I expected many things from ISTE, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would walk away having done a complete 180 in my views towards Educational Gamification. It happened early on, the very first session that I attended: Epic Leadership: Beyond the Hype of Gamification. Quite honestly, I didn’t know how lucky I was to have stumbled into this session until after it was over. On may way up in the elevator I met Kathy Schrock for the first time and introduced myself as a fan. While waiting in line to get in, Kari Stubbs from BrainPOP showed up behind me and we had a quick reunion. As I eyed the various tables for an empty seat, I ended up in the front only to realize that Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach of PLPNetwork was one of the people at my table. Wow, three familiar faces in less than ten minutes, I felt comfortable with this small crowd. I want to mention a last minute straggler who showed up at our table and unbeknownst to me, at the time, was Nathan Verrill. He was later introduced to me as the “game maker” of Evoke, in conjunction with Jane Mcgonigal and co-founder of Natron Baxter Applied Gaming. We had several speakers that morning, including Jane, who later spoke in the hall that held 10,000+ listeners.
The entire session was designed around playing games, we had established roles by choosing a job prior to sitting down. Our first competition was the challenge to build the highest free standing structure that could hold a marshmallow on top. Our building materials were eighteen pieces of angel hair pasta, a bit of thin string and several feet of wide masking tape, and of course a marshmallow. We were given ten minutes to complete this task; Nathan had been nominated as our leader. We were a slightly verbose and opinionated group. We got a late start building because we spent the first 4-5 minutes discussing the best game plan. Needless to say, we did not win that competition, but we sure had fun trying. Interestingly enough, not one of us thought to google the game, as it was not a new game. Just goes to show, there weren’t any young people at our table.
Several other games were played, the last being to decode random numbers that had been mentioned by “spy-like” characters throughout the session. When the code was finally cracked, we had the phone number of the mystery guest. It was Jane McGonigal, the famous NY Times author of several books, who was to be the dynamic keynote speaker that evening. Watch her TedTalk, it's amazing!
It didn’t take me long to realize that the gaming industry was on its way to being the “new” engaging motivator that had already captured the undivided attention of most children. Jane was so convincing in her presentation that I was an immediate convert. Video games are fun, they are engaging, and they are used by almost all children. Eureka! Why not use them to drive education – they even have a highly collaborative component.
This may not sound earth shattering but as the mother of three who had considered video games an evil addiction, even called them drugs for children, this was huge. This indeed was a pivotal moment in my understanding of how best to educate our youth. Jane’s talk had me doing a complete 360 in my views of gamification. Wow, wait till my own kids hear about this!