By Sarah Vander Schaaff

There are some terms that get tossed into the lexicon of education and parenting that seem to arrive fully formed, without much explanation for those of us a few years behind their use. One minute we’re speaking to our child’s teacher about the pincer grip and the next “gamification.”

“Wait,” we might say, “I missed the memo on that one.”

So, in keeping with our theme for this summer, I asked some basic questions to someone who might be able to bring me up to speed. Lisi Gilpin has a Master’s in Educational Technology and runs the website, Brain Based Learning. She is also part of the Mindprint Team, reviewing educational apps.

And thankfully, she did not laugh at me when I emailed last week and confessed I had no idea what “gaming” really meant.

Questions for Lisi Gilpin:

For those of us who don’t know much about this topic, can you give us the run down on the terms: Game-based learning, Gamification and Gaming?

These are all related ideas, but definitely distinct.

Game-based learning refers to the idea of using games to teach concepts or skills. It is increasingly popular to use digital games for teaching, but any game – board games, team games, Jeopardy-like quizzes, etc.- can be used for game based learning.

Some of the hallmarks of using games to teach include placing a student into some context where they have to apply relevant information–this can be inside a digital game, or live action role-playing or simulation– and having the student locate and identify the information they’ll need to win the game. So, it’s much more student centered than traditional instruction. Of course, other teaching methods fall into this category of being student-centered, such as problem based learning; GBL is just one example.

Gamification refers to using game elements, such as badges, points, and levels, in a non-game context. So, a student might earn points when they complete assignments, and then “level up” to a higher level when they reach a certain critical number of points–this might symbolize being ready to move on to a new topic. For the most part, gamification is more of a motivational technique than a style of instruction, and can even be combined with game-based learning in the same classroom. It is also often used in situations that have nothing to do with instruction, such as motivating workers in a corporate environment.

Gaming is a more general term that refers to playing games on a regular basis. For example, you might say, “My hobbies are baseball and gaming, I play little league once a week and spend 5 hours a week in World Of Warcraft.” A classroom that incorporates “gaming” is probably going to have students playing educational games regularly.

What should parents know about these topics? For example, what should a parent expect when seeing them used in the classroom and what should a parent do to encourage or moderate their use at home?

For me, the bottom line is that not all games are created equal, and any tool can be useful when used appropriately. Just like all parents encourage their children to read, but feel that some books are more appropriate than others, parents can and should take the same approach to educational games. Every teacher might take a different approach with game based learning… is helpful for parents to familiarize themselves with how games are being used in their children’s classrooms and support that anyway they can at home.

How did you become interested in this field? Do you mind sharing with readers a bit about yourself and your work?

I’ve always loved the experiential nature of games and how they can encourage players to experience things from a completely different perspective. Because games are interactive, they provide an experience that is very different from the linear experience of books. I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid because I loved that I could read a book several times and have a different experience each time!

My dream is to develop educational games that encourage children to enjoy, (yes, you heard me – enjoy!) learning science and math, and also to make these topics more accessible to students with learning disabilities who might otherwise be left behind.

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