Engagement and the Gamer Generation: My #NCSS15 Presentation

History teachers unite! I’m in New Orleans enjoying the National Council for the Social Studies’ annual conference! Yes, I toured the C-SPAN campaign bus. Yes I ate some Beignets and got covered in powdered sugar! And, yes I did a little talking to folks…

For those lovely folks who visited my presentation today at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference in New Orleans, here are the promised resources… and THANK YOU for coming to my table! 


For anyone who wasn’t in town or missed it- here is the jist:

Today I delivered a presentation based on my gamified class aptly entitled, “Engagement and the Gamer Generation.” Last year, thanks to the research and excited nudge from a colleague and friend of mine from my school, I began investigating gamifying my class. I attended MasCUE at Gillette Stadium, and saw a session on the philosophy behind video games and why people seem to be so enthralled by them. Jane McGonigal speaks at length about the psychology of gaming and how it motivated the gamer to continue to play, and asks how we can leverage this motivation and engagement through teaching.

My colleague pointed me in the direction of Chris Aviles’ techedupteacher.com where he educates at length his philosophy on the gamified model. Using this variety of resources, I began to build my course as a game. This does not mean the kids take a day to play a game in class. It does not mean that sometimes the course has gaming elements. It literally means that to traverse my course (last year World History I with 8th graders, this year US I with juniors) you are a player in a game.

Why did I move to this originally? I’m in my 8th year teaching. Last year, when I encountered this idea, I was in a bit of a rut. I felt bored with my curriculum, continuously frustrated by the lack of time to cover interesting, but excess (according to the frameworks) content, facing the same disengaged handful of students in my otherwise academically driven student pool. I needed a change and I needed to fix the gaps in my course. The philosophical shift required to understand this gaming model is paramount. Let me explain.

The gaming model can essentially be summed up as having these components:

  • Autonomy
  • An accumulation framework i.e. accumulate points, items, experiences, achievements, levels, etc
  • Do overs: many lives, restarts, practice and try again
  • A way to denote success i.e. leaderboards, levels, points accumulated
  • A social component- many folks in older generations don’t necessarily see video games as social experiences, however today’s games are very often socially based and therefore incorporate teamwork, communication and other skills for player success. Social media has actually been incorporating more and more gaming methodology to improve and encourage use of their platforms, like Snapchat for instance.

The gaming model also suggests the truth of the Bartle System:

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 7.30.47 PM

So… gamifying my class needs to touch on all of these things. Take a look at my Gamified History 2014-15 syllabus from last year and you can see the shift I ask the students to take with me. We redesigned everything, but the key is that it isn’t just that I jacked up the points on every assignment (though this was strangely engaging for students) or that I renamed things “epic challenge” or “mastery quest.” The key was that I started to reward students for ANY accumulation of points through experiences.

The course includes elements now of opportunities for everyone to succeed somehow, where you are rewarded for being interested in topics above and beyond the basic requirements, where there is friendly competition, where my focus is mastery- even if that takes more tries for one student than for another. This shift isn’t semantic. My students have come to believe this is my philosophy in the course, and as such, I keep them buying in for that much more of the required content. I also like to think that I convince them more effectively that my goal is for each of them to be successful, and also to enjoy the act of being an historian.

Please feel free to check out my Engagement and the Gamer Generation Presentation. Reach out to the folks I’ve used as my own PLC. Feel free to contact me with questions. Those of you trying to do this in other ways, I’d love to hear how you are doing so and how it is going in your classrooms. I learned today from one gentleman about “Course Craft” – what tools are you using to leverage gaming psychology?

Lastly- I am by no means taking credit for coming up with this idea, concept, strategy, or whatever you want to call it. I am hoping to share with you how I’ve leveraged what I’ve learned from some really bright folks, and how it has impacted my teaching for the better. I hope that you take of this what is relevant or helpful to you, but encourage you to make this your own. Good luck, and hope to hear from you!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s