Will Grind for Grades

Will Grind for Grades

A cheap solution for public education, courtesy of the major commercial developers.

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Luke Thomas:
Will Grind for Grades

A cheap solution for public education, courtesy of the major commercial developers.

Read Full Article

It still comes down to test scores. The "studies" are still just sales pitch. As teachers, we're no strangers to the annual gimmick parade, and this year has been a big one for that.

Right now, this rides the wave of novelty... just like educational board games once did -- see anyone clamoring for those? Of course not. And as teachers, we realized they were useful for review or reward, but not for teaching information.

Games are good for drilling knowledge the kids have already been exposed to. It can, for instance, distract a student from how painfully boring it is to drill multiplication tables. But there's still no way around drilling them. So the games are just the costume into which we can put the inevitable Repetition tasks in education.

But as a motivational tool, the long-term effects are frightening. We use incentive-based (aka Bait) systems to get kids "excited about learning" in the short term, and it gets immediate results. In the long run, however, we find they're not excited about learning, but about the reward -- and they will learn to game the system to get the results more easily.

No biggie, though, that's how it's always worked. The problem is that by trying to take all of the work out of school, we reduce each student's capability of handling work. The power company doesn't "reward" me for paying my bill on time -- they simply don't turn off my power. Work isn't always fun for me, but it still has to get done.

The world doesn't exist to entertain us. But by "game"-ifying education, we are sending the message that someone "up the chain" will always work to make everything fun for us, and that's just not true. It teaches a certain kind of dependency.

Like all educational technology, we allow schools to get caught up in the novelty. And then, years later, the hidden costs set in. Old tech starts to die, but now the school relies on this expensive equipment. New classrooms open, and we have to bring them up to speed. So much money gets spent "properly equipping" the classroom that we can't afford an Curriculum and Instruction Expert (aka "teacher") to lead it.

But above all else, it's how we use games that causes the problem. They're constantly being touted as "making learning fun." Even low-tech "game-ification" revolves around tangible rewards given for every minor achievement. Why? Short term results. We ignore the long-term effects, because that's for next year's teacher to fret, not us.

Learning isn't always fun. It requires that we do battle with our own weaknesses, face what we do not know, and endure discomfort until we've gained mastery. The ability to do that without having to be surrounded by colors and sound effects is a pretty important skill in and of itself. We need to create a culture in which learning is declared valuable "by fiat."

Games can occasionally be used to add some flavor to the process, but they're just seasoning. You can't make an entire meal out of ketchup, nor should we jump on this bandwagon of turning all of education into a game.

Is there anything about how the tests were actually conducted?

Sounds gimmicky as all hell. Have to wonder what the effect of the program would be on the kids who aren't into the games in question - if you're attempting to motivate them by dangling a reward, surely it'll be demotivating to be offered a reward you have no use for.

Even in the case where they do play the game, and are successfully motivated by the in-game reward, it could have an unfortunate backfiring effect via the Overjustification effect http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/12/14/the-overjustification-effect/

In short: thankless tasks of self-improvement make us feel good when we complete them because we get an intrinsic feeling of reward; the goal being knowledge or fun or some other warm 'n fuzzy feeling. Start paying someone to do the same task and the story they tell themself becomes "Well that was crappy, I only did it for the payoff", killing any intrinsic motivation.

Not sure how to motivate an unmotivated student without falling prey to that though. If they don't see value in their education in the first place then that's going to be a deeper cultural problem than you can solve by throwing WoW-gold at it.

I would love to have this integrated in at least a few school systems. The current education system is a complete disgrace, so why should'nt the next big educational tool come from video games .I only hope that people with knowledge and experience will handle it. ^^

As a teacher I find this article both horrible and fantastic. We live in interesting times...thats for sure.


There's is a difference between learning through play, and a desire to study. Learning through play is excellent for review, and any teacher worth their chalk puts some in their classroom.

Desire to study is trickier though. I think that replacing actual thirst for knowledge with a score board is wrong, and the subject of many crappy kids movies.

This kind of thing is more or less trivial. The best way for a student to be enthused about a class, is for the teacher to be enthusiastic.

But that's just my opinion. In my classes I can keep students at a high level of energy using nothing more than a board marker.

I think the article makes some great points (that extra credits did a while back) about gamifying education (how I loath that term).

The problem was the idea of giving rewards out like candy for results. Any teacher worth their pay knows that making game rewards based on school is already reinforcing the wrong behaviour. The goal of school is not getting an A, it's learning the material in the classroom. And you already have one reward for doing well in school: the mark. They shouldn't be getting two rewards for it. That goes against the goal of school.

There are many ways where you can take ideas from games and use them well in education. Paying them in digital currency isn't one of them.


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