Incentivising learners: should we gamify our teaching and learning?
Gamification has long been used in education, and none more so than in edtech development and use. Motivating learners to achieve more, and better, through games, quizzes and challenges can be engaging and brings out that competitive spirit children and young people naturally possess. And, of course, by its very nature edtech lends itself perfectly to this sort of approach.
Gamification also teaches useful life skills such as perseverance and, where children work with others on a challenge, collaboration, cooperation and teamwork.
This desire to incentivise learners is what drove Bhavna Mishra, the founder of Browzly, an edtech tool designed to encourage reading, to introduce a summer reading challenge for young readers. The Kids Judge Bett 2020 award winner wanted children to maintain their reading levels during the long summer break and to prevent regression.
Browzly, which is available as a phone app and can be accessed by a website, encourages children aged six years+ to read for pleasure, and connects them with other members of their school community to share books and reviews.
It makes recommendations about the level at which the child is reading and suggests a personalised list of books they might find of interest. At the same time, it generates information for teachers relating to the pupil’s reading patterns, their level of competence and offers quizzes and activities to establish comprehension.
Browzly set up a summer leader board aimed at making young readers more “visible” to each other and included a competition to see who could read the most books. The prize was free admission to swimming baths.
“Reading is a solitary pursuit, so we wanted to remove some of the isolation that children who love books might feel, and to show them that there are many others who enjoy books, just as they do,” Bhavna explains.
Young readers were encouraged to read as many books as possible, and to record their progress by naming publicly the titles of the books they’d enjoyed, as well as leaving text or video reviews.
But, after a few days, Browzly started receiving e-mails from parents who were concerned at the negative impact this competition was having on their children.
“Some were concerned that it was actually putting their children off, because the younger participants were reading shorter books, with fewer pages, while those in older age groups were obviously reading much longer books,” she said.
“We found that the leader board had started to cause some anxiety to those who didn’t think they could keep up. So, while it engaged some children, others were becoming very disheartened.”
“Different age categories were created so that children were “competing” with those of a similar age to prevent discrepancies in book size and length.”
Browzly decided to remove the leader board and instead of a quantitative approach to the challenge, introduced a more qualitative method of rewarding readers instead. Pupils still recorded their reading preferences and frequency, but their access to other readers was restricted to their own school community, and they were given points for sharing reviews. Different age categories were created so that children were “competing” with those of a similar age to prevent discrepancies in book size and length.
“While our challenge didn’t quite work as we would have wished, we learned a huge amount from this exercise,” Bhavna adds. “It helped us to understand the concept of leader boards better, and what the benefits and pitfalls are.
“I was also heartened to see how cleverly children “gamed” the leader board and used their ingenuity to find shorter books at the same reading level so they could keep up with the challenge. They were very self-motivated and thought about it creatively.”
While gamification undoubtedly has a place in the learning process, Browzly’s experience suggests edtech developers might need to think carefully about how to include this aspect in their products and ask themselves: Is this challenge useful? Does it have a purpose? Is it fair or can the challenge in itself be “gamed”? Does it engage and motivate — or does it have the potential to disincentivise?
It’s an interesting discussion. Let us know how you have used gamification — and what the outcome was.
Author: Dorothy Lepkowska, Communications Lead
Originally published February 2020 by EDUCATE