IATEFL 2014 – Gamified Language Educational E-tivities (Karenne Sylvester)

Having yesterday looked back at Mykhailo Noshchenko’s session on game-based learning, today’s IATEFL archive post again comes from the 2014 conference with a review of Karenne Sylvester’s talk on gamification (both of which also provide a neat follow up to my previous look at differences between game-based learning and gamification).

Please see the original post to view a recording of the session.

Gamification’ refers to the use of gaming elements such as working through levels, scoring points and completing tasks/achievements and applying them to a non-gaming context like education. Although this blog is (to again borrow the quote from Mykhailo’s talk) is more about the ‘learnification of gaming’ through game-based learning than the ‘gamification of learning’ the two concepts have some common ground that merits taking a closer look. Personally, I have tried gamified concepts such as classroom managment ‘level-ups’ with mixed success so I was looking for some pointers from this session.

The session subtitle ‘chocolate-covered broccoli or honeycoated peas?’ provided a running theme for the talk – gamification only works when it is applied with considered pedagogical objectives. The idea that gamification is ‘fun’ and can somehow turn boring classroom activities into exciting ones leads us to chocolate-covered broccoli – not really an appetising combination! If we want activities to be effective they must be well-balanced and planned with the learner in mind (although I’m not entirely convinced that ‘honeycoated peas’ are a tastier mix!)

I guess the same is true for anything we do in the classroom. Simply turning a feedback activity into a game by awarding points for correct answers or saying ‘hey kids, we are going to watch a video today!’ and expecting magic learning to happen is often counter-productive (like the ‘golden chalice’ the speaker refers to). As Kyle Mawer said in his British Council webinar about GBL, learning is hard work and students should always be prepared for that. Lİkewise, teaching is hard work and teachers should always be prepared for that rather than looking for ‘quick fixes’.

At the same time, we should avoid misunderstandings and over-simplification of concepts like gamification, which is much more than simply awarding points and controlling behavior through rewards. It has often been my experience that ideas in ELT get dismissed or criticised merely because they have been misunderstood or the person taking the negative viewpoint has simply experienced a poor example of the relevant concept in action. This leads to claims like the over-reliance on points mentioned above, or saying that GBL is just about playing games, or dogme is just a conversation class with the teacher winging it. It isn’t really about what happens in the classroom, it’s more about how well it is executed….

Anyway, I digress so let’s get back to the talk…

Although not the focus of the talk, the presenter gave a neat summation of how a game like Assassins’ Creed can be a powerful impetus for learning as it combines different elements of play and fun, promoting casual fun, achievement of goals, satisfaction of overcoming obstacles and the social element of talking and exchanging ideas with like-minded players. It also has a tightly-knit narrative that can lead to incidental learning from its historical setting. There are also ‘serious games’, which aim to provide learners with a fully-fledged game and learning goals but, as the presenter points out, these often miss both targets (and that’s why I prefer pre-existing games to use with my students).

That is, however, more game-based learning than gamification. GLEEs (gamified learning educational e-tivities thankfully rather than an over-hyped TV show about a high school dance team) have common traits with games such as adding a fun element, increasing motivation and offering immediate feedback. However, as stated at the start of this post, this all needs to be implemented appropriately to ensure that learners are motivated by points, rewards and achievements. The pedagogical content also needs to be there so the activities are educationally useful rather than just encouraging us to learn lists of vocabulary or seemingly random language points with little challenge.

So what does a ‘sweet’ gamified activity look like? Well, it offers a scaffold for the lesson, gives students structured feedback, encourages repetition without feelings of deja vu, allows for individual reflection and also group collaboration. In short, it has all the hallmarks of a well-designed learning activity – a means to an end rather than a ‘single solution’.

This post originally appeared at http://eltsandbox.weebly.com/blog/iatefl-2014-gamified-language-educational-e-tivities-karenne-sylvester in April, 2014.

Image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/scarygami/ (http://www.flickr.com/photos/scarygami/5068307026/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t forget that you can follow this year’s IATEFL 2017 Conference online at:


http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2017 | Tune in for live coverage from Glasgow Monday 3rd April


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