoor Ed Owl presentation, Burrowing Owl exhibit
  • Investigative – What kind of owls live in Saskatchewan? Find out data about owls
  • Artistic – Create a visual art project in conjunction with a creative writing story about owls
  • Social – Work in teams on the investigative portion
  • Enterprising – Raise awareness about owl habitat and the owl’s role in our ecosystem
  • Conventional – put together a report of your findings; complete a unit quiz

What I thought was very interesting and gave a lot of credibility to the MOOC was that Dr. Benjamin did not tout games as the only answer to education nor did he suggest a list of ‘must-have’ software or apps. He said educators shouldn’t waste games on things that are already popular and easy to learn but rather start with the resources we already have and gamify when necessary. Creating those gamelets is the opportunity to add the flash that software and apps can offer. However, the true power of the game for education lies in the gamemaster’s ability to set up the structure of the game and set the scene to motivate and engage our young learners. 



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