For the convenience of anyone who wishes to follow along with my November 20, 2016 Society of Biblical Literature presentation entitled “Character-izing Gameful Learning: Using Student-Guided Narratives to Motivate, Engage, and Inform Learners,” here is the slideshow, presented as a PDF with one slide per page. The program book abstract reads as follows, though it’s no longer 100% accurate to the presentation:
Religion 101: Old Testament in Context is the first of three religion courses required of Pepperdine University undergraduates. For some time now, my students have encountered foundational course material (basic facts and orientation to key questions) in the form of 21 substantive homework assignments delivered within Pepperdine’s course management system. These lessons resemble a textbook in informal prose; students interact with the lessons by reading materials directly in the LMS, by following hyperlinks to other online readings and videos (mostly from Bible Odyssey, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, and educational YouTube channels), and completing reading quizzes in the LMS. Beginning in Fall 2010, I began to inject elements of gameful learning and teaching by introducing the “Worlds of Biblecraft” metaphor, switching to accrual grading, and introducing content-themed terminology to describe course activities (“learning tribes” instead of “small groups,” for example). Since then, “gamification of education” has gained steam worldwide. However, the blossoming literature on gamification can be hard to review, interpret, and apply. As Karl Kapp (2012) notes, “There are literally thousands of books, articles, and newspaper reports on the effectiveness of games and gamification. Some of the reporting is based on theoretical underpinnings, some of it is based on opinion, and some of it is based on wishful thinking.” In the Spring and Summer terms of 2016, I sought to contribute to the empirical research on the effects of gameful learning in biblical studies. Supported by a grant from Pepperdine University’s Technology and Learning department, I reframed one-third of the homework assignments as narrative “choose your own adventure” experiences using the fictional characters of Deanna Jones and Larry Croft as guides to help students explore the biblical stories of the creation of humanity, the exodus, the Israelite “judges,” the Assyrian domination of Israel and Judah, the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the edict of Cyrus, and the trials of Job. Core elements of the previous versions of the assignments—biblical readings, secondary readings and videos, and quizzes—remained fundamentally the same as in the discursive version. Learning gains were measures by comparing aggregate quiz and test scores in the control (pre-revision) and experimental (post-revision) groups. Additionally, student attitudes toward the two different types of assignments were measured self-report instruments.
In that May 2011 column, Bogost characterized “gamification” as “exploitationware.” Bogost’s chief target in the essay is gamification as a marketing gimmick, but some of his criticisms may have application to higher ed as well. Indeed, he begins the column with an anecdote from a higher ed conference:
Here’s the elevator pitch: My Religion 101 course, also known as “World of Biblecraft,” functions like a cross between Farmville, Minecraft, and the World of Warcraft, where students earn XP and level up by exploring the Bible.
In the introduction to my blog series on gamification, I mentioned the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2013 Education Edition, which identifies “Games and Gamification” as a growing trend with a time-to-adoption horizon of two to three years. The term “Games and Gamification” updates the NMC’s older terminology, “Game-Based Learning.” By combining the use of educational games with gamification under a single reference, however, NMC potentially confuses two distinct phenomena.
Like many biblical scholars, I earn my living by teaching at a university. In the rank, tenure, and promotion process at Pepperdine, teaching officially weighs twice as much as scholarship. Teaching, therefore, forms a big part of my public-facing identity. However, I don’t just see teaching as a professional requirement or a hat I wear at work. When I introduce myself to new acquaintances and they ask me what I “do,” I am more likely to reply “I teach Bible at Pepperdine University” than “I study the Bible for a living.” “Teacher,” therefore, forms a big part of my self-concept as well.
Gaming also defines a good bit of both my self-understanding and my public-facing identity. A friend introduced me to Avalon Hill bookshelf games (Panzer Blitz), Steve Jackson microgames (Ogre and Chitin), and Dungeons & Dragons (including Judges Guild’s City-State of the Invincible Overlord) in fifth grade (1977–78). I even have some consulting, writing, and editing credits in the game industry, and I have a whole other blog dedicated to gaming. Sometimes, I’ve even had the chance to bring my biblical scholarship to bear on game design, as when I consulted with TriKing Games on introducing the Israelite culture into their Anachronism card game and when I published a couple of articles related to Testament, a biblical-era fantasy role-playing setting (d20 system) by Green Ronin Games.