I remember when I was about 17 years-old coming home from the pub on a Friday or Saturday night, I used to time myself from one lamppost to the next to see if I could walk more quickly each time.

PART 1 (written April 2011)

My walk home generally took around 30-35 minutes and was pretty boring so this little game I played with myself made the journey home slightly more bearable and took my mind off the distance I still had to go.

I hadn't thought about this until the other day when I went to Graham Stanley's talk at IATEFL Brighton about playing computer-based games to improve learning. During the presentation, he talked about using games as a way to make some of the humdrum parts of our lives more enjoyable by turning them into a game.

This is when I was sent back in time to those walks home and realised that I had been doing similar things in similar situations throughout my life.

During his presentation, he also recommended a book called 'Reality is Broken' by Jane McGonigal, which I'd seen him bringing into work in the weeks before IATEFL and talking about with enthusiasm. At the time I didn't pay much attention as I didn't consider myself to be a 'gamer', either in my personal life or with my students in class.

However, I was in a bookshop a few days and found myself searching for 'Reality is Broken', eventually coming across it in the Philosophy section, and thought 'why not?'

I am only about 80 pages in, but in the short time I've been reading it, I've underlined several parts and stuck post-it notes on a number of pages and my head has been buzzing with ideas and things I want to do when I get back to Barcelona (hopefully with Graham and Kyle Mawer).

Consequently, I find myself writing my first meaningful blog post in ages.

 

A very brief summary, for the purposes of this post, of what I've read so far is this:

  • The four defining traits of a game are: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.
  • Games provoke positive emotion.
  • Games "teach us how to create opportunities for freely-chosen, challenging work that keeps us at the limits of our abilities"
  • More happiness could be created if real life was structured like game life.
  • Games provide intrinsic reward.

 

McGonigal also talks about 'four secrets to making our own happiness', which are:

  • Satisfying work
  • The experience, or at least the hope of being successful
  • Social connection
  • Meaning

Obviously, there's a lot more to the book but it's these points that have stuck in my mind and that I started to think about in relation to my own professional context and more specifically with regard to professional development.

If you're reading this, there's a pretty good chance that you're fairly motivated and keen to develop professionally. It's likely that you have a Twitter account. You may well have your own blog, or at the very least you probably attend professional development workshops at your workplace.

 

Where I work, there are certainly a good proportion of teachers who want to be better teachers and they currently go about this in a variety of ways; going to in house workshops & presentations, actively taking part in action research groups, following courses such as the DELTA, or studying for MA's and of course there is a small proportion who actively use Twitter as a professional development tool.

Probably, this accounts for about 50-60% of the teachers where I work. However, there are also around 40-50% who don't do any of these things - teachers who maybe give the impression that they aren't in the slightest bit interested in professional development, either because they've been teaching for a long time and don't feel there's anything left for them to learn, or simply because they don't have the time due to other work commitments.

 

So, over the past few days, I've started thinking 'what if professional development was turned into a game?' What if those teachers who don't do any of the things mentioned above could be encouraged to be more engaged in their own development through the medium of play?

Look again at the summary points above and think of the people you work with who are unhappy in their jobs.

I'm sure we all know plenty of them - the stereotypical 'jaded' teacher who moans about all of their students with no good reason, or the ones who are always complaining about the pay or the conditions. More often than not, these are the teachers who are not 'interested' enough in what they do to want to learn.

I'm not suggesting that there we would all be ecstatically happy or satisfied in our work if we took more time to be involved in professional development. Rather that this involvement could go a long way to increasing a sense of fulfillment about what we do.

As the person responsible for co-ordinating professional development where I work, the big issue I have is how to get these teachers to actually want to be engaged in their development, or perhaps more importantly how the teaching centre I work in can be seen as a worthy place for development.

As yet, I haven't come up with anything concrete yet, but some kind of online platform where teachers go to in order to look at a variety of challenges for which points can be awarded might be a possibility.

 

One example might be this:

 

1. Go to the IATEFL Online website and watch a presentation that interests you (2 points)

2. Experiment with an idea you got from the presentation in one of your classes (3points)

3. Reflect on how the experiment went with a colleague (2 points)

4. Reflect on how the experiment went by writing a blog post (4 points)

 

Or:

 

1. Find a colleague who feels (s)he has similar problems/difficulties in class to you (2 points)

2. Arrange to meet with this person to discuss possible solutions (2 points)

3. Set up a peer observation to watch each other (3 points)

4. Provide feedback to your colleague & receive feedback from them (3 points)

5. Draw up a list possible teaching ideas to overcome this problem/difficulty (5 points)

6. Present your findings in a small in-house workshop to teachers (10 points)

 

You get the idea! A series of tasks, each one leading to more points depending on the time and effort needed to complete the task.

Of course, this would be entirely voluntary in the sense that you wouldn't have to do anything at all if you didn't want to. Additionally, the 'game' could not, under any circumstances, be used a management tool to monitor which teachers were or weren't doing what.

Essentially, the idea would be for it to function as an additional 'fun' incentive to those already involved in Professional Development, and would hopefully serve to entice those not involved to become more interested, even if only out of curiosity for a short period of time.

Really, and this is what interests me, as with the many games we play online, there would be very little extrinsic value to playing the game.

However, the potential for intrinsic reward, (a greater feeling of satisfaction, more meaning to what we do in our everyday working lives, etc.) is an incredibly interesting idea to explore and one that I intend to try and develop over the coming months.

 

PART 2 (written May 2011)

Since my last post discussing the potential benefits of the ‘gamification’ of professional Development (PD) in an ELT context, and tentatively looking at whether this might be a useful way to encourage greater numbers of teachers to become more reflective about their teaching, I have been trying to work out how this might actually work in practice.

 
The Important Stuff
Naturally, the key factor is to identify whether teachers would actually welcome the idea of having a game element introduced into the Professional Development cylcle and not see it as a potential loosely veiled management tool with which to surreptitiously get more teachers to develop. Whilst it is difficult to ascertain this information when you only have an idea, as opposed to anything concrete to show people, it has been extremely interesting to speak to a number of teachers I work with about the concept. Nearly all suggested that a game might be a fun addition to Professional Development and said they would be keen to take part as long as it was something that enhanced their experience of professional development as opposed to "just another thing we have to do". Whilst the majority of teachers I spoke to were ones who would ordinarily be involved with PD anyway, it was good to challenge any assumptions I had that they would automatically be enthusiastic about gamifying their developmental experience, and it was very obvious that there is a difference between teachers who actively involve themselves in PD and teachers who like to play games. What was common among all the people I spoke to, however, was their desire to try new things, and their openness towards anything that might enrich their working day (even slightly).  

I suppose that, to a certain extent, what I was doing by talking to different teachers was attempting to try and vindicate my actions and, as yet, I have spoken to very few of the teachers I work with who are perhaps more reluctant to be involved in PD. Having said that, of those that I have mentioned it to, none seemed to indicate that it was a rubbish idea. So, vindicated (falsely or otherwise) I will push on with my plans!

What does gamified Professional Development look like?
One comment from my previous post warned of the dangers of confusing gamification with 'pointification'. This comment was justified given that some of the ideas I put forward were pretty simple 'do this and get points for it' style tasks. I hope that the ideas I am going to write about here will demonstrate that the game is not simply about scoring points.
One of the most difficult things has been to establish a platform, or platforms, in which the game can take place. One of the teachers I spoke to, who is currently doing an MA in ELT Technology, pointed me in the direction of a site called wix.com, a free flash-based website builder. After looking at it, I decided it would be the ideal place on which to build the game.
So, here's how it works...
It's called 'The School' (at the moment - if I decide that it's a rubbish name I'll change it, but for now that's what it's called!).
The homepage is called 'The Staffroom' and explains the game, its rules etc. and also provides a few links to relevant reading material about being a reflective, developmental teacher. The idea with the game is that it takes a single academic year to complete - more about this later.
From the homepage, teachers are directed to 'room 1'. In room one are a series of challenges for teachers to complete. As this is the first place people will go to after the Staffroom, at the start of the academic year, the challenges are ones that will allow them to establish their developmental aims for the year (this may be looking at integrating more technology into their teaching, looking at using more critical theory with YLs, taking a more Dogme approach, etc. To establish their broad goals, teachers look at a document that allows them to assess their teaching in a number of different areas (classroom management, subject knowledge, course & lesson planning, ICT, Understanding Your Learners). Once they've assessed themselves according to these broad categories, they decide what aspect of their they want to develop.
This information is then recorded in a separate wiki, which I have set up for all the teachers here at the centre. The medium they choose to record their aims is entirely up to them. For example, it could simply be typed onto the page. However, as someone who hates typing and sees it as an incredibly time-consuming pastime, I want to encourage teachers to experiment with alternative ways. One of these might involve using something called http://mailvu.com/, which allows you to video yourself using your computer's webcam and then email a link to someone, which can be pasted into a particluar teacher's page on the wiki.
Further challenges within room 1 correlate with what teachers would normally be doing at the start of the year. So, other challenges may be to find colleagues who are interested in developing similar areas of their teaching, form an action research group with them and agree a time to meet on a regular basis (once a fortnight for an hour or so). Again, this is recorded onto the wiki using an already-uploaded template.
Further challenges in room 1 might be to conduct a needs analysis with students and discuss this at an action group meeting. Again, summaries of the discussions can be recorded onto the wiki.
Once a teacher has completed the challenges in room 1 (or a certain amount of them), they are given the password to enter room 2, where a different, more involved set of challenges awaits; organise a peer observation, begin to prepare a workshop for teachers teaching the same level, etc. etc.
The idea is that each room presents a new set of challenges aimed at encouraging teachers to complete the given tasks in order to gain access to the next room, or the next level and in doing so become 'better' at identifying how they can develop as teachers.

And the point is..?
Essentially, what I'm trying to do with the game, and also highlight with these different challenges, tasks or whatever you want to call them is that they are essentally based in the real-world face-to-face stuff that reflective teachers are already doing. The difference is that there's an extra dimension to it that hopefully makes it a bit more fun. And if it's fun then it's more likely to be motivating. And if it's motivating, then teachers will be (hopefully) happier, which may, in the long run encourage those who are less motivated, or less inclined to interact with professional development to do so.

PART 3 (written June 2011)

About 2 months ago, just after the IATEFL conference in Brighton, I began to think about an idea for a teacher development game that teachers working in language schools could use to scaffold their professional development. At the time, I think I proudly proclaimed that the motivation generated by undertaking exciting development challenges in different virtual classrooms to win points would convert even the most reluctant teacher into a reflective educator. That remains to be seen, but I'm hoping it will at least offer something different and add a certain element of fun & gamification to what, for some, is seen as an unnecessary evil.

 Eight weeks and several hours of late-night / early morning work later, I have finally reached a point where I feel I can publish what I've done and I feel that what there is so far is a pretty decent attempt at what I set out to do at the beginning. 
Go to the site and you'll arrive at 'The Staffroom', where there are three initial challenges on the right-hand side, a brief description of the game (and the option to read a bit more about it) and the 'Staffroom magazine' which has links to recent blog posts, or interesting & relevant TED talks. The idea is for the magazine content to change on a regular basis to encourage people to visit the staffroom regularly. Unfortunately, putting this gmae together has reduced my already minor presence on twitter, so you may find that some of this content is less recent now than it was when I added it. Still, it's always nice to revisit stuff.

At the top of The Staffroom are tabs that take you to different areas of the site. The first and most important initally is room 1. Click on this and you'll be taken to a page of challenges. 

 Click on the icons to find out what those challenges are. You'll see that in room 1 there are four main challenges that you need to do. When you've done these you get the 'key' to room 2. 
There are also a number of optional challenges that are... well... optional!
There's also a resources room which doesn't have a huge amount of content in it because the idea is for people using the site to suggest the content to go in it in return for bonus points!
Anyway, I don't want to write too much here because I'd rather you went to the site. You can access it by clicking here.

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