Gameful learning event to encourage student ownership of learning


At Skyline High School in Ann Arbor paper rocket ships help students improve their reading comprehension.

In addition to doing exercises as a whole class, students are split into groups based on specific needs related to improving their reading levels. As a student reaches a goal or strengthens a skill, he sees his rocket ship advance further into space.

This approach was inspired by gameful learning, a strategy that encourages students to engage with their coursework by promoting a sense of autonomy, belonging and competence. Through exercises that are similar to playing video games, students actively learn and feel motivated to challenge themselves.

Gameful learning, used across U-M’s campus and shared with higher-education and K-12 instructors, will be the focus of the second Gameful Learning Summer Institute hosted by the U-M Office of Academic Innovation.

The institute offers attendees the chance to explore the gameful pedagogy and implement it in a way similar to Skyline High School’s approach. Intended for higher-education faculty, K-12 teachers, instructional designers, education technology administrators and others interested in the method, it teaches attendees about student ownership of learning.

“Anyone who watches someone play video games or board games or compete in athletic competitions knows that games are great at keeping people engaged,” said Rachel Niemer, director of strategic initiatives in the Office of Academic Innovation.

“We also know that well-designed games are great learning environments, so this group of U-M faculty and staff have been taking inspiration from game-design principles for their course designs.”

The Gameful Learning Summer Institute also offers a half-day workshop on Gradecraft, a management system that supports the gameful learning strategy. Developed at U-M, Gradecraft has been implemented into more than 115 courses across U-M and other campuses.

“These courses have been really successful. Student feedback is overwhelmingly positive, and instructors report that learners are working harder and at a higher quality than in their traditionally designed courses,” Niemer said. “We wanted to share this work with (and learn from) like-minded educators beyond campus.”

The gameful learning approach has already spread beyond U-M’s campus. Peter Pasque, a U-M lecturer and Ann Arbor Public Schools instructional technology lead teacher, was involved with the rocket ship game at Skyline High School and worked on moving parts of it online.

He also helped bring gameful learning to a magnet class. Before checking out video equipment and taking it offsite, students would demonstrate their proficiency by progressing through levels as they gained specific skills.

“Gameful learning can be a way of honoring students’ knowledge and work outside of their specific class,” Pasque said.

Pasque has also found the gameful learning model to work with alternative education students as well — those whose needs aren’t met by traditional schooling due to academic or behavioral difficulties — but thinks an online format isn’t always as effective as using gameful learning with the personal relationship building that’s possible with face-to-face teaching.

“I think that so often with alternative education students the human interaction is what means the most to them,” Pasque said. “It helps them keep persevering with something they find difficult.”

Bringing this teaching style to classrooms has its challenges, and Pasque found it important to be transparent with students.

Explaining how their classroom structure would change and addressing difficulties they may face was one of Pasque’s recommendations to ease the transition. Likewise, Pasque thinks teachers and the school’s administration need to understand gameful learning is a big pedagogical change and support the additional time and training that is needed.

“I think that in order for gameful learning to be successfully integrated in the K-12 environment, it really takes a teacher that’s ready to make a pedagogical shift or has already made strides in that area,” Pasque said. “Then, teachers need to have the support and dedicated work time to be able to plan appropriately for such a big shift.”


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