Got dumb students? Gamify their dumbness.

I have a love-hate relationship with ‘gamification’. One reason is that it’s used as a slogan to promote a select group of people’s businesses. Secondly, it appears aimed not at game-designers, media-scholars or sociologists but at one subset of education — instructional designers. Lastly, teachers are not taught about becoming a designer in their under-graduate studies, unless of course they already are or are planning to teach ‘technology and applied studies’ – which includes graphics, wood, metal, plastics, product and food.

The state of school curriculum dictates what teachers learn in their under-graduate program. As most teachers will never teach a ‘design’ subject, they only get a few weeks of lecture/tutorial discussion about design in their whole program. They get even less exposure to media studies and yet the overwhelming dogmatic signals emerging from the PR department of schooling ‘awesomeness’ is of teachers as designers and media savvy experts. Now we have ‘gamification’ added to the vocabulary as though you pick out a bunch of ‘game features’ and apply that to your grade book or LMS. I won’t dwell on how utterly false this is, or how divisive it is towards demanding teachers act like designers or media and knowledge systems experts simply as a byproduct of the Internet being invented.

The worst variants of gamification emerge from an assumption that students are in a deficit position when it comes to study. Some group of people, probably via design thinking, chart a path of problems and possible solutions using ‘game like approaches’. The output from instructional designers and educators will of course have a locus around their own existing skills, beliefs and preferences. This is why so many ‘gamification’ projects are simply WordPress with BadgeStack or BadgeStack in Moodle. Quelle surprise as they say. One example I’ve seen recently in the UK, attempts to solve the ‘library problem’ where students can’t research a database to save their lives. (oh, game idea!). The end result is of course a hat-tip to game-studies followed by badges as a reward for action; which is apparently friendly, fun competition.

No, the point of approaching student development IN THEIR FIELD, is to immerse them in a serious, honest system which treats them seriously. No Dora the Explorer icons of books with eyeballs for goodness sake. Through their efforts, the player (student) must have choice and must be able to recognize their progress to becoming a successful, viable ‘expert’ in that field — at their level. Making it ‘fun’ to find a book has nothing to do with this, unless you are aged 5.

So I don’t hate gamification, because I think it will replace current forms of educational development, which increasingly irrelevant in an era of massive convergence, domestication of technology itself and emerging theories around cognitive media (which includes games). I hate it because people latch onto it as though its some ‘fun’ mod for Moodle which can turn something boring (without personal meaning or recognizable value) into something ‘funner’. It misses not only the point, but diverts funding into un-sustainable garbage.