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Why gamification belongs in education

On September 17 I attended the PICNIC festival in Amsterdam. One of the subjects being discussed at Vodafone Firestarters was gamification. This is the video of that discussion:

Unfortunately, questions from the audience seemed to have disappeared. Quite annoying. I asked Toby Barnes what his thoughts were about gamification in education. He started by almost biting his pen in half. Then he answered that he believed it shouldn’t be done in education. It immediately triggered me but I wasn’t given the upportunity to respond. So, now you know where the inspiration for this blog has come from, let’s get to it.

Why gamification belongs in education:

Fun and meaningful

It’s a great mistake to simply state that games primarily should be fun. A game primarily can be designed for educational purposes and still be fun at the same time. Game designers should be able to design them that way. Benificial for the educational system is that games bring fun and creativity in to a primarily static situation. The teacher will get more out of his students if they are passionate about what they are doing. Yet, you still want them to learn something. Gaming creates the perfect platform for learning the ‘soft skills’ you’ll need so desperately later on in society.

Quantifying self

Teachers have struggeled heavily with the question how to measure soft skills. The normal test just won’t do. That’s because testing is zoomed in upon the measuring of knowlegde, or maybe better, facts. Tests will create the perfect outcome for an educational system that is built upon measuring knowlegde: grades. You can compare these grades with other students, school, etc and you will be able to give a student a label. Not with gaming. The brilliant thing about gaming is the fact that everybody starts out the same and the game will differentiate between several skill levels. You won’t be stuck in a certain level, you can improve. But you’ll improve in categories like collaboration, problem solving, long term strategy, etc. Therefor games will be able to offer the teacher something the test never could: an assessment of your student on every level, not just facts. Students can game whenever they want. They won’t depend on the teacher.

Era of open data

Games had a big problem concerning education; budget. Yes, schools are always in need of more funding (although this probably is a common problem for most). Schools aren’t accustomed to invest in games. Books, yes, boards, yes, games? No way! Yet there is a better, new, broader discussion in society about open data. Is it truly the future that companies keep on demanding money for certain services? Aren’t there alternative ways for business to make a living? Open data is the future. Is already shown that companies can’t stop the distribution of software through the internet. So what does this all mean for education? It means that there already is a lot of open source software but more and more games will be accessible without paying for them.

The most adaptive field of them all

Education has an amazing ability: it can adapt almost every development or technology and make it to good use for students worldwide. Yet, for some unexplained reason, there are people who have the misperception that games can only be played at home and only for fun. With just small adjustments, games can be put to great use in education. And, as an added bonus, it will help you keep creativity alive and kicking.

Preparing for the future

Will a student later on, in ‘real life’, ever use Pythagoras? Probably not. It’s why we should give students the best possible preparation for the rest of their lives. They’ll use their soft skills on a daily basis. We must pay more attention on skills in education. Gaming could be the perfect bridge between fun, education and long term benefits.

Just a vision

Of course, all of the above is just my personal vision on gaming in education. I do hope that people will broaden their minds and give games an opportunity. And, while you’re at it, play a game yourself.


Gamification in de praktijk; een kant-en-klare lesopzet voor Maatschappijleer

Alhoewel gamification als term op Twitter steeds populairder wordt, zie je toch nog weinig lessen voor docenten op internet.

Dat betekent dat je zelf aan de slag zult moeten. En dat vraagt tijd, heel veel tijd. Want behalve het bedenken van opdrachten, ben je ook gewoon heel veel tijd kwijt aan het spelen van de game zelf. Hoe dit te voorkomen? Gebruik maken van online communities, dus delen van je materiaal. Dat is dan ook precies wat ik hier ga doen: voor elke docent een gratis te gebruiken handleiding voor een game, met daarin de opdrachten. Zelf alleen nog een paar uurtjes spelen en je bent een expert. Is het zo simpel? Ja, dat is het!

De game is LinCity-NG, wat een open source versie is van SimCity. Hieronder de snelle tutorial:

De opdrachten bij de game en de uitgebreide handleiding vind je hier:


Je mag het gerust hergebruiken, allemaal onder Creative Commons naamsvermelding.

Tenslotte nog wat tips voor wie zelf aan de slag wil met games in het onderwijs:

  • Practice what you preach; speel altijd zelf de game, hoe kun je het anders uitleggen?
  • Denk goed na over je publiek, wat voor jou duidelijk is, hoeft voor je leerlingen niet duidelijk te zijn.
  • Denk aan de funfactor; als het alleen maar educatief is en niet leuk, haken je leerlingen af.
  • Zoek op internet naar open source games (bijvoorbeeld Freesmug voor Mac games), dan heb je geen gedoe met licenties.