Gamifying Geographic Knowledge

I won’t lie — my geographic knowledge of New York City landmarks isn’t great. Having spent a total of four days in Manhattan so far in my life, I didn’t expect a gold star on The New York Times’ recent interactive — Who Needs a GPS? A New York Geography Quiz.

(and yes, I think this might be one of the only maps where I got the coveted green dot… though by the looks of it I was still a few blocks away)


But, I played anyway.

I think the reasons that I bothered to play a game I knew I wouldn’t win can teach us a few things about gamifying and testing in an education environment.

Here’s how they won me over:

1. Lovely graphics – I’m a sucker for a pretty map.

2. Immediate response – When I clicked to place my marker, I got an alert straight away to tell me how well (or, more likely, how poorly) I had done.

3. Friendly competition – I didn’t just get a ‘you win’ or  ‘you fail’, though. I was told what percentage of other readers I had done better than. With this information at hand, I really wanted to do better than the other readers! This is a motivating factor, for sure, and probably the main reason why I finished the game.

4. But I almost got it… – Along with this result message, I also got to see where other readers had clicked (marked by the ghost circles all over the map). Such a nice touch, visually, but it also succeeded in making me feel a little bit less silly when I could see that other users had also picked spots that were miles away.

5. It felt like a game – and I liked it!

So, how can we use this in the classroom?

Well, educational media could use a boost in the user experience department, that’s for sure, and it’s one of the guiding points behind the collection I’ve built on this site. Keep coming back here for your learning assets and you’ll be well on the way!

But seriously… one of the big benefits of interactive learning content is that it can do immediate feedback. For the student to know where they stand right now rather than waiting to get an exam returned, weeks after they’ve forgotten everything on it, can help them revise the right material when they really need to. It can also be a much-needed ego boost, and a means for teachers to informally evaluate progress.

Competition is a big one, too. It can cause social tension between students if they are competing directly with a name and a face at the other side of the classroom, though. By anonymising the competition using an interactive, it becomes more of a motivation to succeed than the cause of any social strife.

It can be frustrating for students when they consistently do poorly on a particular topic, but by learning that they were almost right and where they went wrong, they can make adjustments and quickly improve. It’s also comforting to know that other students struggle with the same things.

Bringing gamification to the classroom, by introducing things like badges on students’ LMS profiles (addressing the students’ individual achievements), leaderboards (to get that friendly competition going, just a little bit), and immediate feedback or adaptive technologies can make a big difference for students — and let’s not forget beautifully designed assets that will appeal to the 65% of your students who are visual learners!

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