The Reading Game explained

Most people like games and play them from childhood throughout life. From hide and seek in a playground, board and dice games, card games, PlayStation and Xbox game consoles, video games such as World of Warcraft, Bubble Witch Saga, and Minecraft to reward and loyalty games like Frequent Flyers. Many games have the ability to immerse players into the world of the game and engage their attention into what the learning literature calls “flow”, a temporary condition that subordinates the player’s awareness to achieving the challenges provided by the game. The challenges are not too easy nor too hard that might induce boredom or discouragement, but keeps players at the growing edge of their competence, so the experience is enjoyable, pleasantly frustrating and achievable.

Educational or epistemic games such as the Reading Game use the same game design methods to tap into this ability to engage students deeply by providing intellectual challenges (or “quests” in game parlance) to pursue. The game challenges players to craft interesting questions on the course’s content that other learners can learn from and improve upon. The Reading Game’s design includes a leaderboard, progress bar and a rating system to motivate students in a similar way to online games played purely for fun. The difference is that when students play the Reading Game, the inclusion of the game elements is part of a deliberate strategy to encourage students to connect with the course’s content knowledge and also achieve desirable learning outcomes.

The key to this level of engagement is that the Reading Game promotes active learning. In going beyond the traditional ideas such as setting tasks to test comprehension, the game sets challenges for students that are completely under their control. Coming up with interesting questions around the course content requires a basic understanding of the topic, which can only come about through experiencing it at some level (reading, listening, discussing) and then crafting questions and answers to challenge others.

Competition is a powerful motivator in any endeavour. Every action in the game serves to introduce, build on, or clarify concepts from the course material as a formative learning experience. Students receive points for their efforts in asking and answering questions. Students can rate questions, which have a direct impact on the contents of review quizzes, while also activating a secondary reward called ‘stars’ for participants whose questions are deemed outstanding by their peers. Participants can progress onto the next level of the game by spending their accumulated points to ask open questions that areanswered by the teachers and any student who has also levelled-up. The quality of the questions improves progressively over the game for individual players as well as collectively in the review quizzes. The game’s algorithms guarantee that all of the questions are attempted by many players sharing their discoveries, insights and struggles with the content knowledge. The class learns together inside the game.

Figure: This is a Motion Chart of the last week of a game and shows player behaviours: killers to the middle right; achievers to the top centre; explorers in the centre; and socialisers in the bottom left quadrant. The use of the game has lifted assessment performance by 15%. This class of 69 students wrote 787 questions and answered them 20,280 times over the semester.

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The Reading Game has been successfully trialled in 12 units of study at Macquarie University during late 2013, 2014 and early 2015. Academic convenors can use the Reading Game to introduce a game-based learning activity into their Moodle teaching unit in a similar way to adding a quiz or forum. The game uses its own points system to drive player behaviours and the progress bar completion percentage can be exported/imported into the GradeBook as a participation mark. It has proven effective for increasing student engagement in their course and lifted assessment performance across the whole class of students from 7% to 22%, in all delivery modes.

Note: The game was designed to work as simply as possible with the contextualised HELP menu inside the game. Most students need little or no help to play. There are many strategies and meta-games that teachers can apply to the basic game or just use the game as is. The game can handle between 4 and 2000 players and it is robust enough to cope with aggressive playing behaviours. The game is a crowd-sourced activity and was designed to run over the whole semester, but it can be deployed for shorter time periods (less than one month) and/or with smaller cohorts (less than 30 students/players). To achieve success in this situation, players will need to write more questions per week and the teacher will need to seed the game with more anonymous questions in each week of the game. The game can be played on mobile devices.

The Reading Game won the web-based games category in the 2nd Educational Games Competition held at the 8th European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL), in conjunction with the 5th International Conference on Serious Game Development and Application (SGDA) in Berlin in October 2014. The Reading Game was also placed 2nd overall in the Competition. The program was designed and developed by Robert Parker from the Macquarie University’s Learning and Teaching Centre (LTC), with Richard Kroon, an independent games developer.

If you would like to play the Reading Game please go to: http://tinyurl.com/readingame32
For a theoretical background to the Reading Game please see: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney13/program/papers/Parker.php