One part of my morning routine recently has been to skim TED talks to look for interesting topics.  Usually the topics that grab my attention are ones that relate to either education, gaming, or both.  During my COETAIL courses I was introduced to the work of Jane McGonagall and the idea of gamification.

While I am intrigued by Ms. McGongall’s works and am memorized by her speeches, I have difficulty trying to figure out how I as a teacher could create something like her World Without Oil (insert video) experience for my students.  In order to achieve this vision of gaming, it would require a lot of planning, collaboration, and programming.  While I am alright with the planning and collaboration, I am certainly not a programmer and would need to work with someone who understands this aspects of computing.  However, about a month ago I stumbled across Seth Priebatsch’s talk: the Gaming Layer on the Top of the World.  His talk gave me a whole new perspective on what gaming could look like in education.  Instead of focusing on gamification strictly involving technology, he focused his talk on game mechanics. 
            In his talk he goes over game dynamics and talks about how they are already employed through points systems within various rewards systems for different companies.  He states plainly that these systems are currently not good and that they need to change.    As he goes through his talk he specifically talks about four different game dynamics, one being influence and status.  As he explains his examples he talks about schools and how they are already using this game dynamic in marking, reports cards, school rewards, and scholarships.  During this section he continues to talk about how this dynamic could be changed in education so that instead of failing a course, your work until you level up.  This could be used very nicely and easily with various math concepts.  

            While the use of game dynamics in education may be already in use and I may already use influence and status within my class intentionally and unintentionally, I can’t help but cringe.  On one hand I want my students to learn simply for the joy of learning and not for the purpose of  geting a good grade, a nice comment on their reports, or a new toy.  In other words I want them to be learn for intrinsic instead of extrinsic reasons.   Is there a way to balance the use of game dynamics so that students develop an intrinsic love of learning and enjoy the extrinsic as a byproduct of that joy of learning, or is our culture on a path where everything must come with some sort of physical reward or point system and if it doesn’t, then it isn’t worth doing?


Welcome to a World Without Oil uploaded on YouTube by WorldWithoutOil
The Game Layer on Top of the World by Seth Preiebatsch, found on, uploaded by TEDxBoston 2010
11/3/2012 03:09:12 pm

Your point about intrinsic motivation really resonates with me - and I think is highly relevant when we choose what we want to learn. But, when I think back to my K-12 (and partially even my university days), I was very rarely in charge of what I wanted to learn. My schedule was pretty much designed for me (especially in K-12), I didn't pick my classes or my teachers (or had a very limited selection). So, I think the structure of schools makes it very difficult to focus on intrinsic love of learning, when the learning that we do is so extrinsically applied to us.

Roy Staples
3/2/2013 06:25:16 pm


A number of factors you talk about also worry me. I am a remedial Math and English teacher in a community college in southwestern Washington state. I have been teaching for 4 years, after having raised two teenage sons. Like many their age, my boys have been brainwashed that college 'is not for them' and that video games are a source for good. I wonder how that happened.

I used to rail against those games, but my youngest son convinced me that:

1) there are some good things about the games (these things are touched upon by Jane McG);
2) video games are here to stay. They are not disappearing, and they are not acceding to the needs of young adults to learn.

#2 is real, and I think it gives us a mandate: we teachers must make our classes so interesting that our students get into the project at school the same way they get into a game. We have one thing that the video games WILL NEVER HAVE: grounding in reality, and a societal mandate.

I think our response to the big corporate push for Gamification should be:
a) identify those aspects of Game Design that we already use, and determine whether they can be adapted to minimize extrinsic motivators and competition, and maximize intrinsic motivation. This requires us, the teachers, to be adept at identifying, using cultural analysis and our experience as teachers in the real world, the distracting aspects of gaming. We must find what parts of gaming are only making someone rich, distracting students for small amounts of time, are superficial, and therefore not ultimately satisfying to the real human inside our students. For example, we should never use competition in our classes at the individual level, such as broadcasting grades in our classes, for it sets up a dynamic of individual isolation and competition. If however we set up a group dynamic of competition, it can motivate group ethics within a group, which is more important than the detrimental effects of competition with other groups (See Muzafer Sherif's experiments with groups of boys in camp). As a result, we would be setting up a dynamic that other more thoughtful, perhaps more educated Game designers have identified as group action for good.

b) Design group and individual activities that do not follow the old, "Whole Classroom," Enlightenment model (you know, I'm the smart teacher, I have knowledge, and I will share it with you if you behave and work hard) For this, games have taught us teachers and certainly the students, that they can learn on their own. So we need to, like Peter Elbow, and Donald Murray, assign a project, then stand back and monitor at a distance. Students must feel empowered with our trust the way they are empowered by for-profit games (many of which develop good social skills while they cultivate buyers of their next product.)

c) look at books by some of these writers and use some of their techniques in a mercenary way. We will not adopt their ideology (no, gaming cannot solve the so-called education crisis, only people can), but we can reframe their technology in terms of OUR perspective as teachers (individual agents in the contested social realm of cultural representative, making choices for the benefit of society, using our compass as representative of and for students, and protector of their human right to integrity and freedom from profiteering exploitation.
(Books like Kapp's Gamification, Salen and Zimmerman's Rules of Play, Gray, Brown, and Macanuto's Gamestorming)

Right now, teachers are disrespected, underempowered and delegitimized as spokespeople for the interests of students and education in general. We must be players in the Game Industry's bid for 'helping education'.


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    Brendan is an international school teacher.  He currently teaches grade 4 at Busan International Foreign School.


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