"Chocolate on Broccoli"? Or Cheese Sauce on Broccoli?

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By this Wed, I will have been lucky enough to both participate and present at two gaming events. What's been the winning meme so far? I think most of us would agree that it's "chocolate on broccoli" from Nathon Maton of Baxter Games.

Avoiding Matching Chocolate with Broccoli

The phrase is a warning that we don't want to slap on gamification on to a bad course and produce something even more something more indigestible (something like the examples given in the recent article Why Games Don't Teach by Ruth Clark.

Baxter Games and Jane McGonigal both recommend a deep gamification in which courses are turned into missions which can help students focus on higher order learning objectives like team play and strategic thinking. Clark, on the other hand, feels that games are best for low level "drill and kill". And some focus more one adding game like elements to basically make a course more fun to complete (play).

Maybe It's Cheese Sauce?

Which is the right? Maybe all three. I think the true power of games is that a game can reinforce many objective levels, depending on its design.

One of the most successful games at the Educational Gaming Commons, the Typo proofing game is essentially a "drill and kill", but a very effective one. There are elements of courses which are low level like proofing for grammar. But do you want your "broccoli" in the form of plain homework or would you like some musically animated cheese sauce? I know what the students said on the survey...

But that's not the only model the EGC has worked in. Another game focusing on different objectives was Sim Health and that was definitely not just "cheese sauce." In this gaming activity developed for a health policy course, students played a simulation game in which they tried to revamp the health care industry for a 16-year cycle trying to adjust for unexpected consequences.

This was an activity which teaches the complexity of balancing economic systems in a way no other activity could. And the key to its success was a debrief which allowed students to review "what went wrong" and what they could learn about health care policy. This could be done as a "simulation" too, but I think that's nitpicking.

Back to Learning Objectives

Whenever a discussion of the merits or drawbacks of any new learning technology or pedagogical approach comes up, I always think "What's the learning objective?" If a new tech doesn't fit the objectives, what is the point? But when the fit is right - magic happens. This has to remain the center of my pedagogical universe or I will get lost on a hopeless quest.

Oh and we should do some assessment too. ;)

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