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Recapping the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Deirdre Lee, Communications Writing Fellow

For the past three years, the Office of Academic Innovation has hosted the Gameful Learning Summer Institute, an event focused on gameful pedagogies.  This year, more than 50 people from various backgrounds — such as higher education faculty, K-12 teachers, and instructional designers — attended the three-day event at the Ross School of Business.

Evan Straub, PhD, Learning Experience Designer at Academic Innovation, organized this year’s event. With gameful learning, she sees an opportunity to apply the determination  players feel when playing a challenging game in educational settings.

“I define gameful learning as a collection of pedagogies [that] takes the underlying principles [of what] makes games compelling and applies it to learning,” Straub said. “In general, I say that gameful learning promotes student autonomy, transparency in the learning contract, space for exploration and productive failure, building student mastery and finding interesting connections between students, the content and the instructor.”

Jacob Fortman speaking to a group of GLSI attendeesDuring the event, the concepts of gameful learning were further defined and applied through keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and a half-day workshop on GradeCraft — a learning management system focused on gameful learning. 

Phill Cameron, Instructional Learning Intermediate for the Language Resource Center at the University of Michigan and a three-time attendee to the conference, said gameful learning allows instructors and students to productively fail, which, according to Cameron, is a part of learning. He said productively failing is a unique feature of gameful learning pedagogy.

“Gameful learning is a system of learning that empowers the participants to try new things and to recover from failure, and to intentionally fail in some ways,” Cameron said.

William Watson, PhD, Director of the Purdue Center for Serious Games and Learning in Virtual Environments and Associate Professor of Learning Design and Technology in the College of Education at Purdue University, addressed failure as part of learning in his keynote speech. 

“By and large, we are treating things as, ‘this is it, get through it, or don’t – learn, or don’t.’ There’s no support there, there’s no opportunity for failure,” Watson said. “If we have a system that’s designed on learning instead, you progress once you’re ready to progress instead of either having to wait for everyone else or being left behind. You get to have a personalized approach to learning.”

In addition to failure, Watson focused on how games and game-like features, particularly in video games, can provide a personalized system of education for students by letting them choose how they learn.

GLSI folder with dice“When we talk about meaningful play [of the video game], we’re talking about meaningful choice, so you feel like you have an impact on the game and that the game’s outcomes are going to be influenced by your decisions,” Watson said.

The importance of choice in gameful learning was prevalent in 16 breakout sessions ranging from students role-playing historical figures and immersing themselves into events, to rolling different shapes of yellow and orange die in a “Dungeons and Dragons” campaign, to using a measuring tape to unlock a key in a “boxed escape room.”

With choice, gameful learning emphasizes the process of learning, rather than the product, according to Cameron.

“What GradeCraft and gameful thinking foreground is this ability to talk about emotions and results in reflection of the learning process,” Cameron said. “Metacognitive processes are foregrounded when you use gameful pedagogies.”

Caitlin Holman, PhD, Associate Director for Research and Development at Academic Innovation, highlighted the opportunities GradeCraft provides for educators and students in her day-two keynote speech. She discussed the significance of student autonomy and its role in helping students to make decisions on how they want to learn and progress in courses that use GradeCraft.

“Adding choice to students’ learning was so unfamiliar to them,” Holman said. “We [GradeCraft users] have been asking [students] to be active participants in a fundamentally different way.”

Holman also explained how GradeCraft provides students with regular feedback on assignments, a feature that allows students to continually improve their performance in the course.  

Straub said the personalized feedback GradeCraft provides can have a profound impact for both students and educators.

“I really, really believe that [GradeCraft] is something that can change the way we think about teaching, the way we can assess students,” Straub said.

This shift toward new teaching pedagogies — like gameful learning — excited Madeline Shellgren, Program Director of Teaching Assistant Professional Development for the Graduate School at Michigan State University. She said that excitement factored into her attendance in this year’s conference.

“One of my favorite things about gameful approaches is that it incentivizes trying again because it’s more so for the sake of learning and the success of the game in the course,” Shellgren said.

She emphasized the importance of setting up parameters in which success equals learning, which, according to Shellgren, is something that gameful learning accomplishes. One of the ways she applies gameful learning is through educational escape rooms centered on educational technology.

“[The] utility of escape rooms as educational design practice…hinges on collaboration, problem-based learning, and allows for, and encourages, failure and exploration,” she said.

 Shellgren was excited to network with other attendees with the hope of collaborating on future gameful projects and initiatives. She said attendees formed what felt like a close-knit community, one in which she could build relationships.

“I really like hearing from folks who are dedicated to not just fundamentally rethinking a single class, but rethinking the system of education and how we can improve across higher ed in general,” Shellgren said.

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