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Gamification in Education
Episode 1321st March 2022 • Marketing and Education • Elana Leoni | Leoni Consulting Group
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Todd Finley, professor of education at East Carolina University, writer, and creator of Brain Blasts, downloadable infographics filled with best practices for educators, chats about gamification, student engagement, the guiding principles of game design, and so much more.

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Elana:

Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I’ve devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, in-bound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I’m excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.

Hello everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of All Things Marketing and Education. I am Elana Leoni and I am so excited to talk with my friend Todd Finley. Todd and I have known each other for – gosh, over a decade now. Makes us feel old. At least, right? I truly feel honored to know you, Todd. We first met at Edutopia, known as the George Lucas Education Foundation. And he was a writer and blogger for them for over ten years. He wrote over 150 articles for them. And for those of you that are back in the day true Edutopia fans, if you remember those guides, he did those guides as well; along with some other talented writers like Suzie Boss.

But I am just – I feel so lucky, Todd, that we have been able to keep in touch and our paths have been able to cross again and again. I wrote Todd in to write e-books for some of my clients back early in the day. And I also introduced him to one of our clients, an education division of Meta where he helped to work alongside that little startup and create some products in the computer science world, which was really fascinating.

So I know Todd will talk a lot more about himself. But before he does, I want to tell you, Todd – because probably people do not tell you these beautiful things about yourself – but you are a wonderful, beautiful writer. I am in awe of what you write, how you write, and how you interweave research in such a practical, non-intimidating way, I would say. And that’s exactly why we’re having you on the show. Because today we’re going to be talking about gamification. And that sounds intimidating. And you have research, and you have theory. But you also have that practicality where teachers listen to it, and they say, “Wow I can do this. I can do that tomorrow.”

So I’m excited to have you on. And for the EdTech folk, we’re also going to be talking a little bit about how this may apply to how your product can intrigue and entice your audience of educators. So with that said, I am just so blessed to have you on, Todd. Did I miss anything that you want to –

Todd:

[Laughs]

Elana:

– talk about yourself? I didn’t talk about your education or where you’re teaching now. So maybe talk a little bit about that.

Todd:

OK. And just note that you’re one of my favorite people that I don’t see very often. And so this is a thrill for me, and I’m honored to be here. So thank you for all that. And thank you for that warm introduction. That was really sweet.

So I live in North Carolina, in the eastern part. I work at Eastern Carolina University. I’m married to a teacher. My parents were teachers. My daughter is not a teacher. And I think about education a lot, and it’s sort of all around me. I teach methods courses for future English teachers at East Carolina University in the College of Education. My real passion actually is in writing. My Masters was in creative and professional writing, and my Ph.D. was in curriculum instruction. So I think those are kind of the basics. I guess one of the things that I like best about teaching and learning is that it’s complex, and it has been changing a ton over the last few years. And so it keeps me very interested. I’m hoping to be doing this job for a long time.

Elana:

Yeah. And I think the other thing I didn’t mention about you is that it – for those of you that are on Twitter, please do follow Todd. You’re at @FinleyT, right?

Todd:

Yeah.

Elana:

So he has these things called Brain Blasts. And really boils down any kind of type of thing. It might be exit tickets, or engagement, or gamification, or whatever it may be. But he has them and turns them into these downloadable cool graphics called Brain Blasts. So do follow him there. I’m sure he has one that we can link to in our Show Notes as well around gamification, too. [Laughs]

Todd:

[Laughs] Thank you.

Elana:

A little bit of a plug for me. I remember when we first had conversations about Twitter. And you’re like, “Oh, should I be on it?” [Laughs] I’m like, “Yes. Let’s show you how.”

Todd:

Actually, I remember being really bad at Twitter. And then I implemented some of your practices of being interactive. And I won this award from you. You gave me this Yoda award.

Elana:

[Laughs] Oh my gosh.

Todd:

Which sits on my desk for most improved, which tells you how terrible I was at Twitter. So really, you taught me Twitter.

Elana:

And for those of you in the audience that can’t see, he just showed a little bit of a figurine of a Yoda. And I remember that. We used to have off-sites for our writers and our bloggers. And we would reward them for what they would be doing. And I would always try to make a fun game out of something, you know. But that is awesome.

Todd:

And you did make it into a game. And then you did give us reward. Obviously that has staying power in that it has stayed with me so long. And I don’t keep a lot of things. But I do keep that. So I appreciate that.

Could I just mention that one of the things that I was trying to do with the Brain Blast graphics is – I was frustrated with education blog posts where there wasn’t a whole lot of information that was nutritious. Like you’d read all this context and you’d maybe have one small idea at the end. And so what I thought I’d do is on one page put a lot of ideas all in one place. And try and make it visually dynamic so that people could at least see it amongst all the other kind of stuff that Twitter has. So the idea is that it's supposed to be attention grabbing like a good infographic.

Elana:

Yeah, and I can see – because I read a lot of education articles and blog posts. And sometimes you’ll see like five things or two things. And those two things are written with lots of detail. But if those two things don’t apply to you or don’t grab your attention, or you just can’t see it working in your own classroom or your own environment, you kind of lost my opportunity. I’m like, oh. But you give like 50, like 30. And so I can find at least one of those things. I’m like, “I want to try one of those.”

Todd:

Yeah. Thank you.

Elana:

So that’s really helpful. All right. So we are going to be jumping into the wonderful topic of gamification. And this is not an area I know a ton about. So I am excited to learn from you, Todd. I know that you’re not the only one talking about gamification. And it’s not a new concept. But can you talk just a little bit about how you got started? And maybe how your interest came about with gamification in particular? And obviously talk a little bit about what gamification is.

Todd:

Yeah. It’s a long story but I’ll try and make it a little bit faster. Well, first of all, gamification is applying game mechanics to learning environments – like classrooms, for example. And sometimes gamification and game-based learning get confused. Game-based learning is taking an existing game that was just developed to be fun, and then repurposing it to be educational. So those are the two terms.

And the way I got interested in it is that I did a study of our teacher educators. And what I was finding in the study was that their views of engagement were more like compliance. So they would see a student picking up their pencil and looking at the teacher and say, “That student was highly engaged.” And I thought, “They don’t really know what engagement is.” So I thought, “What we need to do is we need to give our pre-service teachers an experience that is so engaging and so transformative that they know for the rest of their lives in their career what it’s like to be truly engaged in an educational context.” So at ECU, we developed a few different things like a gamification retreat, which is an all-day retreat. And we invite the history education majors and English education members. And then we put them into small groups – into teams. And by the end of the day in these game experiences, they are so excited and so pepped. They’re literally singing when they leave. And so our students refer to that as being one of those watershed moments for them in our program.

And I’ve also applied it when I was a coordinator for the new faculty orientation at ECU. And so we gamified that whole process of onboarding new professors. And then I’ve also applied it in these small simulations that I do in every class. So I saw these profound kind of moments where people were affected by this emotionally. And that really made me gravitate towards integrating the stuff into my classrooms more and more.

Elana:

So you said a lot of good things there. And I want to unpack some of them. But one you said is a lot of times educators define engagement as compliance. Like, “Oh they did this,” or “They did that.” And I remember once I was asked to observe a classroom, and almost defined engagement by keeping track of them not disrupting the class. And then I thought that if they had less distractions or disruptions, they were engaged. That’s not true at all. We do not know how to truly measure engagement. And I think that you have some tips and some thoughts around that. But you want to kind of dive into that a little bit more? I think that’s so important, that point.

Todd:

Yeah. Well, I could talk about things that we do to gamify the class a little bit. And some of it involves social-emotional learning activities, too, that we do in class. But I think the idea is that we really don’t know what’s inside kids’ heads when they’re not talking. And we make assumptions based on – like when I was in high school, I remember I was really good at furrowing my brows a little bit like I was really paying attention. And nodding and smiling at the teacher. And I completely was disassociated throughout the entire day. I really suffered for that, actually. So I wasn’t engaged at all. And it turns out that all the research that we’re studying is there’s – we have chronic disengagement in schools. It’s profound. Particularly in the upper grades, less so in the lower grades. But particularly in this post-COVID era, we have massive disengagement.

So part of engagement – like, when you think about the word engage, the root word has to do with – like, think about fencing, when you engage with somebody. And you’re both really paying attention. And there’s an intensity, and there’s sort of a commitment. And there’s a participation as part of it. That’s all part of engagement. And so it’s actually physical, and it’s emotional, and it’s strategic. And so those are all key parts of engagement. And the research shows that if you have students do something that’s engaging, and then have content that occurs right after it – like they’re learning vocabulary right after that – that because dopamine is released, and the hippocampus really responds to dopamine, then recall is increased. So there’s a way in which engaging activities warm up the hippocampus for learning. And you don’t even have to have the activity relate to what they’re about to learn. By the way, you can do the same thing by having a learning activity, and then doing some kind of a game or energizer after the activity. And you can have the same effect.

I had a colleague who used to say, “Well, learning isn’t supposed to be fun.” I was like, “Well that’s ridiculous.” When you make learning fun, then you actually have students who are more successful. They recall better, they perform better. And there’s part of this gamification or gaming mindset that’s I think really important. And I don’t know, Elana. Have you read Jane McGonagal’s SuperBetter?

Elana:

No. But you remember Betty from Edutopia? She would talk about that a lot. And I believe I heard a mini-keynote from her a long time ago at one of the conferences. But for our audience, we’ll link to it in the Show Notes.

Todd:

OK.

Elana:

But please talk a little bit about it.

Todd:

Well, what I like that she – and a lot of her information is – I mean, she’s a Ph.D. and researcher, and also a game designer. And she had this experience where she is an athlete and a runner. And one time she was getting something under the sink. And so she was bending down and she popped up really, really fast and hit her head on a cupboard door that was open. And it gave her a concussion that lasted for months. And we know more about concussions now in that they can really affect depression and a whole lot of physical symptoms. And so she was pretty much bed-bound. And then she invented this game called Make Jane Feel Better. And so she gamified her recovery by giving herself points for things like being able to walk to the fence to meet her husband after work. And she gave herself a superhero name.

And so when you start to incorporate this sort of gaming mindset – which also alleviates this notion of failures being really heavy – there’s sort of a soft failure that occurs. That it creates resilience. And she found that she sort of popped back into health through this mechanism. So resilience and the mindset of not being afraid to fail is part of this gamification mindset that she talks about. And she also has an app, that’s a free app called SuperBetter. So you can create your own gamified program of whatever your goals are. If you’re wanting to lose weight, if you want to achieve something at work, you can create your own program’s name.

Elana:

Yeah. And I think that for anyone trying to accomplish any goal – and students in particular – we all, any type of human, are very, very hard on ourselves. And we don’t give us credit for the stuff we do. We always just say, “Gosh look at all the things we didn’t get done.”

Todd:

Yeah.

Elana:

And the little things matter. And the little things turn into habits. And that’s where we can see change. So I want to back up just a little bit. Because you say such good stuff, and you know so much. And I’m like, “Oh, Todd is amazing.” But the one thing you said around engagement was engagement has to be physical. It can be emotional. It can be strategic. And that you have to get the brain moving. And a lot of gamification activities can help with that, right? But it doesn’t necessarily need to be directly applying to the actual subject at hand. And that’s a big deal. I feel like sometimes as educators we’re always trying to make sure our lesson are this or that. But getting them ready to learn. And I do a lot of that head-nodding, too. Like, “Mm-hmm. I’m here but I’m really not here.” [Laughs]

Todd:

[Laughs]

Elana:

How do you know that a student is really here? And I do believe there’s a lot of people in EdTech trying to figure that out and make sure that kids are not just showing up attendance-wise, but they’re showing up emotionally ready to learn. And that’s where that social and emotional learning comes into play, too. But I just wanted to pause there because I felt like that was a really good point. Do you want to add anything to that?

Todd:

lled Senet. Which came out in:

Elana:

[Laughs]

Todd:

You know, which is you’re marshaling resources, right? You’re being strategic. You are trying to win a game of being a good enough husband. Or, you know, they’re all that kind of thought. So there’s role-playing that’s part of it. And so it turns out that in terms of triggering students’ emotions when we apply any kind of gaming mechanics – even just slight ones like putting students into teams, or doing a Beat the Clock – any of those little moves that we make tend to activate the sort of gaming brainset that students have. And to see that happen in the class is remarkable. And I should mention that I just started doing this maybe about nine years ago, like, I really started integrating gamification into a lot of the things that I do. So, for example, in all my quizzes we'll have side quests where there’ll be a challenge question, so that they can get extra credit with it. So that kind of lowers the stress there. Or there’ll be an Easter egg or a surprise question, which is answering something that they really are interested to answer, and find out the answers from their peers. Like, which one of the members of the class would be best to lead us out of the zombie apocalypse? Or who makes the best burger in town – which they’ve become very passionate about. So trying to sprinkle into the class delight really comes from the theory of gamifying things.

Elana:

Interesting. Why don’t we talk a little bit about some practical applications? You’re already kind of going there. But for the educators listening – and they’re interested in this – still might feel a little intimidating. I think the word gamification is a little intimidating. They’re already just trying to keep up with day-to-day in such an uncertain time with the pandemic, and endemic, “And what are we in? All I know is that I’m scared and I don’t have resources. And I don’t have time to take time off. But how do I make sure that – ” Especially now. You mentioned we have a time where kids are disengaged; more so. And they have every right to be. There’s just a lot going on. A lot of trauma. How do they get started? Are there some simple things that they could do? I’m sure it varies by grade level. But maybe you can talk about a couple of things that might spark their interest.

Todd:

Yeah. There are a few things that you can do. One is something that I stole from Brian Sztabnik. He has a Student of the Week where they get to wear one of those cheap imitation wrestling belts. [Laughs]. So they hold those up and get to wear them around as student of the week. And the kids like that. I had actually versioned that into medals. And I’ll actually do – I’m doing Students for the Quarter, like best performance. And so they get the medals, and then we’ll take photos of them. And they get that kind of acknowledgement.

But there’s, like, really easy ways to integrate gaming principles. An easy one is if you take a diagram of, say, a ship or photosynthesis or a flower. And take an image that has all the parts labeled. And then you white out the parts. And then you get students into groups before you even teach the subject, and say, “On your own without using your phones, see how many of the parts of this drawing that you could label.” Even that automatically gamifies it. Because you have an image there. It reduces cognitive load. Same thing with having a team there. They get really excited about doing it, and excited about success with that. So that’s an easy way of doing things. There are some teachers that have switched from using A grades to using stars. So they’ll get X amount of – they’ll get three stars for a B, for example, rather than a score. So you could use symbols for students as well.

There’s another thing that I do with quizzes that I should mention. And this is one of my favorite things to do is – and the students know this now when they come into my class – is that for my midterm and final exam, I’ll give them 45 minutes to do the exam. And I say, “You know, let’s say you get done early. You might want to hang around. Because at 5:45 tonight, I’m going to give you a chance to work in teams. And you can discuss the answers, and see if your group can help you.” And that’s kind of exciting to watch them do that. And it lowers stress, because they can check on their answers. So things like that that are designed to cushion failure all come from the gaming world.

Elana:

Yeah. I love that. And as you talk, I’m like, "Gosh, I want you as my teacher." [Laughs] When I’d gotten through with MBA school, I just felt, “Jeez, we’re so traditional. We have these tests that are kind of meant to haze you and make you feel like you don’t know anything.” And then you go on in shame. And maybe you get a C, and you’re like, “OK but I didn’t really master the subject.” It’s more traumatizing. You make it fun.

Todd:

It is traumatizing. [Laughs] I thought –

Elana:

Yeah that’s my point. Learning should be fun. And that’s the stuff you remember, too.

Todd:

Yeah.

Elana:

You mentioned a little bit about the difference between gamification and game-based learning. But I feel like a lot of people get those terms wrong. And they might have, like, wrong associations with maybe gamification. Can you talk a little bit about what people think gamification is? And maybe how they get it wrong? Like someone might do, I don’t know, they might use a clicker. And think that by using that clicker in the classroom, that might a hundred percent make it gamification. And I think, according to you, there’s some rules, right? It has to have –

Todd:

Yes.

Elana:

To fulfill gamification, I don’t know. It’s not according to you. I’m sure someone else made it up. [Laughs]

Todd:

So it’s not according to me, no. And so it should have objectives. It should have some kind of rules. Like what can you do, what can’t you do for this? And it should have some kind of reward. Also games need to have interactivity of some sort. If it’s social, that’s great. If it’s challenge, it’s great. And I think the best games put you into a role. But I think what happens – I think the biggest confusion – I had a colleague one time who said, “Well gamification, that’s just, you know, kids are having fun.” But actually, gamification is purposeful. It’s designed to teach students something. The same way game-based learning is. Which is again repurposing a game like Monopoly. And I actually had a profound experience at a writing retreat workshop where someone had brought in a Monopoly game. And so we all played Monopoly. Except the amount of money that we got was aligned with a particular profession. So you’d get a bag with a certain amount of money if you were a teacher, and a different bag of money if you were a banker. And then every time you pass go, bankers would get $300 and teachers would get ten.

Elana:

No.

Todd:

Yeah, so different professions. And so it really illustrated the Matthew Effect, right, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And I remember actually in that game, which I thought was, “Oh, you know, that’s kind of interesting. Just the way it’s showing how the system can work if you’re cynical about it, I guess.” And this one guy actually freaked out. I mean, literally he had a psychotic break during the game. It got weird. It got really weird. And we had to sort of [laughs] calm him down. Because he was so angered by the game and what it was communicating. So again, that’s a toxic level of engagement where we’ve trespassed boundaries. And I guess that’s something you have to watch out for with games as well.

Elana:

Yeah. And I think with students as they grow up and get older, too, and even adults. They have a hard time with terminology like equity versus equality. And I could see you using those terminologies and playing them out in a game, too. Because when people do talk about the difference of the two, they almost share it like a game, you know. Like, have you seen the illustration where the kids are kind of – it depends on where their seat is in class. And they have to throw this paper ball into this basket. But it, you know, if – so it’s all special. But you have to figure it out based on situations like that. And you have to experience it, as much as you can experience that.

Todd:

Yeah. I think what you’re talking about there is perspective-taking, that it puts you into an immediate perspective. I think that’s where simulations are really effective, too. Which is kind of world building. Like mock trials, for example. Seems like whatever’s – whenever you have a class reading about the Salem Witch Trials, then they always have a mock trial of some sort. But you could also do other kinds of simulations, like put students into a school board meeting to talk about the censorship. Where you have roles as parents or students, or conservative parents or liberal parents. And then they communicate that way. I’ve done that where the students can’t talk. They just have to write notes to one another to try and figure out their positions. So that’s a way of really quickly getting into a perspective and seeing what kind of arguments have weight and which don’t. In some ways, it’s a really economical way of teaching perspective-taking.

Elana:

Yeah. We talk about gamification and the benefits a little bit. Making learning come to life, getting them emotionally engaged. It becomes something memorable. It’s rewarding. Hopefully it’s real-world, too. It has a little bit of PBL in terms of Project-Based Learning implications, too. But can you talk about the benefits you’ve seen by implementing gamification in your classroom? And you also write about this. And there’s a national audience that’s listening to you. And taking your stuff and going, “I want to put this in my classroom.” Have you heard from other people – and as you go to conferences – what are the benefits you’ve seen that people just don’t talk about when it comes to gamification?

Todd:

Well, one of the benefits, actually, is that it makes teaching more enjoyable. And so I think part of our jobs as teachers is when we enter the classroom, we need to look forward to something. And if you’re walking to your classroom – and I know there are certain things that I teach that are like, “OK. I know they’re – this can be really tough for the students. I’m kind of dreading how hard and how difficult they’re going to have maybe with this particular concept." And so I always plant something in my classes that I think students will like. And it’s something that I’ll look forward to. So maybe it’s something new I’ve never tried before, like using BuzzIn Live as a buzzer game.

But I think, you know, when we think about engagement, we’re thinking about sort of leaning forward rather than leaning back with your arms folded; which feels really differently. But I think, as teachers, we need to also have that kind of lean-forward stance when we’re in the classroom. And if we don’t have that, that means we need to modify what we’re doing, I think. And it’s been kind of fun just putting in these economical games. Inserting them in the class has been really fun. So, sometimes as a class break, we’ll play name that tune. Well, since we’re in North Carolina, we’ll just do North Carolina artists. It’s wild how animated students get at trying to figure out which pop star that we’re playing. So I really like integrating energizers into the class. Sometimes we’ll – one of my favorites is the handshake game, where I’ll put students into teams. And I’ll say, “What’s your favorite – ” I’m sorry. “Come up with the best group handshake.” And so they get seven minutes. They come back, and it’s hysterical seeing – they involve their feet and limbs and dancing around. It’s kind of joyous doing that, so.

Elana:

Yeah, and I bet you when they see each other again in the hallway, they’re like, you know, doing their handshake. People think they’re crazy. But they’re just laughing and having a good time. It’s that bonding.

Todd:

It’s really fun, yeah. It’s really fun. So I hope that teachers are doing things to sort of take care of themselves. And one of the ways of taking care of yourself is every period you teach, you’re walking to class or you’re expecting something. And you’re trying something out. So I would suggest having kind of an experimental mindset as you’re doing things. And being game for that. They won’t all work, but that’s part of the fun, too.

Elana:

Yeah, I never thought of it that way. But as educators we’re always – I think they’re always worried about, “Are the students getting it? Do they have enough support? Am I doing enough?” All of these things. But it’s a different perspective to say, you know, “What do I want out of this? How can this fuel me as well? How can I get excited? Even if my kids don’t like this bit, this is about me.” And guess what? If you’re excited about it, generally they’re going to be excited about it, too. And why wouldn’t they be if there’s some gaming aspect to it?

Todd:

Right.

Elana:

So that’s a cool way to think about it. You mentioned something that I just wanted you to talk a little bit more about. You said energizers. Can you explain to the audience what that is and what types of activities those are?

Todd:

Sure. So energizers are kind of like a game, or they can be a game. But the primary purpose is not – like, gamification is you’re engaged, but you’re also learning something about the content. Whereas energizers are brain breaks. They’re ways of – when students start to get that free-floating they can’t concentrate thing. And particularly after several periods, students are like that. Then energizers are designed to give their brain a break so that they can come back to the learning engaged. And the neat thing about energizers is that they are – and I’ll send you a bunch of them – is that they are really economical. So maybe they’re four minutes long. But that four minutes can be really important for student attention. And frankly, that’s our biggest issue is getting students to focus and getting their attention. And so energizers are a great way of doing that. So there’s – you know, there are lots of ways that we do that. I’m thinking of one that I like is the team rock paper scissors. We actually did that at Edutopia one time, and I stole it from them. And I’ve done that. That works really great. Another game –

Elana:

And that’s just doing just Rochambeau? Rock Paper Scissors? And just getting them kind of activity wise? Or explain how the –

Todd:

I can explain. So how it works is you’re playing it, Rock Paper Scissors, and everyone starts with a partner. And then whoever loses, they become the cheering section for the winner. And so what happens is you start to have these cheering sections grow and grow. And after a while towards the end, then you have two people who are doing Rock Paper Scissors. And they have half the class cheering for one, half the class cheering for the others. So it gets really loud. And lots of mayhem and lots of cheering, lots of yelling. And it’s this weird stimulation of adrenaline that – every time I’ve done this, I’ve done this, maybe 15 times in different settings, it always has the payoff of animating everyone in the class. So yeah, I think that’s probably my favorite game.

Elana:

Gosh. I feel bad that I missed that at Edutopia. I mean, when we’ve done Rock Paper scissors there, but not with a cheering section. I want a big cheering section. [Laughs]

Todd:

Yeah. You know, it works great. Just the thing to tell students, though, is say, “I really want you to commit to the cheering.” And so once they see that’s OK, people start cheering, then they do it. Anyway it’s pretty fun.

Elana:

Awesome. And if you send me some of those extra activities for energizers, everyone, I’ll put those on the Show Notes. And I’ll talk about the link below in a couple of minutes as well.

Todd:

Sure. I’ll do that.

Elana:

One of the myths I hear is that sometimes you can’t gamify things if you don’t have tech. Do you hear that sometimes? Maybe people think that they have to have really shiny Ed Tech tools to gamify things in their classroom. And while it can help – and I’d love for you to talk about some of the tech tools you’ve seen used in gamification. And that’s where our EdTech audience might want to perk up their ears a little bit more, because a lot of what Todd’s talking about are things to make learning fun. And you all in EdTech constantly try to make your products do that. But can you talk a little bit about the tech aspect? There’s that myth. But then also what is the tech you see being maybe consistently deployed when people think about gamification?

Todd:

Yeah. There’s been a lot that’s come out. And you see them used again and again by teachers. The one that I just found actually last nine months was BuzzIn Live. BuzzIn.live. It’s a freemium tool. And what makes it – so it has a lot of qualities that make it useful for teachers. One that it’s freemium. And so you can pay and then have a larger group if you want to. Or you can just use the freemium model. But students download buzzers to their phones. And it works really elegantly, and it has a simple interface for teachers to use. Because I think sometimes you approach other kinds of tools, and they’re just so complex that the teachers are thinking, “I’ve got all these papers to grade. And I have to learn this tool. And even if I learn the best I can, I’m not sure if it’s going to work in this context, or what can go wrong?” And so they start to become intimidated. So a Fisher-Price interface is really useful for the teachers as well as the students. So that’s what I like BuzzIn.live.

Elana:

May I add there, Todd, I think any EdTech coach, instructional coach will say yes. Find those small wins. If you’re trying to get other educators to adopt EdTech, too, like, what’s that – what do they care about? Like, what’s one of the things that – their challenges that you could make better with one little thing? Like, say you have a big robust tool. And it does lots of things. But this one little feature helps some. If you get that one win, then you can do more. And I think from the EdTech perspective, I think we make these tools overly robust. When sometimes, do one thing, do it really well. Then potentially move on. But that simplicity – and especially when we think about teacher time, and adoption, and a lack of professional development to learn these robust tools – all of these things. Sorry to go on a soap box. But it just hit something. And I was like, “Yes. Simplicity, EdTech. Do it well. Do it unique.”

Todd:

I think you’re also –I think that’s called feature creep, is it? Where it’s just like it’s so many more, it starts to become like, “What do I click on?” [Laughs] But there’s – Kahoot has been really popular. And I think that’s because it highly engages kids, has lots of options, and it's really easy for teachers to use. I still find lots of teachers relying on stuff that’s been around for 20 years. Like Jeopardy templates, which is like a PowerPoint template. You can find free templates online, or Family Feud game templates that you can also find with PowerPoint. And so I think also one of the things to consider is what game-style – what universe does this thing fit into? And often times, if you can sort of associate it with a popular game show that’s been on TV, then it’s like, “OK I get this, because I’ve seen that happen. So I kind of know how this is supposed to work.”

Elana:

Yeah. Just don’t affiliate it with – what is that, Squid Game? The new Netflix series? That like violent gameshow? Don’t do that.

Todd:

Yeah. OK.

Elana:

You listening. But Jeopardy, yes. Some newer game shows out there that potentially could be a fit. But you’re right. Every time – sometimes I see educators doing real old-school stuff. Because it works. You know, it works good enough for them. But then I do see a lot of educators experimenting with things like Kahoot. They use Quizlet, too.

Todd:

Quizlet’s popular, yeah. And also Quizizz.

Elana:

Quizizz.

Todd:

Yeah, as well. And I think one of the things to think about is there’s other games, too. Like Mindcrack, for example. Which originally was just a game that was supposed to be fun. And for, like, creative and problem-solving. And then it was repurposed for educators. I think educators got on the bandwagon to convert that into also a learning game. So it now has that reputation that goes with it. And for those kinds of games, I think the analogy of literature is useful here. Whereas if you think about books that were originally designed to teach skills. Those were things like the Dick and Jane books. You know, they have a controlled vocabulary. But even though they have some charm now because of our association with them, when you compare those to something like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, there’s a real art and a heart behind games.

And I think sometimes that we think of these things as being efficient learning tools. Rather than – and we do things to infantilize kids. Like having super-cichy games with really dumb looking graphics that – whereas adolescents in particular, and even younger kids have a more complex kind of aesthetic. And they can tell whether it comes from someone’s heart, or whether or not it’s just designed to have them build skills. So that’s why I like the literature. Because we also learn that from didactic literature designed to teach certain things that’s just not as nutritional or as engaging as things that were designed for this real rich experience.

Elana:

Gosh, I feel like I could listen to you for a long time. I’m like, “There he goes. Saying all this wonderful stuff.” And I learned so much, and I am learning so much. And I hope the audience – especially the educators that are thinking about, “How can I use these things and this concept? Even just a baby step in the classroom?” And then on the EdTech side, “How can I apply these concepts within our own product or service? Or even just marketing as well? How do I make it truly engaging for the educator themselves or the student?”

And Todd, do you have any thoughts around that? Like, when we think about the concepts of gamification, what would you give advice for, you know, if I’m at the helm of an EdTech product, I want to make sure that it is engaging and fun. How do I get started? [Laughs]

Todd:

[Laughs]

Elana:

It sounds, like, monumental. And you do have some experience from when you were working with that EdTech company. But how do you get started with something like that? And how do you test it to truly know that your students are engaged with the product? I know that’s a harder last question.

Todd:

Yeah. Well, I think ultimately when you ask students those questions, and you’re really honest about – and you really are interested in their opinion of whatever it is, students will tell you the truth about what they feel like. I mean, a shrug means a whole lot. But I’d say for EdTech companies, starting first with what you think will give the audience – kids – the most pleasure, starting with that before the skill is important. Because that’s central to any type of a technology or a game. That it is pleasurable for students. And not just the game design, but also the aesthetics of it. That you get a sense of delight when you start to click on it, and when you get to use that. I guess the other piece of advice is that we need to prioritize transfer, which is an educational term meaning that you learn something in one situation, and the ideal is that it transfers. That learning transfers to another situation, usually an authentic situation. And so having a product that’s really committed to transfer not just simple skill building, but something where students can see that particular thing being used, that knowledge – those skills being used in the real world as well.

Elana:

So that is a point I haven’t heard too much is how do we prioritize fun? And that experience and that pleasure of learning with students. And not try to cram everything in there, too. So much so that you’re always looking at, “OK it teaches this, this, this, this, this." But it becomes a laundry list. And then your second point of transfer: OK, I know it, but can I use it? Do I know how other people use it? How does it apply to the real world? It’s so important. And just such unique advice I haven’t heard. And I love how it ties directly to gamification. Awesome. [Laughs]

Todd:

Thank you.

Elana:

Well, we’re running out of time, unfortunately. I think we could talk about this a lot. And I think we’re just getting to the tip of the iceberg. And I know you talk about this subject for hours. So I will display all of your resources in our Show Notes. It will be at Leoniconsultinggroup.com\12. So that’ll be all the links and resources Todd gives us. There’ll be a list of lots of activities, because there’s so many things you can do in the classroom. And then from the EdTech perspective, how can I incorporate these aspects – even just simple moments of, OK, this activity really is fun because of x. How can I incorporate that into the overall experience of our product?

Todd, the one thing that we do ask all of our guests – which is a really fun question, speaking of fun and incorporating that into learning – is about inspiration. And right now, in a pandemic, there’s ups and downs. We were just talking before the show, just, it really depends for me how I’m doing on the hour. There’s a lot of ups and downs in my life in particular. And I know you’ve got a lot going on, too. Like, how do we all stay inspired amidst all of this? Like, what are your tricks? Because you are juggling teaching, but you also do a lot of writing. And how do you keep inspired of it all? Because you always strike me as someone who’s always intrigued about some type of topic, and doing something fun or cool. So what are your tips? [Laughs] I’d love to know. Is it something you’re reading? Something you’re watching? Maybe it’s an exercise routine.

Todd:

Well, thank you. That’s very sweet of you to say. I do make sure that every time I walk into a classroom that I am leaning towards lots of enthusiasm, and that I get there naturally. So, you know, I’ve got like 180 songs on my pump-up jam list that I play when I ride my motorcycle into work. And so I play music before class, too, as – I call it bumper music. But I’m also really inspired by all of the breakthroughs in education right now. And I’ll just recommend one. Have you read Annie Murphy Paul’s The Extended Mind?

Elana:

Nn-hmm.

Todd:

This is the most exciting book about practical applications of neuroscience to the classroom – to just productivity – that I’ve seen in the last decade. I was so excited. Our family was so tired of me talking about it. And her thesis – and she talks about this elegantly – is that the important part of our learning about the brain is what happens outside of it. So our interactions with people, our interactions with things, our talk. And so she talks – her research is impeccable. And it’s a really entertaining book to read. So I’d recommend that highly. It’s just a fantastic read. I learned so much that I didn’t know before. And I think that’s because she’s written on the brain so much that she’s able to loop in all of this research for that thesis. So I highly recommend that.

Elana:

And to oversimplify what you said is, basically, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the brain. But it doesn’t really solidify until we have external contact or feelings or actions. Is that kind of what you said?

Todd:

That’s right. And so she talks specifically about what kind of movements help with what kind of learning. Or she’ll talk about how just having an image for students to point out together reduces cognitive load. So that movement reduces cognitive load for students. Cognitive load is – or overload – is when you have too much stuff happening in your working memory. And so it kind of prevents you from learning in an efficient way. Which happens all the time with students.

Elana:

Oh, it happens with adults, too. I talk about cognitive load when I think about user experience, designing websites. As a marketer, cognitive load is real. Especially in social media.

Todd:

Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Elana:

It’s where we’re throwing everything under the sun, and we’re competing against so many things. And all of those things are stored in our memory, especially as we’re scrolling. But how do we contribute – well, maybe take away from the noise? And create something that’s valuable and useful? That’s what I always challenge people to do with cognitive load. But don’t make it so hard. Don’t make it that we have to work for it too hard. Because you’re already fatigued, right?

Todd:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Elana:

Well awesome, Todd. Thank you so much –

Todd:

Well, thank you.

Elana:

– for spending time with us, for talking about a topic that a lot of people don’t know about. Some might be intimidated. Some might just know a couple of things. So I know that some of the resources in our Show Notes will really help expose people to different activities that they might not have thought of. Like you said, you’ve got those long lists. It’s like, “Here’s a couple that might apply.” How can people get in touch with you, Todd? If they have questions, or they just think you’re an awesome person. And they want to congratulate you.

Todd:

[Laughs]

Elana:

And say, “You were awesome on this show.”

Todd:

I’m addicted to Twitter. So that’s a good way. So, @FinleyT. F-I-N-L-E-Y-T will get my attention. So that might be the best way.

Elana:

And then you also have a newsletter that people can sign up for for those Brain Blasts as well, right? So we can put those in the Show Notes. Because I think that URL’s a bit long, right?

Todd:

Yeah.

Elana:

OK. So let’s do that. But there’s a newsletter you can get on where you can get direct emails of his Brain Blasts which are really cool. They’re free, they’re practical, and they’re just pretty, too. I love them.

Todd:

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Elana:

[Laughs] Well, Todd, thank you again so much for our chat. I learned a ton. There was a lot of resources. We’ll put them in the Show Notes. To all of our listeners, I thank you for taking the time to listen and learn alongside us. I hope that you were able to pick up at least one thing you’ll walk away with and you’ll do differently. Or even if you’re just inspired. And say, “Gosh, you know, how do I have fun in the classroom? How do I incorporate fun and learning in my product?” Like these are some things we need to pause about. Because everything moves so fast, especially now we have this weird moment of everything feels to move so slow and so fast at the same time. Bit of a time warp.

So everyone, thank you again. You can access this episode’s Show Notes again at Leoniconsultinggroup.com. That’s Consulting Group with two Gs dot com backslash 12 for detailed Show Notes. And thank you again. We will see you all next time on All Things Marketing and Education.

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode. If you liked what you heard and want to dive deeper, you can visit leoniconsultinggroup.com\podcasts for all Show Notes, links and freebies mentioned in each episode. And we always love friends. So please connect with us on Twitter at Leonigroup. If you enjoyed today’s show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We’ll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.

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