Rewards and over-justification



This is about motivation, but I want to look specifically here at the over justification hypothesis. Lots of work around this, but a nice short read on it here.
The link is a short explanation of work by Lepper and Greene from 1975. What it tells us is that for children who already enjoy a specific activity an expected reward is actually a negative on their motivation. Further than that, it also shows that there is no statistically significant difference between a surprise reward and none at all.

One of the little projects I’m working on at the moment is related to how we could use Warcraft to teach particular skills. The hypothesis above causes some concerns here, and an idea that can be more generally applied to using other games in education.

In our early years we learn through play, and it is only once we arrive at school that learning appears to turn into work. Something we have to do in order to achieve a specific goal rather than purely for the sake of learning itself.

In a general sense we see this in secondary with the games branded up as ‘educational’. To make a sweeping generalisation about those we usually see that they aren’t hugely popular with students, just another task set in the classroom. Yes, they are often more popular than achieving the same outcome using pen and paper but I wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to suggest this is more about the novelty of the activity rather than the specific game mechanics at play.

The challenge for me with Warcraft, and to educators using other games for an educational purpose is to avoid this over justification. I have a group of students who already enjoy MMORPGs, they spend hours of their own time already doing it. If it becomes a school task with associated reward for completing certain things is it too much?

Like the students who enjoyed drawing in the example- once it becomes a task they must complete in order to achieve X certificate we are in danger of damaging the intrinsic motivation (and any learning that was going along with it) they had to participate in the activity to start with.

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Bloom’s guide to game walkthroughs



A couple of posts ago I wrote about game walk-throughs after a conversation with a fellow MSc-er suggested that they thought they constituted cheating. I’m quite a fan of them and it got me thinking about the true value of these documents in a learning context.

So, Bloom. He and his committee mates wrote themselves a taxonomy. This is the revised 2001 version which most of us are familiar with, it is worth going back and looking at the original too. As always wikipedia a good start point.

And, this is the WOWwiki. It’s a community created guide to the game spanning over 90,000 pages, after Wikipedia it’s the 2nd largest community authored document on the Internet. There are loads of examples of game walkthroughs out there, but the really interesting ones are those that involve this level of collaboration.

Here are some ideas about how each of the skill levels in the diagram are demonstrated by the wiki users:

Knowledge: Do I need to explain this one? I’ve been to the wiki and read up on a particular quest, remembered what I needed to do, job done.

Understand: At a basic level of ability in the game I can read the wiki to fill in any blanks, and have successfully broken down complex tasks into simple individual stages I can share with others.

Apply: I can take something I read in one quest, and see where a particular skill would work in another. This is also where the benefits of writing the walkthrough rather than just reading it start to come in. I take something I discovered in the game, write it down to share for others.

Analyse: Writing the walkthrough forces this. Look back at how you got through a particular stage, was it similar to something else you have done? Are there other possible outcomes? As an individual player you may do some of this in passing naturally, but the act of authorship brings it to the foreground.

Evaluate: This is the real high order part of the walkthrough. If you look in any detail at a quest page in the WOWWiki it’s really obvious. This page is discussing a single task in a huge game, but it looks at the best method to complete with each particular race, strategies for approaching it in a group, and places it in context with other things Warcraft related both past and present.

Create: Beyond the obvious here, how the users structure and link throughout the wiki is an interesting aspect of the creation process.

So, what is interesting here is that while we can apply these skills to gameplay itself (I probably should have written a post on that too..), what the walkthrough achieves is to extend these. The cognitive abilities involved in this process are certainly something that justify it more attention from educators than simply labeling it as cheating.

Image source- Signpost by JMC Photos