Gaming in the Library!

Level up Book ClubImmediately prior to moving to Angola, I participated in a summertime online book club for educators called the Level Up Book Club.  It was a lot of fun, taking the regular book club (read, discuss, wash, repeat) and turning it into a friendly competition that encouraged nearly constant engagement.  I read books like

I earned points for sharing resources on Twitter, participating in Twitter chats, taking photos of myself and adding them to our group Tumblr, responding to blog posts, developing resources and more.  It was an excellent example of how learning can be turned into a game, and in this case it was for adults.   I definitely engaged in this more deeply than I would have if it was merely a once a month Twitter chat, and I made connections with librarians and other educators around the globe.  In that way, this was a positive example of “gamifying” something to get me to be more motivated.  Unfortunately, as Lissa points out in her Gamification: I’m a skeptic post, this was also straight up bribing up me to do more with external rewards.  I didn’t mind because I was interested in the topic, but it sometimes rang a little false as I searched for more quotes to share on Twitter just so I could raise on the leader board, which leads me to…

My Worries

“The act of gamifying an educational experience alone is not enough to make the experience rewarding, instead it should serve primarily to make something that is already rewarding more rewarding – perhaps by encouraging learners to invest more time than they already would.” (Play As You Learn).

I sometimes feel that gamification of learning is really just trying to make something painful seem like something fun. It is so important that we remember that “gamifying” a lesson unit or learning experience is just like “technifying” it.  Gamification is a tool, just as technology is a tool. If the underlying concept and learning isn’t strong, relevant and interesting, students aren’t going to go for it and you’re left with a bunch of unused badges laying around.  We have a house system at our school which manifests itself in fairly light hearted competitions like a trivia quiz, a goofy sports day (non-traditional games that aren’t rooted in athletic talent) and a Peace Day soccer tournament.  Our house coordinator would like me to run a House competition of some kind through the library and suggested we see who checks out the most books.  I immediately frowned because I don’t think reading should be a competition, unless it’s a competition against yourself.  I am still trying to figure out how I can create a points-based competitive game related to the library that enhances a literacy or research experience rather than dressing it up.

Courtesy of Ninja Program

Courtesy of Ninja Program

Despite my concerns about the potential downsides to gamificiation, I am going to dive into Jeff Utecht’s Ninja Program with my students as an after school activity for next semester. I know my students need to improve their search skills, and I appreciate that in addition to a module focusing specifically on search, at the core of every Ninja Program module is students learning search skills to empower themselves.

The real purpose behind these quizzes [is] to find students within our schools who are willing to search and find answers. The answers themselves are not the outcome…the search skills are. Google Apps changes way too quickly for us to actually assess the knowledge of programs, but the hope is that students will get comfortable learning how to search the web, videos and the training materials so that as things change and as they help others they can find what it is they need. So to that end I encourage students to open the quiz up in one tab and search in another. This is also the reason for the Search quizzes which students might benefit from taking first (from the Ninja Program Training Concept and Purpose document).

With this purpose in mind, I’m going to give it a try.

My Thoughts

While gamification sometimes leaves me a little uneasy, game-based learning makes me smile. (Thanks again Lissa, for helping me to clarify my thoughts on this distinction through your epic post.) I love games, and so do my students.  With this in mind, last year I ran a gaming club in the library as an after school activity. Each week different students shared different games with the group (often it was a world they’d designed in Minecraft) and at the end of the nine weeks, students designed their own games.  It was a great experience and a pleasant mix of board games, card games and electronic games.  It’s something I would like to try again this year, but I also want to try using game-based learning at school through established games that have a more defined educational purpose.  Our humanities department already uses NationStates to learn about governance.  Right now

Minecraft Cosplay Riminicomics by deviantART user zinghi under CC BY 3.0

Minecraft Cosplay Riminicomics
by deviantART user zinghi under CC BY 3.0

I’m working with some other teachers at LIS to use MinecraftEdu as a teaching and learning tool.  I know we’ll start with our Year 8 humanities class designing their ideal city as the assessment task for their study on cities, but I am also excited about the potential for math, physics and literature.  Currently we’re in the early stages, gathering a group of teachers who are willing to play together just to familiarize ourselves with it as a tool. Who knows? Perhaps this will end up being my Course 5 project!

My Dreams

So, as my post probably shows, I am conflicted about this topic. I like games, love game-based learning when it’s done well (as in NationStates) and am a little worried about the cheapening of instruction through badge and leaderboard based gamification. In the midst of all of this conflict and confusion is a desire to make my LIS Reads – LIS Lê one big game.  I’d like to have it become a competition of sorts between the houses, not based on how many people have read the books, but on what we do with it after we’ve read them. I’ve got a variety of ideas, including:

  • LIS Reads – LIS Lê tumblr to submit Quotetastic Friday style quotes from the montly books
  • Sharing related quotes and thoughts on Twitter with #lisreads
  • Use WattPad to encourage fan-fiction pieces related to our LIS Reads – LIS Lê texts
  • Have Battle of the Books style competitions between the houses on the books at the end of the year

The thing is, all of my ideas right now just make it a competition, and as everything we’ve read shows, badges and leader boards do not a game make.  You need an intriguing story at the core of it, like Mario Brothers or Ju’s Ninja Math.   I need a story.  Any ideas, COETAIL friends?

6 thoughts on “Gaming in the Library!

  1. I want to be in your library!

    I think there is constantly a tension between extrisnic and intrinsic motivation when it comes to gaming. I’m not sure your nationality, but in the States there used to be the PIzza Hut challenge. The more books you read in summer, the more pizza. As a natural reader, it was a reward for doing something I already liked to do. But it did encourage the reluctant reader to read, which can’t be a bad thing (as we know…the better your reading fluency, the more you want to read). So I kind of like the idea of using Twitter to gamify a book club. But I also really recognize the fakeness it can bring. As usual, there are no easy answers.

    I’m excited to see what your story will be!

  2. Hi Rebekah,

    I am an American, and I do remember the Pizza Hut challenge! I wonder if that’s still going on… I also remember having large boards with charts of who was reading the most in our classes, awards ceremonies at the end of the year, candy for reading etcetera… Like you, I was a natural reader, so it just rewarded me for doing more of what I already liked.

    I figure I will work on gamifying my LIS Reads project a bit through technology and see what happens. The worst is that it fails… and that’s okay. 🙂

    Thanks for your comment,

  3. Katy: Nicely balanced post–I appreciate your struggle with gamification, as it sounds a lot like how I feel about the subject. But you’re (so far) more willing to give it a good try, as in your adoption of the Google Ninja program and your hosting a gaming club after school.

    I’ve never found a lot of pleasure in getting merit badges (even though I’m an Eagle Scout!), so your line about the “cheapening of instruction through badge and leaderboard based gamification” speaks clearly to me. But are we the oddballs? In mobile technology these days, almost every app–like FourSquare or even Facebook–values badges, “like” counts, and other signs that you’re making it. These apps have a lot of traction, and people love them. Maybe I’ll give it another honest try.

    Good luck in Course 5!

    • Hi Ben,

      You know, here’s the thing. My partner just asked me if we could get on the treadmill this morning instead of running outside and I said no. Not because I like running outside better but because Strava won’t register my run for the December challenge is I enter it manually! I have to use the GPS feature or I won’t get the little trophy! Even though I know I should be motivated by health and training, that tiny little trophy means a lot. I think that this might just be because I am a product of an awards oriented grading system in schools.

      If you do jump back into gaming, drop in and let me know how it’s going. I love to see a skeptic’s perspective.

      Thanks for commenting,

  4. Sorry Katy, no ideas, but I’m so impressed how the concept of gamification can be taken to another level by teacher designed engaging activities that can be taylor-made for our students needs and strengths. I’m inspired to do more, and given the time next term, I hope you will welcome my questions about how I can apply gamification as a year six tool. I’m thinking we may start with MineCraft!

    • Hi Claudelle,

      Yeah, the examples out there on the net of what people are doing are AMAZING. I’ll admit, I don’t know if I have the time to transform what I do through Minecraft, but I am willing to dip my toe int eh pool and see what happens.

      Here’s hoping that we’ll be able to find time this term to play with Minecraft and mess with all of the possible applications! I’m looking forward to your questions… and seeing who we can get to answer them! 😉

      See you in January,


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