One of our regional State High Schools is introducing a new way of teaching their students, using a tool that is becoming increasingly popular around the world.  It is called Classcraft and is managed by an on-line company by that name:  Their stated objective is that “Classcraft helps teachers manage, motivate and engage their students by transforming their classroom into a role-playing game.”

The thinking behind this latest phenomenon is some statistical data.  In the USA 58% of Americans play video games (45% are women) and 58% of parents play video games with their children in order to socialise with them.  In other words, for many people in our western society video games are part of the cultural landscape.  While Classcraft is not a video game it is certainly inspired by them.  In some ways it is understandable that teachers might want to “gamify” education in order to make it more attractive to the students.

The publicity blurb that was handed out to the parents of the school in question, points out that the content of the curriculum has not changed.  “What changes is how they connect with what they’re studying.”  The idea is that students study while they are role-playing.  Students choose to be a character from one of three categories: Warrior, Mage or Healer.  Gold Pieces and Action Points are awarded to enable students to “learn special powers and level up”.  However there is a strong emphasis on teamwork as students work together in groups of five or six.  Each person benefits from how well others in the team are doing, thus supposedly encouraging an atmosphere of cooperation and care in the classroom.

I did a little research to see how well this program is working.  Some teachers who used it found that it transformed their classroom.  But the cracks were showing too.  One teacher commented that by the end of the first term of working with the program students were showing all the signs of “gamer burnout” – the phenomenon that endless-hours of playing the same video game leads to boredom with the game.  This is why most video games are constantly making changes and adding new challenges to keep up the interest of the players.

The parent who gave me the publicity blurb from their high school expressed concern about the occult nature of so much of video gaming.  For Christians there is something dark and sinister in so much of the “dungeons and dragons” types of video games.  The secret powers that one obtains by success are often more in line with the style of the Enemy than with the Fruit of the Spirit.  For Christian parents at the high school adopting this program that is certainly a valid concern.  When I read of students daily participating in a spin of the “Wheel of Destiny” as part of the program then I share the concern of Christian parents at the school.

However there is another issue that I see as equally important – if not more so.  Adopting Classcraft is really adopting a behaviouristic “carrot on a stick” approach to education.  It really doesn’t change the heart of students.  Classcraft is powerless to increase the intrinsic desire for students to learn.  Nor does it really change a student’s heart to want to abide by God’s law: to love our neighbour as ourselves.  In other words, the only reason for learning and for seeking the good of other students is the temporary rewards earned in a game – and these need to be constantly upped in order to maintain the momentum.

In many schools in our nation there is a push to remove Special Religious Instruction (SRI) from our schools.  In Victoria they have just stopped allowing SRI to take place during school hours.  SRI may still be held during lunch breaks or after school but no longer as part of the curriculum.  I find it interesting that at the same time schools are taking on board programs such as Classcraft.

When you remove God and the Bible from a school you remove the power to radically change lives so as to produce a love for learning and a desire to serve God and neighbour.  You need to then replace it with some kind of “carrot on a stick” to motivate students to learn and to care for others.

The Team