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Can good civic behaviour be gamified?

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Whilst gamification has undoubtedly made a big splash in the corporate world, there have also been significant moves to improve civic behaviour within our communities.  For instance games have been applied to teach children about their medical conditions, whilst also helping to improve local neighbourhoods.  Attempts have even been made to improve energy conservation or awareness of data protection via the medium of games.

iCivics sits at the forefront of this movement, and attempts to teach basic concepts of civics to school age children in America.  The site, founded by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner attempts to do so via 19 educational games on the website.

The iCivics games consist of several modules that include citizenship and participation (Activate), The Constitution and Bill of Rights (Do I Have a Right, Immigration Nation, Argument Wars), budgeting (People’s Pie), separation of power (Branches of Power), political campaigning (Win the White House), local government (Counties Work), the Executive branch (Executive Command), the Legislative branch (Lawcraft, Represent Me), and the Judicial Branch (We the Jury, Supreme Decision). Each module has different games to teach the concepts presented in the modules.

A new study published recently by Baylor University’s School of Education set out to explore how effective the site was at transferring that knowledge.  Over 250 students participated in the study over a six week period, during which they each played the game twice a week for 30 minutes.

They were tested before commencement and again afterwards to gauge the increase in their level of understanding, whilst also keeping a diary to chart their experience with the game.

The study found that the games did indeed deliver an improvement in their knowledge of civics, with younger students improving particularly well, although the research doesn’t mention the presence of a control group, therefore its hard to distinguish if it was the games that were improving their knowledge or the mere fact that they had to learn civics for a period each week.  So it’s difficult to ascertain from this study quite how beneficial the game was over other forms of civics education.

What was revealed however that both students and teachers were keen on the game, with teachers revealing that the students were keen players, often unaware that they were doing any learning whilst playing the games.  If games can therefore play a part in ensuring that more learning of a topic is done, that can only be a good thing.  The researchers have secured funding for further research into this topic, so hopefully that will shed a bit more light on it.

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