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Game Face On: Gamification for Engaging Teachers in PD

Matt Baier

Director of the Center for Innovation at Cathedral Catholic HS
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Creativity, contentment, awe and wonder, excitement, curiosity, pride, surprise, love, relief, and joy. These are the ten emotions that game players experience, according to Jane McGonigal in Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Change the World. Do teachers report feeling any of these emotions when they describe professional development? No (except for maybe relief when it's over).

Conquering Technology

My colleague Kathy Garcia and I decided to create a professional development program that inspired teachers to feel these emotions while learning and developing skills toward more effective use of technology tools. We created a professional development game, accessed through the iTunes U platform, called Conquering Technology. Our teachers learn skills like taking advantage of the iPad's accessibility features, digital workflows, creating their own iBooks, using Google Apps, and authoring their own iTunes U courses.

The critical component for success was for teachers to become self-motivated in advancing their skills. For inspiration, we incorporated badges, awards, levels, gift cards, and public recognition, as everyone is uniquely motivated. Our focus has remained on positive motivation rather than a fear of negative consequences.

Conquering Technology was created for the novice-to-advanced user. Starting with basic skills, faculty members progress through challenges with support resources available any time, anywhere. While some challenges develop general iPad skills, our focus revolved around using the iPad effectively and creatively in our 1:1 iPad educational environment. We didn't have too much difficulty creating a list of skills in which our faculty should be proficient. Our challenge was determining how faculty would demonstrate their knowledge. We called each skill-learning unit with assessment a challenge and grouped them into levels, which in turn were grouped into episodes.

Motivation and Recognition

Each level has an associated badge that is displayed within faculty profiles on the Cathedral Catholic High School website once all challenges have been completed. We wanted faculty to be publicly recognized for their hard work, so when they pass all the levels in an episode, they earn a $50 gift certificate. In addition, they receive an award that is presented to them either in front of their class or at an all-faculty meeting. Public recognition is a key component -- not only do we want to publicly acknowledge our pride, but it's also critical in motivating some people.

All faculty members are expected to complete one episode per year. As an iPad school, we find that iTunes U is the perfect tool for delivering our professional development game. iTunes U is an outstanding platform for delivering a wide variety of content to an iPad. Videos, links, apps, documents, audio -- anything from the iTunes Store, App Store, or iBook Store can be easily added. Even more importantly, any training content that we create ourselves can be easily delivered to our learners.

We use a private course with our faculty but have made the first two episodes public. The third episode is still in development and should be published before the 2015-2016 school year begins.

The first episode focuses on how teachers can use the iPad for themselves. The second episode focuses on how the teacher can use the iPad to manage his or her classes and engage students. The third episode will focus on how teachers can help students to use the iPad to create. The fourth will focus on helping students connect to the wider world (e.g. publish content, connect with other learners or professionals, etc.).

Accessible Resources

As technology trainers we saw several positive outcomes.

First of all, there was a marked increase in teacher motivation to participate in our technology training. Even reluctant learners were willing to take part, and many of them reported that they appreciated the opportunity to have all of the necessary resources available to them on their own time. We saw much more buy-in than we expected across our whole faculty. We cannot seem to publish episodes fast enough for our most motivated teachers. This is a great problem to have.

In addition, teachers worked on the game on their own time. Even though we have professional development time set aside once a month, teachers were working on their own during prep periods, after school, and even on the weekends.

Another benefit is that more teachers would actually use the resources that we created. Kathy and I have made many tutorial videos and screencasts that unfortunately were not used as widely as we hoped. Now that they are part of Conquering Technology, they are being used more frequently by teachers.

Anyone can do this. Many of you probably already are. Let's share and collaborate! Our courses are public and available for free in the iTunes U catalog. Use your iOS device to subscribe to Episode 1 and Episode 2. We're proud of our work but are always eager to see what's working in other schools as well. Please let us know about any technology-conquering PD you've used or created.

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Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Sam Hudgins's picture

This is a great concept. Finding an engaging way to train the trainers should receive more attention! I have seen so much talk about gamification in the classroom and how we should teach our students differently but not much is said about teaching the instructors themselves.

If we can present the information in an engaging way to the teachers, I think that it will trickle down into their own teaching methods and be a wide scale method to implementing gamification.

Matt Baier's picture
Matt Baier
Director of the Center for Innovation at Cathedral Catholic HS

In the article I forgot to mention that Kathy and I were both greatly influenced by the work of Douglas Kiang (http://www.kiang.net). He does amazing work with his students using gamification.

Lucas Gillispie's picture
Lucas Gillispie
Director of Academic and Digital Learning, Surry County Schools, NC

This is awesome Matt and Kathy! I just launched a game-inspired professional development initiative in my district called EPIC Academy. We're nearly four weeks in and I'm seeing very similar responses from district educators. I've posted a couple of reflections about progress, so far, on my blog - http://www.edurealms.com.

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