How to gamify K-12 professional development

Following the trend of gamifying instruction, districts are now using training programs that allow users to score points, move up levels and earn other digital rewards

Districts looking to create more personalized and engaging professional development are turning to gamification. Scoring points, moving up levels, competing, earning rewards and other elements now fuel new training models.

Teachers have gamified instruction in recent years, and PD increasingly incorporates creative, self-directed approaches that appeal particularly to Gen Xers and millennials, says Jon Cassie, educator and author of Level Up Your Classroom: The Quest to Gamify Your Lessons and Engage Your Students.

“One of the great things about games is they encourage you to think about solutions to problems that are uniquely your own,” Cassie says. “One of the great values games bring to nongame settings is to help provide a structure for understanding what it means to progress from inexperienced to novice to intermediate to expert.”

Personalizing programs

More captivating PD may keep teachers in the profession at a time of national shortages. A 2018 Gallup Poll found that 60 percent of former teachers left the job because of issues with career advancement or development.

More districts also use virtual methods of PD, such as webinars or online coaching, to offer teachers more flexibility and personalization, says Eric Carbaugh, associate professor in the Department of Middle, Secondary and Mathematics Education at James Madison University in Virginia.

While badging and microcredentialing have become more common, full gamification remains rare.

“To some degree, the elements of gamification are there in the benefits you see with something like real-time feedback and modeling, in terms of working toward mastery and individual-paced growth,” Carbaugh says. For example, virtual reality games that simulate school environments let teachers practice classroom management skills.

Teachers often adopt practices developed in PD, but skills learned from games may be harder to implement because they are less direct, Cassie says.

How to gamify training

There are many ways to gamify PD, Cassie says. For example, the Mysterion board game can help teachers improve their team communication skills, while The Quiet Year may boost community-building ability.

While few formal resources for gamifying PD exist outside of vendor-based products, there is lots of room for educators to experiment as the field of instructional gamification advances, he adds.

“Have a vision in place so it’s not just PD for the sake of PD,” Carbaugh says. “You have to be working toward a goal. Start with a goal, and then put the pieces in place, whether it’s an in-person, online or gamified approach.”


Launching gamified PD

To gamify professional development, educator and author Jon Cassie suggests:

– Find a gaming-literate consultant or educator to kick off and tailor efforts over time.

– Start small, and set small goals.

– Choose topics that are well-suited to gamification, such as community building or social-emotional learning.

– Pilot simple games, then increase the complexity.

– Build a reward system, such as offering badges or microcredentials for completing a task; create a leaderboard to foster healthy competition.

– Identify expected outcomes and work backward to determine which game is appropriate.

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