Game on at Lambton College

Screen shot from a draft game under development for Lambton College. The final version could see students work their way along the path, stopping and participating in learning activities at each large dot. Image courtesy Lambton College

Pulling out your iPad to play games in class is usually a recipe for scholastic trouble.

Except at Lambton College, where instructors plan to use games to engage bored students and improve academic success.

So what’s up with that?

Lambton is developing a pilot program to test gaming in six courses this September, making it one of the first colleges in North America to gamify its curriculum.

“We’re starting off slow. This is a brand new thing for our colleges and we’re pretty proud of our innovation,” said Rick Overeem, Associate Dean of the Learning Innovation Centre.

Lambton has been pushing the use of mobile technology – preferably iPads – by faculty and students at the Sarnia campus. It came up with the gaming concept after noticing students in the halls playing on their devices.

“I said, ‘There’s got to be a creative way we can get into their world,” Overeem said.

Students in first-year math, chemistry, electric circuits and other courses won’t be hunkering down with Heroes of Warcraft or The Walking Dead this fall – at least not in the classroom. But they will get game apps from tech company Desire2Learn developed specifically for the curriculum.

Overeem said the challenge has long been convincing students the material taught is relevant to their futures. The college’s famed fire science program is a good example, he said.

“Typically, it’s males in that class and they’re not getting why they have to take math. They’re not grasping the relevance,” he said.

“We thought, they love gaming. Why don’t we add components to the curriculum that are game-based, that will engage them, that will interest them?

“And if we put them up against each other and it gets a bit competitive –  they get points or badges, or whatever – that makes it more interesting.”

But isn’t playing games another way of dumbing-down post-secondary education?

Overeem said learning should be fun.  And gamification is active learning that lets a student try a scenario multiple times, until they feel satisfied with the outcome, he said.

“If at first they don’t get the concept in the game, and an avatar comes and swallows them up, the second time they do it they’ll understand a bit more, and the third time they’ll probably get it right.”

– George Mathewson