Very few students enjoy assessment. It is stressful, frustrating, and often viewed as a necessary evil. It doesn’t have to be.
Gamification can provide a different way to look at assessment, and to better design the process.
In the context of education, assessment is quite definitely a game. It maps almost perfectly onto the three elements of a game, first proposed by Bernard Suits in The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia, and expanded to four elements by Jane McGonigal in Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
To quickly summarize using McGonigal’s expanded elements:
- It has a goal. The object of the game is to get the best score available be that expressed in letter grades or numerical form.
- Rules. There are established rules for how to achieve the goal.
- Feedback. Students are made aware of how their progressing either towards their goal or in a sumative fashion after the assessing event.
- Voluntary Participation. Students can not be forced to engage in an assessment. They normally take part due to a perceived value in results.
When another potential definition of a game is introduced the similarities are even more pronounced.
Orthogame – “a game for two or more players, with rules that result in a ranking or weighting of the players, and done for entertainment”
Characteristics of Games 2012, page 8
If the word game is replaced by system and players by students in the above definition, a workable definition of assessment emerges (the section about it being done for entertainment can be omitted or included depending on the reader’s cynicism about educational assessment).
Having established that assessment can be viewed as a game, what can insights can gamification provide? Future posts will go into much greater detail on specific assessment methodologies, so this post will only look at two features that hold for all forms of assessment; the necessity of multi-step design, and the cost of failure.
Games are designed experiences that take a long time to produce. The amount of thought and care that goes into a assessment design (game) should reflect this. The more time and energy put into an assessments design correlates to its effectiveness and enjoyability. Assessments should be piloted, observed and changed based on the observations and statistical anaylsis of the pilot.
Currently education establishments tend to focus on the statistical analysis the game design community points out. However, design from statistics alone does not lead to better engagement or results for players/students. Unfortunately many teachers are asked to come up with on-the-fly assessments, or to apply standardized alternatives, without the opportunity to go through the design process, leading to assessments which sometimes do not accurately measure what they are being used to assess.
One of the fundamental areas in which modern game design diverges from assessment design is in its use of what Eric Erickson has defined as a “psychosocial moratorium”. This is where the learner can take risks in an environment where the real world consequence for failure are reduced. This is at odds with the transition to high stakes standardized testing seen in many industrialized nations.
A guiding principle of modern game design is that failure should be entertaining or at least have a limited cost in order for the student to re-engage with the material. The cost of failure to a student in high stakes testing environments is quite high, but the cost of failure to the teachers and schools should also be taken into consideration.
Assessment is a huge field in education and will be revisited several times on this blog. It is a game and, as such, can be analysed using investigative gamification to establish potentially better practices.