An interesting idea came from a Twitter conversation between Cameron Malcher, Claire Seldon, and Steven Kolber (and more folks connected through Pete), but I needed more space to write about this than Twitter affords—what would a SAMR Model for Games & Learning look like?

First, much like it does for technology tools, I feel SAMR itself can be used to gauge the transformative value of gamification, game-based learning, game design, etc. in the classroom. For example, it’s easy to judge game-based learning against the SAMR framework, and I will do so by matching examples to the four levels of SAMR:

Substitution: Kahoot for Quizzes – A trivia tool used to quiz students is only a substitution of game-based learning to replace a traditional assignment.

Augmentation: Math Blaster / Reader Rabbit / Edu Learning Games – Still solving traditional problems with the introduction of role playing to augment the experience and motivate students to complete the narrative and continue practicing math, reading, etc.

Modification: Dungeons & Dragons to teach language learning (or history/anything with storytelling) – There’s a faculty member at my university who uses D&D to teach english as a second language. The open-ended role playing significantly alters the conversations that take place to practice english over traditional approaches for language learning (hello, my name is…. etc.) as there’s an aspect of improvisation over stereotypical speech.

Redefinition: Minecraft to teach programming & Digital Storytelling – Using redstone, command blocks, and the new Code Builder interface in Minecraft, students can craft their own adventures. This can be used to teach programming, digital storytelling, design, and more! Importantly, students can experience completely new tasks by playing Minecraft as part of their learning.

Similarly, implementations of gamification and game design (etc.) could receive this same SAMR treatment. In other words, there are both transformative cases of games in learning and there are non-transformative cases. Simply, incorporating gamification (etc.) into a course does not guarantee better teaching and learning, the transformative potential, instructional design, and purpose is key.

Modifying A Model

Now, to answer the question at hand—what would a SAMR Model for Games & Learning look like?

Gamification Substitution: Replacing grades and achievements with experience points and badges – YAY BADGES…. But in all seriousness, this is one of the lowest levels of introducing game mechanics into learning. If you’re just replacing A, B, C, D, F with badges, don’t expect to see any transformative changes in your course. Grades already constitute a badge system and substituting something else here to “motivate students” is not where you should spend your innovative energies.

Gamification Augmentation: Designing a course around leveling up to represent growth – Let’s take another swing at gamification. If you design a course around something like Classcraft, where students can role play, embark on quests, and gain experience as they tackle their learning, this is a better implementation of gamification by far. Exercise caution here though, using gamification just to influence motivation and alter behavior is a bit lame. There are opportunities for character creation and for students to take ownership of their learning if you give them agency and the chance to grow (guided by gamified elements like quests or experience points).

Game-Based Learning Modification: Using a game as the fabric of teaching and learning – Reacting to the Past (RTTP) or GOBLIN are examples of this. Using games themselves as the mechanism to research, explore, and apply learning. In RTTP, students take on the roles of characters in history and engage in debates where they must come prepared with the background of their characters to role play effectively. For instance, The Patriots, Loyalists, and Revolution in New York City, 1775-76 game facilitates learning about the American revolution from multiple points of view to inspire students to critically engage with history rather than reading the singular account of a textbook.

Game Design Redefinition: Designing games offers endless opportunities for teaching and learning – Being open-ended in nature, there’s no shortage of opportunities for students to be creative as they craft stories and engage with learning and teaching content through the games they produce. Whether you have student modify board games, participate in game jams, or construct their own interactive experiences, there are great ways to facilitate learning with game design. Since game design can be arduous, I recommend using one of the many simple game building tools—from Scratch to Bloxels to Twine (and everything in between) there are many ways to engage students in game design.

Personally, I love Twine as a teaching tool since it allows for choose-your-own-adventure storytelling and the coding literacies I want to see—HTML, CSS, & JavaScript. Here are a few resources for Twine if you’re interested:

In A Nutshell

I personally associate gamification more with the lower tiers of the SAMR model, game-based learning with the middle tiers, and game design with the higher tiers of SAMR. This doesn’t mean there can’t be Redefinition examples of gamification. However, I feel there’s a higher probably of game design lessons achieving Modification and Redefinition implementations than gamification curriculums based on their natures.

To add another layer of complexity, you could have gamification, game-based learning, and game design taking place in the same course. Then, there are many opportunities to facilitate really interesting learning. The key to games and learning is being intentional and critical with your implementation and the feedback you receive from students to adjust and provide the best learning experiences possible!

All that to say these are some of my preliminary thoughts on the matter. I may have more to say in the future, especially as feedback is received and as the conversation continues to evolve. Speaking of which, here are some of the tweets that catalyzed this post:

The featured image is provided CC0 by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash.

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