Today’s youth, for better or worse, expect instant gratification from activities they undertake. Many teachers are challenged by the need to be both good educators and entertainers in order to have real impact in the classroom. Because video games are a very familiar medium among youth today, there has been a natural attempt to use games and game properties in the classroom. This is done primarily in two ways.
The first is through games whose direct purpose is teaching or improving a skill. Games designed for Jewish education already exist. Jewish Interactive is a South Africa based game studio that “uses educational technology to create accessible, affordable and engaging Jewish education for any child, anywhere.” They claim to have reached over 83,000 children.28 Educational games, like those made by Jewish Interactive, should be invested in and utilized by the Jewish world.
The second way that games have been used as educational aids is through adopting the fundamental aspects and techniques of games to help motivate and engage students in learning new concepts or accomplish specific tasks. This is known as gamification, turning something into a game by using game like properties such as goals, rewards, and ascending levels.
The popular, free website Khan Academy (khanacademy.com) is one of the best examples of effective gamification. It uses instructional videos and interactive self-paced exercises to teach various subjects. Khan’s math section, for example, uses a very elaborate game-based approach. The site breaks down the world of mathematics, as taught from first grade through university level, into over 1,000 specific skills. Each skill reflects a single concept, from counting and measuring lines, all the way through the complex operations of differential and integral calculus.
Khan Academy screenshot
For each skill there is a least one 5-10 minute video lecture between followed by an interactive test. In order to successfully pass the test, five questions in a row must be answered correctly. To demonstrate that one has mastered a skill, s/he must pass three additional segments of three questions each. These questions do not vary in levels of difficulty, but each segment can only be passed after 16 hours have elapsed between segments. This helps commit skills to memory and also provides an incentive to return to the website the following day.
The website has an elaborate system of rewards: Points are rewarded for watching videos and answering questions correctly, as well as for speed and winning streaks. Like scouting, the site offers a variety of patches and badges rewarded for achieving “mastery” in various topics.
Using Khan Academy’s gamification model, Jewish educational institutions could improve Jewish literacy across all ages by enhancing the learning process. For this reason, Jewish educational institutions should invest in creating and building gamified platforms.
Besides using gamification for educational purposes, it can also be used to help motivate and persuade individuals to perform specific tasks. A good example in Israel was “IDF Ranks,” a system deployed by the Israel Defense Forces in 2012 and active during Operation Pillar of Defense in November of 2012. According to the IDF Blog:
IDF Ranks is an interactive game, directly implemented into all of the IDF’s social platforms allowing YOU to be a virtual part of the IDF. Every action you take – reading, commenting, liking, sharing or even just visiting – will earn you points and help you climb the ladder of IDF Ranks. Specific actions will win you beautiful badges, and one day you might even become the Chief of Staff to IDF Ranks.29
In this case, the goal of the gamification was to help disseminate information released by the spokesperson’s unit. Turning the process of dissemination into a game assumingly provided individuals with added incentive, gratification, and a sense of belonging.
IDF Ranks Promotional Page