Not Just Playing Games: Game Inspired Dialectic Journal Project

UPDATE: The embedded Dialectical Journal Guideline Doc is not working. Download a copy of the Dialectical Journal Guideline Here.


Gamification is often be caricatured as just playing games. Frankly, some of the signals we send in the gamification community can lead to the confusion. Much of the buzz-i-ness of the term comes from leaders in the edu-world pushing Kahoot, Quizlet Live, GimKit or some PBL edtech. Throw in the new eSports push, MinecraftEDU Conventions, a tendency to talk too much about Badges and Leaderboards and it’s easy to see why outsiders don’t appreciate deeper gamification concepts like the “RAMPS” (Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose). What I love about gamification is that it is an effort to understand both internal and external motivation of players and thinking about what makes something fun and engaging. This deeper thinking about game design is what inspires me in the classroom and why I try to break out game mechanics and apply them to class situations rather than just turn everything into a game. “Easy Fun” might make the students happy for a few minutes but more meaningful engagement can keep them critically and creatively thinking for hours. As I crafted my current semester long project I was conscious of two important internal motivators – Relatedness and Autonomy.

Dialectical Journaling is an idea that I picked up from my AVID school training (for more check out the AVID website). The basic concept is that students have a personal dialogue with an assigned text. The reader examines the text and then selects a number of quotes that they feel are important, interesting, or in some way speaks to them. For each selected quote the reader then makes a personal connection. In a History classroom students can examine both primary and secondary sources. Here is the Dialectical Journaling Guide that I gave to the students.

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I have built this journaling activity into a semester long project. Every week throughout the semester students will select a primary source from a list of of sources I have created that will tie into that week’s content. Some of these are sources I have curated but for simplicity I am also using the Americanyawp.com Reader. Once they have selected a primary source the students complete a basic ‘sourcing’ activity by identifying the Author, Context, Audience, and Purpose then read the entire source, identify the 3 important quotes, and make their personal connections. To simplify this I made a Google Doc template which students then upload to a project Google Site. Over a full semester each student will interact with 14-15 primary sources of their choice and will be expected to reflect on their learning and identify how the society has changed overtime. Using this information each student will participate in various collaborative activities like Socratic Seminars and Jigsaws.

Game Mechanic Connection – AUTONOMY/CHOICE

Autonomy is an incredibly important factor in game design. Players need to feel that they are making choices that will have a meaningful impact on their game play. Without this sense of ‘choice’ players are not playing a game but are watching a slightly interactive movie. The AVID model does allow some choice by allowing the reader of the text pick whatever quotes they find meaningful. I wanted to add more autonomy by allowing the students to pick a source that they were personally interested in rather than a single required text. Here is an example of the sources for the WWI Week:

I know this is sounds like a made up story but I swear multiple students went “oh!” when they looked at this list. Almost all of them were looking at different sources when they gasped. Many were shocked when they read the sources and all had a sense of making a meaningful choice in their educational journey. One girl was thrilled to read a source written by WEB DuBois about soldiers in WWI and another could believe she was going to read Mark Twain’s persoal letters in a History class.

Game Mechanic – RELATEDNESS / COLLABORATION

On its own,the dialectical format allows for a great deal of autonomy which fosters internal motivation. I wanted to add another layer of motivation though and built in several pieces of collaboration which is part of the Relatedness factor and important to ‘social fun’.

In my online classes the journal entries are used as a weekly discussion forum post. Students select their unique source, their important quotes, and make their personal connections them share them with their classmates. Their fellow learners the read and reflect on the initial post. This way every student is seeing either A) new sources related to the overall theme or B) a new point of view on the source they have already read. It also transform the discussion forums from a pretty forced affair based on limoted content readings to a more interesting and personal seminar.

In the in person classes each week features new ways for students to share the information they learned in the Dialectical analysis for that week. In some weeks we will have a Socratic Seminar, others will have a gallery walk style event, and in more limited weeks simple think-pair-share discussions. The point will be to take the information they learned and share with the group. This will allow them to see new perspectives and hear about new sources. The 15 sources they read over the semester can be multiplied by 10 or 20 times! Even more valuable is that the social element will motivate many students to engage with the material so they can participate in the conversation.

Final Thoughts

Too often gamification seems too concerned with making everything,into a literal classroom game. There is a time and place for this and can be done in amazing and creative ways. To those outside of the community this might not reveal some of the more powerful concepts in the theory. Applying game concepts and mechanics to otherwise non-game situations can lead to powerful engagement. This can also sometimes be caracturized by the points, badges, leaderboards external motivators but there are meaningful game elements that can encourage internal motivations. Adding layers from the RAMP playbook can foster this engagement. We cannot force a student to be internally motivated but a well designed lesson can provide opportunities to do so.

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