A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d signed up for a Coursera class on gamification. As a result, I’ll probably be sharing a lot of thoughts and comments on the topics of both gamification and MOOC education over the coming weeks.
The class just started today, and I’ve peeked at a few of the assigned readings and other materials.
I think this is going to be an enlightening, thought provoking course. The basic notions of gamification aren’t new to me; I’ve been teaching them for a couple of years, and been interested in apps like FourSquare since they first appeared on the scene. But I’m taking this course in recognition of the fact that, a) there’s still a lot I have to learn about the topic, and b) my feelings about gamification are deeply ambivalent.
I’ve argued both sides of the coin in class, because that’s kind of my job, to get students to think about subjects in ways that feel “weird” or “wrong” to them, entertain different perspectives, and make more informed decisions. Personally, I enjoy FourSquare, although I quit caring about badges and mayorships a while ago. At the same time, I do often pay attention to where I am on the leaderboard of my FourSquare friends, and get annoyed when I realize I’ve forgotten to check into places. Needless wasting of points somehow feels like wasted opportunity. (For what? I couldn’t really say. Some small measure of abstract satisfaction, I guess.)
But that’s a single app. I confess I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to what a fully “gamified” life might look like. One assigned video forced me into that space, and… I did not like it one bit.
Sure, it’s nice (I guess) to think that we might leave some kind of legacy of books read, or keep track of our accomplishments and those of our loved ones. There’s a lot of crossover between gamification and personal informatics (also known as the Quantified Self movement), which I find both appealing and a bit scary. I say this as someone who has used the Nike+ running app with great satisfaction (although I ditched it without hesitation for as long as it took me to finish Zombies, Run!)*, is an avid user of Fitocracy and MyFitnessPal, has played around with Epic Win and other personal record keeping/motivational sites and apps. So it’s not as though I’m opposed to gamification, at all, including some of the corporate-sponsored variety. I’ve even toyed with the idea of developing a points/badge system for classes. I still might.
But… but… but… the ever deeper penetration of advertising into our daily lives and habits and identities is profoundly disturbing to me. I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings on this issue. Somehow, I didn’t quite realize that this class was going to force me to confront my biases and closely consider my worldview, but honestly, the fact that it has already done so on the first day tells me that it’s a worthwhile use of my time.
I’m always telling students that real learning and growth only take place when one steps outside one’s comfort zone. For some reason, though, when it comes to myself, it’s a message I have to be reminded of over and over again. It’s a good lesson in humility, and helps me be more patient with my students, who don’t have nearly as much experience with the benefits of facing their fears or doubts or entrenched convictions head-first as I do. Even I have to wage some internal battles to stay open to new ideas and consider uncomfortable perspectives. A good thing to remember at the start of a new semester, especially.
Time for some productive discomfort. Bring it on. Maybe I’ll earn a badge for it, in the end.
*Heh, and as I work my way through the video lectures, the instructor uses Zombies, Run! as an example. He’s a lot more dispassionate than I would be about it, though, since it is absolutely my very favorite mobile app, ever, and a great example of gamification beyond badges and points.