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