Gamification and school professional community

Many of you at this time of year will be pondering how to motivate your teachers to use technology wisely. Many of you will be thinking about  BYOD or one-to-one 1:2:1 technology initiatives. Many of you will also be thinking about how to further develop a professional community within your school. This story will touch on all of those issues and you will see how a well crafted gamification of professional learning can be used to support school initiatives, quality learning and professional community.

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While at the SITE conference in New Orleans I met a young educator working and researching in iPads and special education. Shannan Retter had heard that I was interested in gamification of teacher professional learning and put forward her school’s Mission Possible as highly successful program. I have come to find that Bettendorf High School Teach PD program ticks all the boxes as an exemplary gamification program used to support school initiatives and build professional community.

To get the good oil first hand you can visit the following pages:

After researching the links about the program, I contacted Chris Like @christopherlike, the programs designer, for a conversation over Skype. Not only were we able to meet but we were joined by Shannan Retter @ShannanRetter, LeAnne Wagner @BHS_TL librarian and development partner to Chris and Matt Degner @mwdegner the school’s Associate Principal. This generosity speaks volumes to the professional ethos of this school and the pride that these educators all have in their accomplishments. The meeting was to unfold the story of Mission Possible’s development and how this school is sharing their one year of implementation experience with the world. I want to share what I saw as the highlights of that story with you.

Early 2012 the school was moving to be a 1:1 iPad school and this new kind of PD devised by Chris Like was taken to the principal as a way to motivate teachers and give them a trajectory for their own learning. Chris describes this step of taking his design to the principal as a nervous day. But he had no need to be nervous because Matt could very quickly see that the vision for this was both exciting and practical.

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There are 10 levels in the program and the levels and missions are offered with fun and humour. At the lower levels teachers use rudimentary communication tools like email. On their way to level 4 teachers earn their iPad and begin to set it up, examine apps and become expert at using various mobile and social programs. At higher levels the teachers get to give back to the school, to the game and to their profession. They are encouraged to add resources to learning missions, devise new missions, present at professional learning events or publish school based research. Shannan was earning her level 10 points by presenting at the SITE conference, not only promoting the fine teaching and research work she is doing, but also the collaborative culture of the school by giving back to the teaching profession. Chris himself has had an article on this gamified model accepted by Tech & Learning, a periodical published in the US. He feels that his modeling is very important to teacher buy into the model and their own development.

Why is this program so successful?

Firstly it was devised by teachers for teachers with the school leadership in full support. It is voluntary and non-judgemental/evaluative. Quality mentor-supported self-directed learning is on offer and teachers recognise that and jump into it with gusto!

There is a lot of choice in the trajectory for teachers for instance level 4 has 40 missions and you need only 10 to complete the level. And if in level 5 you are not really that  into social media then you can bulk up your points by doing more missions in the previous level.

The program has awards, points and titles that you can earn throughout. There are leaderboards and people compete not just against each other but in teams and domains work they together to support each other. Rewards vary across the system. One no cost item is the fun title earned if you complete a chain of quests in one theme area. This makes you a resident expert in the area which is signified on the leaderboard with your special title such as Tweenius, Blazing Blogger, or Edmodo Dragon. Teachers are now seen going to their peers, for assistance rather than the traditional tech experts, as they begin to see where each other’s expertise lies. This really gets at the heart of community building in any environment, being able to move into the centre and establish your identity as more than a novice. Yes, there are extrinsic rewards (points, titles, even small fun prizes) but more importantly there is the intrinsic reward of school betterment,  identity building, improved student learning and the professional dialog around that surrounds all that.

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This is not just about having fun and being collegial. Level completion does require teachers to relate the technology and their learning in that level to the SMART goals for teaching. This relationship is made explicit by the teachers themselves and allows them to build their own vision for using technology, a vision for which they have some personal conviction.

This school’s gamified technology PD is one year into its implementation. The team has gathered a lot of data about the effectiveness of the program and is planning to publish that very soon. This is so far ahead of the curve for most school or education systems. I was blown away by the vision and trust shown in teachers to get this happening and I hope you are too.

P.S. Chris says if you have any questions or would like to contact him, he is more than willing to help anyone wanting to get their own version of the PD model developed.  You can contact Chris via email at clike@bettendorf.k12.ia.us

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