Tuesday, November 9, 2010

7 Ways [Video] Games Reward the Brain

I wanted some ideas to apply to my classroom to make it a less stressful and more satisfying place to learn for my students and I.  So, in need of an inspirational kick of energy, I turned to www.TED.com to track down something of interest to revive my brain.  While I wasn’t exactly captured by the blurb for this talk, instead taking a bit of a gamble on the possible productiveness of these 15 minutes, I found myself getting quite excited about how to use these seven ideas in my class.  I think I will experiment with them during the end of this year to see what I can take forward for my teaching practice.

The essence of this talk (by Tom Chatfield) is that we can learn from video games about motivation. He highlights 7 main ways.  Below are the 7 ways and some of my ideas relating to them.  The video is also embedded at the end for your convenience.

1. Experience bars measuring progress
It is highly motivating to players to see their energy or experience bars increasing.  In my class I could have something like this for each student on the front of their book to display their their current level of experience.  I would colour in their level where I think they are at in their understanding of a particular concept and I would colour a different bar to show the amount of time and effort they have put in towards building their level.  Perhaps I could have a series of bars (and effort bars) for a range of skills and abilities including key competencies, tidiness, project progress, and others.

2. Multiple long and short term aims (parallel aims but not too hard and not too easy)
Giving a range of tasks to players helps them engage by allowing them to choose what they feel like doing at a particular time.  Some of the long term goals will likely ensure that players complete even the things they don’t want to do, but if there are multiple ways to accomplish something, then even the perception of being able to choose a personal favourite is motivating.  In my classroom I would offer a range of methods for task completion, and goals could be closely tied with progress bars, e.g. reach the green zone for progress in team-work.  I can also tailor tasks to student ability by having open ended tasks with certain limitations for advanced students to test them.  This is similar to the differentiated learning model.  Short term goals would be crafted to give a sense of accomplishment in each class and also for long term project completion or preparation for exams/assessments.

3. Reward effort (every little bit counts in a video game)
This is self explanatory.  You do something worthwhile and you get a reward.  Rewards can be used to train positive behaviour in the simplest form of learning and can be anything from lollies to verbal praise.  Different rewards will work for different learners but the key is to ensure rewards are not given so long after the positive action that they are not emotionally linked to the action being rewarded.  Especially in today’s world of instant gratification, rewards need to be immediate for good work.  Perhaps over the long term a system can be devised to gradually delay gratification to teach learners how to build a vision for the future.

4. Rapid, frequent, clear feedback (must be able to link consequences to actions very fast)
As mentioned above, but feedback must be meaningful and understandable in order to work towards motivating students and players alike.  In a game you might get eaten by a monster for not using the correct technique or the correct piece of information.  In the classroom you might get the wrong connection to an electrical circuit or use the wrong component and the project fails to work.  As far as the role of the teacher, I need to be constantly giving feedback in the form of advice or support.  If I can design student tasks to be run by the students themselves I will be able to focus on going from student to student to offer suggestions.

5. An element of uncertainty (uncertain rewards 25%) enough to want to find out what happens if...
In the gaming world, your rewards are varied, e.g. opening treasure chests to gain money or weapons.  There must always be some sort of reward, but the reward could be your bread and butter gold for 75% of the time with 25% scoring a special prize.  Once in a blue moon a super special object is in the chest that can give you a super power (or something equivalent).  This keeps things really exciting as you always have a chance of getting something a little bit special, though if everyone is getting the special reward all of the time then it becomes less special and less of a motivator to open chests.  In the classroom the varied rewards could be lollies, extra-special rewards could be cans of fizzy, and super special rewards are ice-cream during lunch for a week.  Maybe that’s not too realistic but teachers can use praise to varying degrees, or a special seat in the class for the best effort, stamps, stickers, hi-fives, and many other rewards for students accomplishing the basics of every lesson.  If we reward the basics then it is easier to get the students to try something a little more than the basic also.

6. Windows of enhanced attention (risk taking potential the most, best time for memory to be used)
The difference between games and the classroom is that students can choose to play games.  All that we can do, when they are effectively forced to be in our class, is make it as comfortable as possible for them to emotionally engage and take risks with their learning. We must create the windows of opportunity where their memory will operate the best in order to retain information, and where they are emotionally safe and willing to push themselves to receive potential rewards for their risk.  Students will not risk if the window is closed and we can’t make them learn by throwing them through without taking the time to open it!

7. Other people/peers/collaboration is the best reward.  
In video games, players team up to help one another and come up with ways to make this help fair on everyone.  Those players who abuse the help of others are shunned.  This points to our natural desire to want to fit in and to be a part of a community to some degree.  We can tap into this as a reward for motivating students in class.  Creating a positive and exciting class culture of collaboration that everyone can feel a valued part of will see engagement levels shoot through the roof.

So there you have it.  Seven ways that we can learn to engage students from observing them with video games.  Businesses and governments would do well to take these ideas into their policy making to make us enjoy and engage with their efforts.  For now, I will look at how I can improve my own experience bar by teaching students how to make their own ones!