Classrealm is an idea for a learning management system (LMS) unlike any I have seen. It’s a struggling idea (failed its kickstart fundraiser), but worth thinking about.  The LMS itself will be nothing new. But layered over the LMS nuts and bolts will be a Tolkienesque fantasy world. Students have a hero persona that advances a la video game style as the student completes assignments. The fantasy component is meant to motivate students to learn the standard state/local curriculum. Gamification, as Classrealm’s creator suggests, is a way to motivate students to complete otherwise unappealing tasks.

My take is that Classrealm is more of a different way of grading than a different way of learning. Instead of a grade point average, you have a hero persona with health a la a video game. Assignments are linked to quests and so on. My first impression is that Classrealm will only function as a crutch to help a curriculum that students do not find interesting. Nevertheless, it may very well find success in reaching students who would otherwise fall behind their classmates.

I see great potential in using games for learning and development in every part of society, but they have to be designed from the ground up. I think that the real sea change in using games to teach will occur when professional game designers with a serious budget (think Sony or Nintendo) are presented with the task of creating games to teach the content.

Sept 30 update: I started a Gamification course created by Keven Werbach at UPenn delivered through Coursera. Apparently, the field is moving more quickly than I thought. I found two up and running gamification services: Bunchball and Chore Wars, but there are more out there. Very similar to ClassRealm, both reward users for tasks completed outside the game. Chorewars is free/cheap and aimed at home users or cubicle workers who are tired of cleaning up others’ break room messes while Bunchball looks like a more serious business venture for more serious subscription rates. Personally, I would like to see some webisodes of a show about heavy users of Chore Wars in the same vein of humor as The Guild or The Office.


Using Serious Games to Teach Math

I had a revelation this morning.  This  occurred while I was copy editing a dry math lesson on graphing systems of inequalities.  The important facts I had in mind at the time of this revelation were:

1) the line or area indicated by an inequality can be graphed using Cartesian coordinates

2) games involve learning and applying of rules

3) people like games

My revelation is as follows: What if the game Battleship, which uses a coordinate grid, was slightly modified to use Cartesian coordinates? What if the learner used equations and inequalities to find and sink the enemy battleships? Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t the first person to think of this, as I discovered via Google search. Fortunately for the world, the ball is already rolling on this issue. A maths tutor in UK did a basic version of my idea here: Battleship. In this game, the player enters Cartesian coordinates to bomb enemy ships. This simple program demonstrates how a math skill can be used inside a game.

Gaming theory says that player motivation stems from a desire to do well in the game. Why can’t a player also be a learner? The game provides the player/learner with motivation to learn the rules of the game, in this case, the rules of the Cartesian coordinate system. I found another game that uses the application of linear algebra as well as the rules of Cartesian coordinates, found here: Asteroid Defense. In this game, the player must use equations to guide missiles to destroy an asteroid headed towards Earth.

If we want to make kids in the U.S. interested in math, we need more and better serious games. Personally, I would prefer they did not all involve blowing things up, but I’ll take what I can get in this regard. Sony, Microsoft-start producing games on your amazing, powerful gaming platforms that teach the skills students needs to be successful academically. Get crackin’!