Friday, 25 April 2014

Engaging Learners through the Power of Narrative

Yesterday Dr. Kelvin Thompson (University of Central Florida) posted a note on Twitter about a webinar being hosted around my dinnertime. Hap Aziz (Associate VP, Global Learning Initiative, University of Bridgeport) was discussing the power of narrative in engaging learners.  I decided to sign up because I want to gain as much from #blendkit2014 as possible and I need some background information to fill in some blanks for me.

I had a great time.  While I wasn't participating in a 2 way dialogue, my interest was maintained the entire time.  Even my husband (who is not interested in this topic) listened in enough to have an interesting and insightful conversation after dinner (which the kids promptly said was boring!).

One topic discussed was the Gamification of education.

Gamification (n) - use of game design elements in a non-game context.

I've mentioned before that this topic intrigues me.  I am looking into more information and have even signed up on a watch list for an upcoming MOOC through Coursera specificially focusing on Gamification.

To quote a slide Hap Aziz posted:

"Gamification has tremendous potential in the education space. How can we use it to deliver truly meaningful experiences to students?"
Gamification is being used to engage employees and customers.  Is it a new fad or is it just a new take on an old reward system? Are digital badges an update on the old star sticker chart?  I don't have an easy answer.

I like the idea of engaging students who don't love learning by typical methods (i.e. reading) through games.  So many of the tools we use today are very intuitive (like tablets and iPads).  They engage our senses of sight, hearing, and touch.  They allow us to learn more naturally, like we would have in the pre-writing days.  Games often have a story that engages us intellectually and/or emotionally - a good narrative essentially.  They allow us to be Multi-Sensory learners.

Multi-Sensory Learners???

Yep. I thought the same things.  WTH?  I was making notes during this webinar and I highlighted it and the need to look into it more.  But let's think about it.

Learning starts at birth by watching and listening to the people around us.  Putting things in our mouth to taste and feel.  Touching everything.  Smelling things.  We absorbed like little sponges everything around us - naturally, with no technology added.

As we get older we add technology.  Not computers and the like (although we do) but Words.  Specifically written words which must be decoded to read and learn and then coded to write.  Funny, I never thought of letters as a form of technology. But they are and they add complexity to learning.

Simple learning engages our basic senses.  If we can learn by being engaged in a story (narrative), have a skill shown to you, the opportunity to try the task yourself, developing skills as you go, until you can do the act yourself, we will retain more information.  A caveman would have told a story of the hunt, drawn pictures depicting bravery, shown their children how to hunt, worked with them to make their tools, built their skill set, and once they were ready, take on the hunt.

Back to gaming

I was reading an article on a Canadian teacher who allowed his students to either write an essay on a period of history or to play a segment of Civilization.  Their response surprised me at first until I realized that the students didn't have enough information to decide what to do...I suggest you look at the article.

Another article about video games increasing our brain size was also intriguing.  "Those players who were classified by the study as “excessive” gamers showed an additional increase in the volume of their DLPFC, the strategy portion of their brains.  The authors did find that there needed to be a considerable amount of involvement in gaming for the additional improvements to take hold in the brain itself, suggesting that this would make those who would utilize games as a training tool dependent on great investments of both time and commitment." (From

Framework for Gamification

The following comes from Yu-kai Chou:

Octalysis breaks down motivation into 8 Core Drives, including things like Epic Meaning & Calling, Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Scarcity & Impatience, etc., and it allows anyone to really create something that is more engaging.
The framework also factors in White Hat vs Black Hat Gamification, Right Brain vs Left Brain Core Drives, as well as the Four Experience Phases of a Player’s Journey and Bartle’s Four Player Types. If you want to learn what is Gamification really about, this is an extremely helpful tool.

I will be adding to this as I review more content and then will revamp this for the meantime, let it engage your brain as is!