How games can hook students with short attention spansCraig Blewett, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Ebrahim Adam, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Modern human beings have a shorter attention span than goldfish: ours is, on average, below eight seconds while the little fish can focus for nine seconds.
These decreasing attention levels are driven by people’s constant use of technology. One study found that people’s dependence on digital stimulation has become so high that 67% of men and 25% of women would prefer to experience an electric shock rather than doing nothing for 15 minutes.
Children are no different. They occupy a hyper stimulating world and find it difficult to sit through a 40 minute lesson or focus on a single task. Many schools and universities are now turning to the very technology that can be such a distraction. One of the avenues they are exploring is gamification - integrating games and their principles into learning.
Our research has shown that gamification has the potential to boost student learning and motivation.
The game is changing
Gaming has become a huge industry and is now even more valuable than the movie industry. A recent study found that teens spend an average of nine hours each day on their devices, with nearly four of these hours spent playing games.
But schools are starting to realise that merely putting devices in pupils' hands won’t magically restore their attention during lessons. Children need new teaching methods to accompany these new devices. To this end, some schools are turning to gamification.
Gamification normally involves game-like elements such as leaderboards, levels and badges. These are underpinned by storylines and delivered using creative and appealing aesthetics. Leaderboards rank participants, while levels typically give the player additional benefits. Badges are symbols of achievement.
In a sense this is how education has always worked. Individual examinations are challenges, passed across a number of years - or levels. Pupils then earn a certificate, or badge. But a qualification is not a gamified experience because it doesn’t adequately fulfil the key principles of a well designed game: clearly defined goals, a transparent scoring mechanism, frequent feedback, a personal choice of approach and consistent coaching.
Gamification of the classroom
Gamification is slowly proving its classroom mettle. Some research suggests that, if it’s properly applied, gamification can improve attendance, enhance understanding of content, encourage engagement and ultimately improve academic performance.
We decided to integrate gamification into an existing fourth year course at a South African university. Traditionally, the course is delivered to students through social media platforms. This time around we built in an additional game layer. This created a scenario that saw students pursuing a corporate career and competing for executive positions at a large company. Throughout the course, corporate aesthetics and a corporate style of communication and feedback were adopted.
Students were recognised for meeting learning objectives, displaying academic progress, collaborating around activities and socialising with peers. They were awarded badges and points, which opened up opportunities for real-world benefits: marks, privileges like choosing their own project teams, and even letters of recommendation. They constantly competed to appear in the top 10 leaderboard.
Our research found that students were highly motivated by gamification. They worked hard to try and master the content, as well as engaging with their peers about it. Since the game was based on rewarding learning outcomes and sharing their knowledge, students found gamification relevant and beneficial to their learning.
Crashing the game
There were challenges alongside the benefits. For starters, students had to invest more time in the course than they might ordinarily. To stay ahead of the game, they had to keep up with their peers. Those who simply couldn’t keep up fell out of the game, which made it harder to re-engage them. Some students also gave up because they weren’t receiving rewards frequently enough for their liking.
Teachers, too, must invest a lot of time in running the game - never mind the demands of the traditional course. Gamifying a classroom requires a significant investment in time and sometimes money.
We also found that there was a need to ensure a balance between competition - something gamified courses encourage - and helping develop socially cohesive students. This requires care from the teachers, who must ensure that collaborative tasks and social skills like empathy and mutual respect are rewarded within the game.
Despite the challenges, our research suggests that gamification techniques can provide interesting avenues to motivate student learning.
There are several free tools available to help teachers implement gamification in the classroom. Kahoot!, for instance allows teachers to run gamified quizzes where students participate with their own devices and are placed on a leaderboard that the whole classroom can see.
Gamification could, quite literally, be a game changer in the classroom if implemented correctly. As a teacher who recently tried gamification for the first time told one of the authors:
The world is changing - it's getting more exciting, more stimulating, more addictive. However, this comes at a cost. Our attention span, which according to some research is now below that of a goldfish!
One of the ways of trying to recapture our students' attention is to gamify their learning experience. For those of you who were at "@CTIVSIT 2016 - Durban" you heard about the research Ebrahim Adam and myself have been involved in and the impact it has on learning. Below are the slides that discuss our key findings re. gamification and learning.
What strategy can you use that will double your student learning gains? The answer, according to 250 studies is formative assessment. Unlike summative assessment which typically takes place at the end of a section and evaluates learning according to a benchmark, formative assessment is intended to check understanding during learning.
One of the layers of the @citvated classroom model is Correction. It is this layer that not only encourages the use of tools that enable students to learn through mistakes, but it is also the layer that encourages the use of formative assessment tools.
The exciting thing is that there are a wide range of amazing tools that can be used not only for formative assessment, but for fun formative assessment.
Tools like Socrative and Kahoot provide ideal places to quickly setup assessments and get students enthusiastically engaged in the learning process.
Kahoot makes use of a gamification element where the students compete against each other in a race to top the leaderboard. In addition to being easy to use Kahoot allows teachers to both prepare questions before a lesson or to have pop-quizzes where questions are created on the fly.
The Most Dangerous Writing App
Or how about something totally different, something that combines creation, correction and conversation all into one. One of the most powerful ways of doing formative assessment is to get students to summarize what they have learned during the lesson. They could quite simply turn to their neighbour and chat about this - but then in all likelihood they will talk about sport or fashion, and not the lesson.
Well, here's a unique way to use technology to get them to think quickly about what they've just learned...because if they don't think quickly, there's a price to pay!
Get them to all visit "The Most Dangerous Writing App" website. It's free - uncluttered, and simply asks one question. "Session length?"
The students can be given anything from 5 mins to 60 mins to write down what they have learned. However there is a catch...if they stop writing for just 5 seconds, they lose everything and have to start again. In the words of the site:
"Because 'tis better to have written and lost, than never to have written at all."
This is a great way to force students to write, and think while they write. No time for looking at their friend or daydreaming about what they've missed on Snapchat, or when the lesson will end. It's write or start again.
Yet another exciting and active way to get students to share their thinking and for teachers to use formative assessment as a tool to improve learning, because after all, @activists do!
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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