Gamification in the K-12 setting

Have you ever played Solitaire or Minesweeper on your computer? Like many early PC users, I’ve played each of these games many times beat the game to hear the fulfilling sound of the shuffling cards or clear a level without detonating any mines. Interestingly, the digital versions of these games “weren’t actually designed for entertainment.” Rather, the PC version of Solitaire was bundled with Microsoft OS for “teaching mouse-fluency by stealth” and Minesweeper to “to make the idea of left and right clicking second nature for Windows users, and to foster speed and precision in mouse movement” (Hunt, 2015).

Assisting users familiarize themselves with key computing skills in a game-based environment exemplifies gamification. In its most basic form, gamification “is about applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging” (Swann, 2012). Rather than introducing personal computer novices to a point-and-click or drag-and-drop tutorial, Microsoft bundled these applications to make the learning fun.

In K-12 education, teachers have been employing aspects of gamification in their classes for years. In many cases, teachers use games like Jeopardy or Family Feud style competitions to review topics. Teachers have also utilized various gamified tools to assist with classroom management from the simple behavioral star chart to newer applications like and which provide similar rewards and consequences for positive and negative classroom behavior. These applications also include enhanced features like a parental communication component, longitudinal data tracking and the ability to transcend behavioral management to other aspects of the class such as posting student work.

However, when gamification is utilized to assist with behavior modification, ”Kevin Werbach, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics who co-wrote a book on gamification called, For the Win …  cautions that like any management tool, it can be ‘oversold or abused’ and “needs to be done thoughtfully to have a good chance of success” (Forbes, 2014). In the examples above, these classroom management tools should not be overly used and should be introduced in the same fashion as another learning tool in the classroom, providing students with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the platform and how it works.

There is tremendous potential in applying gamification to assist students achieve learning outcomes beyond the above two examples of subject review and classroom management. For instance, the U.S. Department of Education in their 2017 National Education Technology plan describes several benefits of digital games such that it “allow students to try out varied responses and roles and gauge the outcomes without fear of negative consequences” and they “increase empathy, self-awareness, emotional regulation, social awareness, cooperation, and problem solving.”

Furthermore, outside of the classroom, video games have never been more popular, and according to Trevor Nath reporting for Nasdaq (2016), the video game industry now earns more revenue that the movie or music industries. Gamers can play for hours or days at end performing menial tasks often referred to as grinding to achieve a virtual achievement that will play a role to unlock a later success. There is much to be learned from video game designers in how they design and create these immersive environments. For instance, an article published in identified that game designers incorporate the following key elements when designing successful games: “Narrative, Immediate feedback, Fun, ‘Scaffolded learning’ with challenges that increase, Mastery …, Progress indicators …, Social connection, [and] Player control” (2017).

Unfortunately, K-12 education does not have even a fraction of the research and development budget accessible to a video company. Therefore, the path to the future is to create private public partnerships through teaming up educators, learning theorists, and video game designers to help create immersive and compelling digital learning experiences.



Implications of Copyright Law in Education


As teachers, we are provided with a curriculum, scope and sequence and resources to develop unit plans, lessons and activities to help students develop mastery of a particular set of grade-level standards. Most educators augment and enhance their lessons using external resources. However, understanding what can be used, how it can used, and what can be shared in and outside the confines of the four walls of the classroom is not always a straightforward process. Understandably, “many teachers have become fearful of using materials they did not create themselves” (Robinson, Brown, & Green, p. 78). It is therefore imperative that we equip educators with clear guidance how copyright law applies to schools and include similar professional development in every preservice education program.


Copyright law was created to protect the rights of the original author of a work and its United States origin are in the in the Constitution authorizing the government “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” (U.S. Const. art. I, 8, § 8.). Two years later in May 1790, Congress enacted the first federal copyright law … and the first work was registered within two weeks (U.S. Copyright Office, n.d.). However, one could argue that the history of copyright law originated with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the late fifteenth century greatly increasing the ease and speed to mass reproduce original work (ARL, n.d.).

Most original work including work even work that has not been published is protected under copyright law (“What Does Copyright Protect?”, n.d.). There are however several exceptions including “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery” (U.S. Code title 17, 1 § 102b). Additionally, copyright protection expires after a specific amount of time enabling the work to enter the public domain. Originally, the term of expiration lasted only 28 years which was later doubled by the mid-20th century (Lee, 2015). This has since been greatly extended due to the lobbying efforts from the music and motion picture industry most famously by Disney in an effort to protect the rights of Mickey Mouse (Schlackman, 2017).

The fair use doctrine to the copyright act and the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act have both been created to provide greater flexibility for limited use of copyright material, particularly in education. Fair use guidelines permit educators to “use of portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of classroom instruction that are finite in duration” (Robinson, Brown, & Green, pp. 88). The TEACH act provides additional clarity for the use of digital copyright materials (Crews, n.d.).


The rise of high-profile copyright litigation cases (Baskin, 2015; Holpuch, 2016) and the explosion of “technology makes it easier than ever to reproduce print, audio, video, and electronic materials” (Simpson, 2001/2012). Many teachers avoid using these materials “for fear of violating copyright”, while others misunderstand fair use believing it provides “complete protection from prosecution” (Robinson, Brown, & Green, pp. 85). To help university professors, the California State University Long Branch library created an online research guide for copyright and fair use with 27 unique scenarios to help professors develop a practical understanding for how to use the fair use doctrine (“Research Guides: Copyright…”, n.d.). School districts, educational stakeholder organizations, and the U.S. Copyright Office should follow suite and develop clear and simple guidance with examples so educators can be informed and use without fear the myriad of resources available today.


To Filter Or Not To Filter

“As useful as it undeniably is, the web is also riddled with inappropriate and undesirable content” (Robinson, Brown, & Green, 2010). To manage access to this content, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000 that “specifically requires schools and libraries to block or filter Internet access to pictures and material that are ‘obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors’ on computers that are used by students under 17 years of age” (Anderson, 2016). Most schools followed suit by providing filtered access to the Internet to meet this requirement.

However, the biggest weakness of this legislation is the term obscene and what might be harmful to a minor is entirely subjective. For example, the 1964 Caldecott award-winning children’s story Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendack “was banned because adults found it problematic that Max was punished by being sent to bed without dinner, and … bristled at the book’s supernatural themes” (“17 of America’s most surprising banned books”, 2017). Similarly, popular Dr. Seuss books including The Lorax was “banned in California in 1989 because it portrayed loggers as environmentally unfriendly” (Bonazzo, 2017) and even today the new movie Goodbye Christopher Robin featuring Winnie the Pooh has been blocked in China, although “no reason given” (Meixler, 2018). Greater clarity with clear examples and limitations should be included in a revised legislation to limit individual discretion for what students under the age of 17 should be able to access.

An additional aspect of this legislation frequently misunderstood is that “websites don’t have to be blocked for teachers” (Gonzalez, 2011), or for that matter anyone above the age of 16. While I am not advocating to remove the filter entirely, adults and educators should have restrictions limited to only the most obscene content in what they can access over the school district’s internet.

Finally, another aspect of this legislation frequently ignored is that it only applies to schools that receive federal funding. Schools that do not receive federal funds are not required to follow this requirement and can opt for an extremely progressive filtering policy by not having one at all. While I believe younger grade students should have access to a curated internet since they may lack the skills and knowledge to determine site validity and inappropriate content, most student in the upper grades already have access to an unfiltered internet at home or on their phones. Rather than filtering upper grade students, school district should enact responsible use policies that instruct students what is and is not permissible as well as the consequences, using infractions as teachable moments. Just like the child who engorges himself on candy or food when restricted at home, this will better prepare them with the digital citizenship skills later in life rather than withholding access entirely.


17 of America’s most surprising banned books. (2017, September 22). Retrieved August 6, 2018.

Anderson, M. D. (2016, April 26). The Problem With Filtering Kids’ Internet Access at School. Retrieved August 6, 2018.

Bonazzo, J. (2017, September 29). Melania Trump’s Fight Over Dr. Seuss Shows Why We Need Banned Books Week. Retrieved August 6, 2018.

Gonzalez, L. (2011, September 20). Dispelling Myths About Blocked Websites in Schools. Retrieved August 6, 2018.

Meixler, E. (2018, August 6). China Blocks New Winnie-the-Pooh Film ‘Christopher Robin’. Retrieved August 6, 2018.

Robinson, L., Brown, A., & Green, T. D. (2010). Chapter 2: Inappropriate Content. In Robinson, L., Brown, A., & Green, T. D. Security vs. access: Balancing safety and productivity in the digital school. Washington, D.C.: Wiley-ISTE.