When it comes to education, we all know that technology shouldn’t be used without intention. Sometimes technology can have a coolness factor, but we certainly shouldn’t bring in a device or software simply to make learners say, “Wow.” The technology we choose is supposed to aid us, support our instruction, and facilitate the learning process. There are times to embrace digital tools and mobile devices if they’re accessible, but there are also times when a tech-free approach is perfectly fine and effective. At least, that’s my belief.
The questions of which technology to employ and why came to mind when I attended an Electronic Village session back in Toronto at the annual TESOL convention. I learned how some teachers were supplementing an existing curriculum. One talk really caught my interest. Lora Yasen of Tokyo International University of America (USA) was sharing her experience with 3D GameLab, a gamification platform. She’s currently using an Azar-Hagen book in one class and has turned to 3D Game Lab to create additional exercises and activities to challenge her students.
The use of a game environment appeals to Lora’s university students, all of whom are from Japan, and the platform has extended learning outside of class. Independent assignments given through 3D Game Lab engage her learners. Lora had given a short grammar assignment right before the convention, and already by Friday nearly all the students had submitted their work. Through the platform Lora is able to easily track progress and quickly provide feedback. A simple click opens up a private comment box on a student submission. Assignments can be accepted as complete or sent back for revision.
What’s making the gamification platform successful for this class? It seems a lot stems from the idea of earning something of value, something tangible when tasks are completed. Lora’s students like the idea of receiving badges and “leveling up” at the end of a quest. Also, the experience merges with everyday online activity: the platform can be accessed on computers or mobile devices, and badges can be exported to social networks.
With the concept of badges, quests, and levels, one might wonder if there can be unhealthy competition. Lora pointed out that teachers can design team activities, making the experience more collaborative. Also, quests can be optional, which removes some pressure and allows learners to tailor the experience to their needs.
I’m not recommending that all teachers jump on the gamification bandwagon, but I do think it’s an option worth considering. It’s part of our job to create the right environment and find tools that will bring out the best in our learners. For some, gamified content creation on a digital platform may be the ticket to a positive learning experience. Also, even a good resource can be made better, simply by having the teacher add something of her own — an activity to make production more personal and meaningful or a quiz targeting language that a given group of students needs to review. Lora has also used 3D GameLab quests to practice vocabulary from NorthStar.
I applaud Lora for taking the plunge and trying something new in order to reach and support her students outside of class. She did admit that learning how to create content, quests, and badges requires a serious investment. Teachers must go through Gamification Boot Camp before starting an actual class on 3D GameLab. The six required badges take no less than ten hours to earn. There’s also a subscription fee, but Lora mentioned that there’s ongoing teacher support included in that fee. Online Teacher Camps are held every 2-3 months.
What do you think?