How Game Dynamics (not gamification) Will Save Higher Education presented by Kevin Bell



Gamification – the term – is becoming a lightning rod in higher education for many who are looking for the next big thing. If MOOCs weren’t it, is it Adaptive Learning? Personalized Learning? or Gamification? – What’s the magic bullet and where do I click?

Building on his own doctoral research carried out at the University of Pennsylvania between 2012 and 2014, Dr. Bell will demonstrate that elements common to intrinsically motivating online (and hybrid) classes, can be accentuated by reviewing, psychologically, they are doing and what effects they have on the learners. He makes the case that there does not have to be a golden bullet or a winner of the “Next Big Thing” award, but that engaging learning, as does engaging gaming, has traits that can be consciously built in to pedagogically sound, academically rigorous courses.

Gamification as a one-time, huge, vendor-enriching, expense, building out technology to offer up badges and leader boards, motivators as add-ons that provide no key intrinsic motivation for participants is unlikely to succeed. Spectacular builds of interactive simulations are prohibitively expensive for most institutions, date quickly and cannot be updated without more expense. The gamer generation is well aware that “Educational Games” typically fall short as “education” and are laughably inadequate as “Games.”

Breaking down what makes games (and effective learning environments) intrinsically motivating, why we persist and keep trying while we want to quit twenty minutes in to some learning experiences is the basis of this presentation. The work of Csikszentmihalyi on engendering Flow is referenced and will be factored into the discussion(s).

What aspects of successful game dynamics do we (or You, the instructor) already have, buried under the surface of low-tech classes and instruction? What elements might we amplify and develop by strategic use of instructor-developed, low budget, easily editable elements?

The underlying question the session will address is whether the application of select game dynamics to learning environments, even within traditional Learning Management Systems, might increase student engagement, time-on-task and outcomes including completion and persistence. The presentation will reference a number of case studies where instructor-practitioners implemented courses with game elements and how they performed with specific target demographics, including low Socio-Economic Status (SES), first generation and minority learners – demographics some are combining and referring to as the “New Majority Learner” Discussion will be facilitated as to how these treatments and the application of game dynamics might engage fragile learners and address access and self-efficacy issues including mindset and grit.

The doctoral thesis that ground this presentation was awarded a double distinction at Penn (the only double of the graduating class) and the contents are being reformatted to form the basis of an upcoming book.

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