Gamification of the classroom to help 'digital natives' learn

EdTech has reshaped the classroom as teachers use games to engage and motivate children


"Mission in Mars" VR workshop in Abu Dhabi Science Festival at the corniche in Abu Dhabi.

The event focuses on STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics). Around 200 innovators are displaying their projects at the three host venues over 10 days.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

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The gamification of learning is likely to be one of the next big trends for ­educational technology as schools have begun to diversify the curriculum in an attempt to inspire pupils bored with traditional textbooks.

For children who are digital natives, technology is a ­daily part of their lives outside school and gamification combines elements such as scoring points or winning a prize with educational tasks as a means to engage pupils.

Studies have found that gamification can lead to positive changes in pupils’ behaviour and keeps them motivated – the method has been applied in UAE schools already.

Habeeb Mustafa, a digital coach at Kings School Al Barsha, said there is a shift glob­ally and locally towards fostering 21st-century skills and bringing technology into the classroom.

“Gamification is a way [to use]tried and tested techniques in a class-based context to engage the learner more. It ­enriches the learner and simulates ­pupils more than text-based questions,” Mr Mustafa said.

“The child isn’t limited to having to read a textbook and it captures their imagination learning in many different ways.

“This particularly helps children who may not respond to traditional academic methods, such as those with special needs.”

The coach said that adding time pressures and competitive scoring to tests or quizzes engages pupils more than traditional methods.

The learning games often involve maps, quizzes, singing and dancing, and teachers report that children respond well.

Games like Classcraft, which allows pupils to create a character and work with classmates to earn special powers, and Kahoot!, which lets them create multiple-choice quizzes, have become increasingly popular in schools all over the world.

Classcraft transforms the virtual learning environment into a game-based one – the syllabus is replaced by a map and pupils interact with guests on the map while they earn points, prizes and sanctions on their behaviour.

There are challenges to introducing games into the classroom, however, such as making sure the games work, firewall issues or if those in charge ­simply do not see the value in using the technology. And some people may not want to change the way they work.

“If you see the everyday life of a teacher they don’t have too much time, but they need new pedagogical thinking and that’s where games come in,” said Riku Alkio, chief executive of Seppo, an educational tool to create games.

“If you gamify the content, the pupil gets much more autonomy in learning.

“You activate pupils in an informal way and leave a place for creativity so that not everything has to be done by the rules.

“Gamification is everywhere. It’s a normal way of engaging people.”

Last week, a pupil in Dubai, Adam Al Rafey, 8, called for schools to modernise the curriculum at the Global Education Supplies and Solution conference in the emirate.

“If homework was a game, that would be really good,” he said. “We do use educational games but there should be more to make learning more fun.”