How do you teach statistics? How to you make history more interesting for students? Is there a better way to teach chemistry? Someone, somewhere, got the idea to teach them through games.

Games can be an excellent teaching tool. If you use them properly. They can also be gold medal winners in the lame category if the creator doesn’t do so well.

But, what’s the difference between a good educational game and a bad “educational game”?

The good ones really are games. And, they’re also educational tools. Often, the bad ones are more busywork, or a weakly built game with a veneer of education pressed onto the surface.

Here’s an example:

When I was taking statistic, we used games, lots of games. In introductory stats, we learned probability. We talked about and played poker and craps. Later, as we got into more analytical things, we still used poker and craps, but baseball and roleplaying games took precedence. We learned statistics by playing games, talking about games, and analyzing games. We actually used the games to do the things and learned how to do the things.

Occasionally, I’ve met stats professors who try to develop their own games. If they play games, like games, and stick to the model I just talked about, they do fairly well. But then there are the ones who don’t.

Some professors decide that poker, craps, roleplaying games, and (God help us!) baseball are demeaning to their subject. So, they don’t want to use any of those games. But they still want to gamify their classes. This leads to “interesting” and occasionally innovative (in the “yeah, you really did something there…” sense). But they miss the mark.

Often, they aren’t games at all. Sorry, a word problem isn’t a game (usually). Or, they’re not well suited to the subject matter. Sure, you found the term analysis or variance in the word search, but does that teach you what an ANOVA is, how to do one, or why you would want to do it?

Even worse, the “choose your own adventure” professor who inflicts “if you choose to use linear regression turn to page 63, or if you choose to use correlation turn to page 91” on his students. (don’t worry, it’s not that bad in reality… I promise (the professor who inspired this one did it electronically so there’s no page numbers!))

The point is, if you’re going to gamify learning, you have to find or develop a game that’s actually fun to play and also allows the player to work with and learn about the information you’re trying to teach. If your game doesn’t fit both criteria, you’re probably going to fail (and so might your students!).

It all comes back to a common theme in the writing world; you’ve got to know your material and your audience. And that’s the secret.

Good luck with your material, dear reader, and your audience. I’ll see you next post.

Published by Farangian

I'm a writer (fiction and non fiction) with a Masters in Psychology. I am also a sculptor, metal smith, lapidary, tutor/trainer, and eternal student. The name Farangian comes from the name of a fantasy world I created called Farangia. That name comes from Farang with is a term that the Thai use for westerners.

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