Gamification: How to Learn the Periodic Table While Playing Battleship

A game that does not only train social skills, but teaches science as well — is that not the golden mean everyone's looking for? Introducing gaming elements into the Russian educational system is deemed as something difficult and risky: teachers find it hard to manage students as it is, and with games they can totally get out of control! Yet, Maksim Ivanov, Master's student at the Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations, believes that won't happen as long as the games are right. He and his team develop educational games for companies and educational establishments, and are planning to launch a course on educational games for young teachers.

Everything is a game

There are lots of articles on the usefulness of games: they can help develop social skills, emotional intelligence, decision-making ability and abilities to react to unconventional situations. Many of those who promote gamification of routine processes conduct lectures and open their own studios. And if games for company employees or conferences are already widely accepted as attempts to change something for the better, then using games in education is still a controversial issue: "When will children and students learn, if they will play during their lessons?".

"Today, educational games can successfully compete with gadgets and entertainment content. Gaming is something natural. All people play games when they are kids: imitate professions, family life, play "trucks". This is how they learn real life processes. They do similar training in adult life, as well. For instance, novice pilots train on simulators, and surgeons use mannequins. Mistakes cost lives to them, so educational games first started to develop in these two fields. Games are also used in business, where mistakes cost millions. A manager who's made a mistake in a game won't repeat it in real life", comments Maksim Ivanov.

ITMO's Master's students have already developed several games for companies and teachers. For instance, the OCEAN role-playing game is about how specialists from different fields cooperate to solve global problems of seas and oceans, or the ITMO Technologies game that aims to teach students work in the new technology market.

A good example of a game concept is combining the Periodic table with the Battleship game when you use the table as layout. It is a simple, but really effective instrument.

ITMO University. Maksim Ivanov.

What are the games for

Thanks to a game, any process becomes not some monotonous experience, but something remarkable. Games increase motivation. Maksim gives the example of a sports Zombies, Run! app that is different from other fitness apps in that the person plays a game while he runs — he gathers items, completes missions and saves himself from zombies. The program keeps track of one’s achievements and uses them to correct the training course. Surely, that is only a game, but thanks to it training becomes an adventure which does not only develop your muscles, but is also fun.

In lessons and lectures, a game can be used to develop a deeper understanding of the discipline and the opportunities to use it in real life. This means that the lecturer does not just retell the materials from a textbook, but organizes practical training sessions, including the most interactive — when students have to think up tasks for each other, compete in solving them and build teams, which also develops their communicative skills. The students can learn the necessary theory beforehand, with video lectures and tests. Thus, the teacher’s role becomes the one of a moderator and consultant.

"Such technology is called the "flipped classroom". Thanks to it, teachers don't have to spend much time on explaining the material. What's more, there are always kids who grasp everything quicker and then feel bored during the lessons, and those who need to spend additional time on learning. Some say that online education eliminates the teacher profession. I believe that's wrong: you'll always need teachers, though their role may change", explains Maksim.

Rules of the game

Not every game will do for education — also, not every game is interesting enough for people to play it. To create a really good educational game, one must adhere to certain rules. Those are easy to understand on the example of a clapping game.

Rule 1: The right to choose

Imagine that you and the other players are standing in a circle. Your task is simple: you clap in turns, clockwise. It'll become boring in a minute. Then, let the participants make a choice — "pass" the clap to the right or to the left. This is the first rule: in a good game, the participants have to a right to choose.

Rule 2: Communication

Now, let’s make it so that one can pass claps not only to the right or left, but to any person. This makes the game more difficult: now the participants have to concentrate, as no one knows who the clap can come from. This is the second rule: communication is important.

Rule 3: Competition

Yet, just communication is not enough. There also must be competition: those who don't react to the clap in time, leave the circle. Or the participants can be divided in teams that work against each other. Competition, the will to win and "stay alive" is yet another important component.

Rule 4: Appropriate difficulty

It is also important that the game is not too easy and not too hard: the rules must be comprehensible, but not primitive. Clapping games are good for small children, but adults will be soon bored with them.

Rule 5: Strategy

A game should give the opportunity to devise a winning strategy. In most cases, one learns it after some time, at the game's pinnacle point — first, players have to understand the rules, and only then they can think up ways to hone their skill. This is also important, as it reflects real life where we always look for opportunities to improvement.

What cannot be called a game

Solving cases, brainstorming, teamwork — all of these are great, but they are no games. Some event's organizers may believe they are, but they just don't understand a game's basic principles. Also, one can't call a discussion, where the moderator asks the participants questions or to solve a case, a game, as well.

Credit: depositphotos.com

So, what is the benefit of games?

What do participants get? Some new skill? New knowledge? Every particular goal calls for a specific game. This is what educators or business coaches have to understand.

"Games are great in teaching participants certain algorithms, explaining concepts or making them share their ideas. Yet, they won't help one remember a poem or learn some great amount of data — those are completely different tasks", notes Maksim Ivanov.

To explain how games can be introduced in schools and universities, ITMO's Master's students launch the "Games in Education" course. Chosen educators will be able to participate in it for free; the on-site event will start on April, 12, while the online course will start earlier in March. The educators will understand the nature of games, and learn to create them. More than 40 people will participate in the on-site event, whereas any number of participants may follow the course online — all you need for it is just Internet access.

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