I recently read a book by Clive Thompson called, “Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better,” and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. To emphasize the impact that Interest (Interest with a capital I) can have on our memory, and, in turn, on our ability to learn, Thompson dedicates an entire chapter to the exploration of what he refers to as “The Digital School”, which is a treasure trove unto itself.
In this chapter, he looks at video games and how they can be instrumental in various learning environments, whether it’s a classroom or a library. Games, Thompson says, can “provide a pathway for teachers to reveal what students are capable of. They can hook students into reading deeply and excitedly in everything from history to economics” (Thompson, 2010, p. 204).
Engaging the disengaged, that’s the name of the game, and to prove his point Thompson sites a handful of programs ranging from the miracle-working Kahn Academy to the World of Warcraft (Thompson, 2010, pp. 175-178).
But my favorite example he uses to bring his point home includes a teacher who used a game called Civilization 3 to teach his low-performing group of students about history, economic development, geography, and war. Some of these kids had a 50 percent absentee rate and all of them were repeating the ninth grade. What happened when to these kids when they started playing this game? They skyrocketed to the proverbial moon! They read more to try and improve their game, they worked together to solve problems, and as Thompson notes, they altogether started behaving like scientists (Thompson, 2010, p. 201). Thompson’s brilliant conclusion?
School rarely motivates students to read in this urgent, engaged way because school rarely offers children any problems they find particularly urgent. Games, in contrast, are designed to provide you with problems so urgent and tantalizing that you can’t stop thinking about them (Thompson, 2010, p. 203).
And not just video games either. But physical games as well. In her article on gamification, Meredith Farkas points out that physical games such as scavenger hunts can be just as effective for learning as video games. After all, we were playing games like hide and seek and Candy land WAY before computer games came along! She then builds on that point by illustrating the huge impact that gamification can have on learners when those old school games are combined with the new (Farkas, 2014).
One program she cited was for a game that the New York Public Library (Links to an external site.) devised back in 2011 as a way for patrons to better familiarize themselves with the library. To do this, the library invited 500 people for an overnight scavenger hunt and had them use an online mobile game called “Find the Future” to find a series of clues that were unique to that specific library (for instance, a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand!).
They then were supposed to write short essays that were inspired by their various journeys for information. I mean, apart from going on a glorified scavenger hunt in one of the most amazing libraries in the world, how cool is that!? Cool. It’s very cool.
All in all, both Farkas and Thompson make a compelling case for the huge impact that Gamification can have on library patrons, both young and old alike. Not only can this learning initiative motivate people on an intrinsic level, but it can also make learning more immersive, and therefore more engaging. Because librarians are just as much educators as they are information providers, it is important that they use every tool that they have at their disposal to connect with their communities. There’s no end to what librarians and teachers can learn from integrating tools like Gamification in their communities.
Exhibitions.nypl.org. (2018). Find the Future: The Game | Find the Future | NYPL at 100. [online] Available at: http://exhibitions.nypl.org/100/digital_fun/play_the_game [Accessed 25 Oct. 2018].
Farkas, M. (2014). Just a game? Library gamification encourages engagement and learning. American Libraries, 45(1-2), 26.
Thompson, C. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. New York: Penguin Group.