Gaming as a Pedagogy

Connecting the Dots…

In pursuit of reshaping teacher instructional practice, or pedagogy as it’s known, has brought about new instructional strategies to foster student learning in recent years. Finding the “perfect” digital pedagogies is still somewhat elusive in the complex field of teaching and learning, but much needed because students entering classrooms today are wired completely different. According to William D. Winn, the director of the Learning Center at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory, children raised with technology, “think differently from the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures are parallel, not sequential.” (Prensky, 2007). Thus, the big ideas of messy learning, noisy knowledge and challenge-based learning through purposeful play have me thinking lately about gameful learning as a pedagogy. Furthermore, Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talk takes an entertaining look into gaming as a culture and as an important set of life skills needed for students to be future ready. Using a gaming mindset, I’d like to take a closer look at how an app like Goosechase can be utilized to hack concepts of gamification to achieve the value of digital play to support and deepen classroom learning, bolster student engagement and encourage collaborative teamwork.


Goosechase in the Classroom…

From the teacher perspective, the Goosechase app is an interactive gaming platform to foster active learning, engage students in problem-solving and higher-order thinking exercises, builds student agency, facilitates self-directed learning and utilizes motivation techniques to capitalize on the Generation Z/Alpha psyches. Think of the Goosechase product as a digital scavenger hunt on steroids. The app provides a simple gamification designed shell for teachers to construct and integrate game mechanics such as missions, points, progression and feedback into classroom curriculum either for one-setting, for a few days or even for multi-week use. Structuring the game starts with developing a game story and flow by determining the curricular and non-curricular learning targets and employing a backward lesson design process to build a robust and highly curricular connected gaming experience.

The actual game building process takes place by a teacher creating a free account through the www.goosechase.com website and then accessing that account still via the website to develop the individual gaming missions that link together in a linear or constructivist format. The number of missions an individual student or groups of students participates in is determined by the teacher’s curricular or assessment needs. For one setting of classroom play, around 6-8 missions is appropriate, for play over a couple of day think around 10-14 missions, and for multi-week play consider 18-20 missions or breaking the games into mini-series that students can level up. For each mission created, the teacher names the mission (being clever and/or having a theme is a must), assigns a specific number of points, determines how evidence will be collected and uses 300 characters or less to articulate the mission’s goals and requirements. The teacher can also add links to a mission to support access to additional resources. Once developed, missions can be coded to occur in a specified order or allowed to be played as user desired. While students are playing the game, additional missions can be added “on the fly” to accommodate new learning opportunities as they arise. Once missions are launched on the student side, the teacher has real-time access to game analytics including student submissions and a game leaderboard. Having real-time data affords the teacher the opportunity to identify any students or student groups that are struggling with the learning activities and provide any necessary intervention as needed.

From the student perspective, the Goosechase free app needs to be downloaded on an iOS or Android mobile device. If students are working in teams, only one student on the team needs to create an account. Once logged in, students search for the name of game to begin completing their missions. Students submit evidence to support their learning and although they receive their points right away when completing each mission, those points are subject to review by the teacher. Additionally, students can receive bonus points if their submissions are extra impressive.


From an Educator Lens…

Using gaming methods to integrate gamification experiences for gameful learning and assessment accomplishes many of the goals for both the ISTE Student Standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and Districts’ curriculum requirements if planned appropriately. Using the Goosechase app, students will leverage technology to demonstrate content competency through challenge-based missions and must possess digital citizenship skills in submitting their digital evidence and artifacts. Student can also have choice and voice in the curation of the digital resources that they will use to construct their knowledge as well as the potential to make learning meaningful for themselves and their teammates. Using all of the 4C’s, students will complete different missions along the way that can broaden their perspectives and enrich their understanding through purposeful technology-mediated learning. Leaderboards and experience points can offer transparency in the learning process and also potentially provide “surprise” elements to reward students for taking risks, failing forward, using perseverance and grit all while building a feeling of accomplishment of the learning goals. The CCSS’ are taken into consideration during the build process by the teachers to ensure that these gameful experiences are not viewed as fluffy or just for fun activities but rooted in an innovative and blended pedagogical way.


Recommended Improvement…

If I were to recommend one major change or update to the Goosechase app, I would encourage the creator of the app to cleanly split the business into two separate entities. Meaning, create a Goosechase business app and a Goosechase educational app. Doing so, would allow the vendor to better serve the very disparate user groups of the existing app, and perhaps provide a more reasonable pricing structure for non-profit institutions, offer help desk support with an educational bent, and possess the ability to offer additional specific “educational” app needs like running multiple games concurrently, sending signals to teams in action, and building in a robust feedback loop to perhaps find wider acceptance in the educational market.


Final Thoughts…

In an era of high-stakes testing and compliance progress monitoring, non-traditional pedagogies such as gamification and game-based learning get placed too often on the back burner in classrooms and/or are used primarily as filler Fridays or for end of the year fun. Through my experience running Goosechase games in a K-12 setting, students are very engaged, motivated through the missions because they realize that a larger audience will be looking at their hard work, and enjoy demonstrating content mastery in a non-traditional way. Goosechase has been a powerful learning and assessment tool to offer students experiential, self-directed, collaborative team learning. It’s time to consider moving gameful learning to the front burner!


Prensky, M. (2007). Digital game-based learning. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Purposeful Play with Puzzlets!

I’ve been blogging lately about a variety of newer educational technology tools that promote gamification and game-based learning for the K-5 classrooms to support coding, math, inquiry, storytelling, purposeful play, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. I would like to share another gamification tool called Puzzlets. Puzzlets Play Tray is a hardware accessory for a tablet or computer on an iOS or Android platform that allows students to build programs out of real Puzzlet pieces to navigate through an app-based gaming storyline. Puzzlets game pieces are grounded in computer science methodology with each game app focusing on a STEAM subject area. Although the vendor suggests that Puzzlets can be utilized for a K-8 student population, my guess with student prowess continuing to develop in the computer science arena, that the more appropriate grade range is K-5.

There is very little upfront set-up needed to get this technology tool up and running quickly in the classroom. Simply add an app, Cork the Volcano as an example, onto a mobile device and either hardwire the Puzzlets Play Tray or use the Bluetooth wireless connection. I would recommend that students work in pairs, with one student acting as the “navigator” by putting the instruction tiles together on the Play Tray while the other student is the “driver” of the app that advances the program throughout the gaming quest. Students level up by first participating in a “build mode” to plan and determine the possible solution to the challenge on the screen, then run the “play mode” button on the app to gauge their coding success as well as use trial and error to fix any programming problems so that they can guide their character successfully through the quest with the end goal of rescuing their island to “cork the volcano” with the treasures they’ve earned along their journey. Each level up requires a higher level of critical thinking, many more attempts through trial and error, and efficient coding because the quests become timed. As students develop their newfound programming skills, they can go back and replay previous levels to collect more treasures and also practice their enhanced coding skills. What is interesting about this gaming app is that directions and wording does not fill the screen or drive their learning, it is more about intuition, deep thinking and possible solutions. The Puzzlets gaming system currently offers three apps including Cork the Volcano which focuses on coding, Abacus Finch which focuses on math skills and Swatch Out which introduces color theory.

In eLearning educational gaming terms, Puzzlets Play Tray would be considered more of a gamification tool because:

  • it utilizes game design elements and mechanics to challenge and motivate the students
  • it takes an existing course of coding or math and adds gaming elements such as point systems, level progressions and achievement badges
  • the game is created to engage learners so that they become active participants in their own learning
  • the game elements are integrated to help the learner achieve their learning goals and objectives

Additionally, the Puzzlets gaming system pairs nicely with the current ISTE Standards for Students as they become:

  • Empowered learners to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating coding competency by mastery/leveling up
  • Knowledge constructors by using trial and error to solve the challenges screen by screen
  • Innovative designers by creating imaginative solutions to complete each path and level up in a timely fashion
  • Computational thinkers by testing solutions and leveraging their power as a collaborative team
  • Creative communicators in how the student teams use the platform pieces and app to reach their goals

Furthermore, through grit, failure and teamwork, students have the power to persevere and develop core academic and foundational technology skills. I think the vendor tagline says it all, “make game time, brain time”!

New Year, New Focus!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “DNA” in a K-12 educational systems type of way. Wonderings like, “What should be the DNA of a school district in 2030?” or “How can the genes (staff, students, parents, community) better use their talents to impact the future generation from a learning, global citizenship and career perspective?” or “What traits (skills & thinking) do our students need to possess to become successful and make a difference in the world in their lifetime?” and more importantly, “How will our teachers transition their mindsets, pedagogy and classroom experiences to support Generation Z and Generation Alpha students today, tomorrow and beyond?”

Just as the DNA of our student population is changing…Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z and now Generation Alpha, so should our instructional approaches and the tools used to facilitate learning. Growing our practice sometimes requires us to revisit the past with a newfound lens. One big instructional approach that I personally feel did not get a fair shake the first time around was the concept of “gaming” in the classroom. The field of educational technology is in a much better position now to facilitate deeper usage of gaming types of tools to promote active learning in the classroom, encourage student collaboration, afford personalized learning, offer students immediate feedback, and encourage student voice and choice.

To get the conversations rolling again on purposeful eLearning gaming in the classroom, it’s important to look at the DNA of the two very distinct types of gaming currently available to support the teaching and learning process. In eLearning gaming, you’ll hear the terms gamification and game-based learning used interchangeably. Do they have similarities? You bet. Both approaches share “traits” such as game thinking, design and mechanics. Both types of gaming also engage players and solve problems. Digging a little deeper though into the DNA of gamification and game-based learning, they are similar yet quite different as the graphic illustrates below:

gamification-gamebased

Over the next month or so, I plan on posting a variety of blogs on gaming tools. Some will be from a gamification lens and others from a game-based learning perspective. To showcase a larger variety of gaming tools, thanks to my doctoral class at Central Michigan University, EDU807 Learning Tools, I’ll be collaborating with a peer of mine, Natalie Makulski, a 3rd Grade teacher from Botsford Elementary in Clarenceville Schools. We’ll each write multiple separate blogs about eLearning gaming and link our blogs to each other’s for a deeper storyline about why gaming should be revisited and utilized more often in the K-12 learning environment. Looking forward to sharing our thinking! Also, don’t be surprised if a few Saline Area Schools teachers pop in as guest bloggers too!

Gamification in the Workplace

Robson, K., Plangger, K., Kietzmann, J. H., McCarty, I., & Pitt, L. (2015). Is it all a game? Understanding the principles of gamification. Business Horizons, 58(4), 411-420.

Robson et al., provide a detailed article about how the game design principles in a non-gaming context can be used in a business environment with employees. The authors note that organizations have long motivated their employees and customers with game-like incentives. However, with much of what organizations do these days being mediated by digital technologies coupled with a variety of social media tools, gamification has potentially widespread application in contexts such as healthcare, sustainability, government, transportation and education (p. 412). Robson et al., define gamification as “the application of lessons from the gaming domain to change behaviors in non-game situations (p. 412). Thus, gamified experiences can focus on business processes or outcomes and can even involve participants, or players as they are called, from within or outside an organization or institution. Although gaming has been around the work environment for many years, the authors posit three recent developments that have brought a heightened awareness back to gamification in the workplace including: 1) better studies on gaming mechanics, dynamics and emotions, 2) the pervasiveness of social media and web-based technologies, and 3) the need for organizations to look for new and impactful ways to better connect with their employees.

Robson et al., make a compelling case for “why” gamification works in workplace. The authors suggest that gamification can change stakeholder behavior because it taps into intrinsic motivational drivers. Also, they indicate that since gamification usually involves the repetition of desired outcomes, that habits can be formed that require less cognitive resources each time a desired activity is reproduced. Additionally, the authors claim that gamification can create a desired behavior change in work contexts through rewarding desired employee behaviors thus leading to more satisfying outcomes. Therefore, as purported by Robson et al., by tapping into rewards and emotions, an effective gamification experience will motivate individuals’ behavior changes in a workplace setting. Furthermore, to take gamification to scale, Robson et al., suggest the gaming framework must include: 1) input from designers, players, spectators and observers, 2) game mechanics set by the designer, known before the experience starts and remain constant throughout the game, 3) offering players game dynamics that encourage strategic actions and interactions where players are less likely to quit, concede or settle, and 4) gaming that yields emotions that are fun-oriented and appealing. In the end, the authors highlight that all organizations need to motivate and engage their stakeholders and that gamification is an approach to help meet that need.

I feel that organizations, whether businesses or non-profit institutions such as educational entities, need to look for different ways to motivate employees, boost morale and built learner capacity. All too often the easiest way to do this is by providing large group professional development sessions or purchasing a pre-packaged online module for employees to passively participate in or individually complete. Although these approaches result in organizations and institutions being compliant, these traditional training supports are sub-par given the technology mediated resources available today. Although I believe that a process should not be gamified just because it can be, I do think there are many opportunities in the workplace where gamification would add value to adult learner capacity, organization measures and targets as well as create a more positive and joyful workplace.