Paper or game: The game-oriented goals of college students
College students are the ones who need to read all their assigned reading and write their papers, present presentations, and respond to questions. The more valuable they are at working toward their degrees, the more likely they are to be engaged, and the more likely they are to do well in school.
This is of course a lot easier said than done for most college students, who, despite working very hard and planning ahead, aren’t doing well at all. Unfortunately, any number of reasons can cause such students to fail. Among the big ones are excessive pressure from parents and other people at home (not to mention school administrators), a miserable family environment, and no time for themselves (from which they cannot be taught to make up time once they get to school). Students that are particularly effective at spending time on themselves in the college library are good at learning to take their studies seriously, instead of throwing them all overboard at once in search of something better.
All that aside, the fact remains that kids need to learn how to read and write in order to be successful in their studies. By this, I don’t necessarily mean “reading a lot,” but rather “reading the length of TIME that is required for the material to be studied and to be memorized.” If an assignment is 10 minutes long, it should take no more than 3 minutes to read it if you are prepared for it. No reading should ever take more than 20 minutes if you are prepared. This is a reasonable goal. If you can’t get to the library as often as you need to, just turn it off and do the work at home.
Consequently, for college students, reading and writing are the keys to learning to love school. Learning to love school includes not only learning to read and write well, but being able to take advantage of the value to learning that reading and writing serve. The question remains as to whether or not the game-oriented aspirations of many college students can motivate them to pay attention to such matters. Unfortunately, a game or badge recognition award tends to result in greater distraction, even in social studies classes. Indeed, “game-based” college activities can be a way to distract students from reading or writing, especially if the mode of learning is involving “game” elements.
Consider fraternity/sorority activities, for example. As these are social events meant to increase the amount of pressure students face to attend college (and therefore their grades), they are also meant to increase student involvement, and in turn student engagement in the college. We all know how successful all this can be, when students are engaged in the college experience for it is here, through social activity, that they learn to read and write as well as to read and write well in person.
Unfortunately, many college students find they have few other opportunities to play games or badges on other campuses. During the social transition from high school to college, professors assign reading to some extent. They assign grades in books that are popular in the genre. These grades are the source of student pressure, of course, but they can also provide valuable practice with certain literary genres, especially if the general literary genre in question is relatively difficult or relatively mysterious. However, on many college campuses, there is a dearth of low-pressure opportunities for learning to read, especially if those assignments are essay-type in nature. If students choose to add games and badges to their classrooms, they should take enough time to memorize the shortest possible material they’re required to read. And if enough time is left over for writing then so be it.
In the end, if we let students make their own decision about whether or not to take these outside activities as a reward for taking the time to read or write their papers, college students won’t be crazy for focusing on their studies in the long run. If they get hooked on this gaming-like approach to learning, it will take off. In the long run, if more college students choose to play games or badge games, those students should see learning as not a task, but a bonus or game.