Level up the Learning process!

Photo by Kim Wendt, Rosan Bosch

I’m sure that the majority of teachers will recognize the situation. Project- based work, a looser framework and groups that don’t work well together. We try to break down the traditional teaching structures and give our students the opportunity to pursue a project in a more informal manner but the result is not what we intended. I particularly recall an assignment in which the pupils were given the task of producing their own TV channel on YouTube, to include films on the theme of history and the development of people and societies. Recurring conflicts and an all too loose framework gave results that I could barely bring myself to watch! These projects are often driven by one or a handful of pupils among the group. In the best case scenario they divide the work among themselves and present the results as if they were a product of a collaborative effort. Other groups are masters of giving the impression that work is progressing, before revealing two days before the due completion date that they have barely formulated a point of departure.
Why then do we insist on persevering with these type of methods in school when we find it so desperately difficult to make them work in a satisfactory manner?

One reason is of course that our policy documents demand it but another reason that weighs heavily on us is that the abilities that are trained in project-based tasks are the very ones that are in demand in working life. If our students are never given the opportunity to train these abilities in school they will find it harder to adapt to a future workplace that places high demands on taking responsibility and showing initiative. The thing is that even the YouTube TV project contained a variety of learning situations and both I as a teacher and the students developed during the course of it. We merely lacked the metacognitive tools to recognize it. The project Spelifiera lärandet – Kan man levla Lgr 11? (The gamification of learning- can you level-up in LGR11?) was created to change this. Would it be possible to use the mechanisms of gaming to make visible the abstract abilities that form the basis of the learning process?

To a large degree gaming is made up of those things that school so often lacks; a clear mission, frequent feedback and a visual method of measuring skills. By creating a gamified framework in which projects became quests, with well-adapted challenges making it clear to students which abilities they need to level-up in order to succeed with the project, the focus shifted to the learning process rather than the content. The project was a success. When a couple of years later we launched a larger film project, we identified bravery, collaboration and responsibility as examples of the abilities that the pupils would be required to level-up. In the event of conflicts we were then able to challenge different individuals by pointing out that it takes courage to say sorry, or to ask them for concrete suggestions as to how they might develop their collaborative abilities. If, after a period of joint reflection with the teacher, they felt that they had succeeded in this then the group was able to see an immediate result as their skill bar was charged and in the end they were able to level-up.

The experience gained in this project shows that it is important for those who wish to employ gamification in the context of project-based work to understand that it is not a matter of creating a competitive mentality in which the students challenge one another. Rather it was the work on a group level, where as part of the process we jointly engaged in a high level of self-evaluation, which provided successful results. Our aim is to clarify the learning process, not to discover who can reach the highest level.

Frida Monsén