California Deafblind Services


Maurice: The concept of gamification

05/13/2011 10:39

The concept of gamification: Rethinking what really motivates students in the age of video games

I have been hearing more and more about a concept known as gamification, which is the idea of using game mechanics to address social issues and solve social problems. I recently heard a National Public Radio segment about gamification that used an example from Sweden involving driving and speed limits to illustrate the concept. It seems that speeding tickets aren't a great way to change behavior and get drivers to slow down. Drivers perceive the occasional speeding ticket as just part of the cost of driving the way they want to. In addition, the revenue generated from speeding tickets isn't used to solve the problem, so there isn't a connection between the behavior (speeding) and the consequence (speeding tickets and higher insurance rates). Authorities in Sweden have developed an innovative model to address this that is based on gamification. They have started using cameras on the highways to catch people driving the speed limit, and then all of these drivers are entered into a lottery to win part of the proceeds from speeding tickets. Apparently, there has been a significant increase in the number of drivers who follow the posted speed limits because they all want a shot at winning this new lottery.

One concept of gamification that is relevant to education is the idea that there are four primary motivators that drive behavior: status, access, power, and stuff. (These motivators, in order, spell out S-A-P-S, although I'm not sure that has any significance.) So it turns out people want status and access more than they want material things. Of course, in some circles this isn't anything new. Airlines, for example, discovered that instead of handing out free drink coupons to reward loyalty, they could make frequent fliers feel more special by letting them board flights before everyone else. Some airlines have gone a step further by giving frequent fliers a special row to stand in and, even in some places, a little red carpet to stand on. The gate agents now invite these special flyers to board “on the red carpet.” Another example is credit card companies, who know that many people will pay extra to use a card that puts them in a special class of consumers, such as the Visa Black and American Express Platinum cards.

In special education and related fields, we have for many years advocated a similar concept—positive behavior supports. We know that we can change behavior much more effectively—and humanely—by rewarding behavior we want to encourage, as opposed to punishing individuals for behavior we don't want. But I'm not sure we've recognized the lure that status and access have on the generation of school-aged children and youth who live in a world of gamification and who are the potential friends and natural supports of children who are deaf-blind.

An example of the concept of gamification might be a high school service club whose members are recruited to provide supports to a student who is deaf-blind. Perhaps the role of these service club members is to ensure that the focus student has transportation and any necessary supports to participate in extra-curricular clubs, dances, athletic events, music and theater performances, etc. This is important because we know that many high school students report that extra-curricular activities and the social connections that come with these activities represent the main reasons these students stay interested in school. We tend to entice and/or thank non-disabled students who agree to support their classmates with disabilities by giving them "stuff" like pizza parties or iTunes gift cards. Perhaps we should also be recognizing these students with increased status, access, and power. The rewards might be little perks or small changes to the way events are conducted, and can be designed so that they do not cost the school anything extra. These motivators might very well have a more powerful impact than “stuff”.

Here are some examples of potential motivators at the high school level:

Status: Profile participating students on the school's Facebook page or somewhere else where parents can see their children recognized publicly, or give them a special tassel or yoke to wear in their graduation ceremony.
Access: Allow participating students to use the school's fitness lab before school or during lunch, when other students are denied access, or once a week give them access to the school snack bar a couple of minutes before the other students are allowed in.
Power: Give participating students decision-making authority over an annual school event such as an end-of-the-year picnic or how to allocate spaces in the student parking lot.

I’m interested to hear what others think about this. Are you using status, access, and power rewards? Is it making a difference? Have you tried similar strategies with elementary and middle school students and, if so, was it an effective strategy or would student have to be older?
 

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