From Oregon Trail to Classcraft – Immersive Games in the Classroom

I have never been a gamer in the traditional sense of the word. Of course I had a Nintendo and I admit to playing Parsec on the TI-99 (that was a computer not a calculator). But I have never really been into games like many people. But I did play games in school. Specifically I spent a lot of time on Oregon Trail and LOGO. And I loved them. I know for a fact that time spent on “games” like those had a major impact on my love for technology and certainly increased my knowledge and skills in other areas.

It is certainly true that games have their place in schools. Few people out there would argue that fact. After all computer based games have been used in schools since the personal computer was invented and games in general have been used in school since the beginning of time. There are the drill and kill basic games that help us remember multiplication facts or the Period Table of the Elements. There are even some more advanced games that involve some kind of reward and a bit more competition. But please allow me to make a distinction here. The use of games in school is one thing. True gamification is another.

As a director of technology I always like to use the business world as an example so here goes. Look at the number of apps and websites that gamify everyday things. There is the OKDOTHIS app which allows users to “challenge” each other to create new photographs. It’s a fun app, and I personally love the idea that people can challenge each other with the latest “DO of the Day”.

We can find another example in the once-popular 0boxer.com tool. The idea was that you got badges/awards for getting your inbox numbers down. I tried it back in the day and it was just plain addictive. I actually found myself deleting messages that I may have genuinely needed,  just for the rewards!

And don’t even get me started on the gamification of fitness. Robert Appino has a great post about some of the popular apps that could be models for schools.

My contention here is that the games, the plain old games, will always have their place in schools, but the gamification of learning has massive untapped potential. Imagine if your history class was nothing but a huge immersive game. You’d have to carefully construct the reward system and be aware of the benefits and pitfalls of serious competition in your classroom, but I think the risk may pay off.

My first exposure to immersive games was probably when I was about 10 years old when I learned to play Myst. This game takes the player to a foreign world where there is not just one thing to do or just one goal. Basically the user is immersed in a world where they can do anything virtually. Today some of these games have taken the form of MMORPG and other immersive fiction games.

The type of immersive games I am interested in exploring are those that involve the whole class over an extended period of time. I’ve seen a few examples of this like The Dragon Collective that are immersive games where the entire class is involved. In The Dragon Collective students are learning Chinese while at the same time being immersed in a game that keeps them motivated. Students collect clues, solve riddles, etc. This idea reminds me of the Assassin game. I have always loved the immersive nature of this game and would love to see how teachers could use a similar technique to involve kids in learning via immersive game play.

These games’ value lies in the fact they they are so engrossing. Using this type of game in education could be as powerful as language immersion is for language learners. The idea behind language immersion is that when a student is surrounded by the language and many times the culture, they will learn by osmosis.

What do you think the potential is of immersive games in the classroom? Is anyone trying something like this? Hit the comments section and let me know.

Update: Has anyone seen the immersive game of “Classcraft“? In my research for this post I have stumbled upon this site. It’s an online game designed to be used in the classroom all year with all your kids involved. I love this concept and would like to investigate further!

One thought on “From Oregon Trail to Classcraft – Immersive Games in the Classroom

  1. Hi David,
    I hope you and your family are doing well. Thanks for sharing the links to all the of different games/programs you mentioned in your post. I actually never heard of the programs you played with growing up.

    To answer your question, I have not yet tried immersive games in my classroom, but I am always up for trying something new. Classcraft sounds really cool. This the first time I am hearing about it. I am definitely going to explore it further.

    I read an article titled, ‘Gamification’ Is Dead, Long Live Games For Learning by Michael John (here is the link: http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/05/gamification-is-dead-long-live-games-for-learning/). John believes teachers need to redefine how gamificiation can impact student learning by looking at aspects of learning that are already game-like and find “the game” in learning. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to using immersive games in the class. If games are used mostly for motivational purposes, many studies conclude that extrinsically rewarding students who are already intrinsically motivated, decreases their intrinsic motivation. In addition, many examples of token economies, reward systems, stickers, smiley faces, etc., have failed to motivate students’ learning in the past. Are these games just an up-to-date version of these reward systems? If they made no impact in the past, why would they work now? I would love to hear your stance on John’s article.

    I fall in the middle in this debate. I think there is a lot of potential in immersive games, but does the potential of gamification outweigh the negatives in the classroom? I think it is too early to tell. There is not a definitive answer, and I agree we need to investigate it further.

    I hope all is well,
    Stanley

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