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How Playing a Game Can Help Personalize Learning

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Computer science instructor Douglas Kiang has developed a unique approach to personalized learning by understanding how his students like to play video games—and then using this information to tailor his assignments accordingly.

Kiang, who teaches at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, notes that 97 percent of teens say they play video games, according to a 2008 Pew survey. To take advantage of this trend, he uses the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology to get to know his students better.

The Bartle Test is an online multiple-choice test that gives insight into the choices people make in online gaming situations. For instance, “A new area opens up in the online game world. What do you do? Explore all the new places—or get all the new loot?"

On one of the first days of class, Kiang asks his students to take the Bartle Test online, which takes about 20 minutes, and report their results to him in a Google form. Based on their responses, the test assigns a weighted score to students in four separate categories: Socializer, Achiever, Explorer, or Killer. Though students often will display characteristics of all four categories, one category generally emerges as their dominant trait.

“I use these results to inform how I make groups and… ask kids to collaborate,” says Kiang, who has found this to be an excellent strategy for approaching personalized learning.

Students who are Explorers love to explore and wander, learning everything they can about the game and its world. For them, the fun of the game comes from discovery—and in the classroom, they tend to be the students who love to amass knowledge for its own sake. They also like to demonstrate this knowledge to others.

Achievers, on the other hand, like to accumulate levels, badges, and points. They gain a sense of accomplishment by being the first to complete a task, or by being one of the only ones to earn a reward. In the classroom, Achievers are often most concerned with grades as a measure of their achievement.

Socializers are motivated by the desire to form meaningful connections and relationships with other players. They judge their accomplishments by how many friends or followers they have. Killers, or Griefers, take pleasure in the turmoil they cause in the game world, and in the damage they wreak on others. In the classroom, they’re often the first ones to see if they can “hack” the system—but they also tend to be the best risk-takers.

How can this help with personalized learning? “The Bartle Test gives me some insight into what the kids’ motivations are and what they see as success in the classroom,” Kiang says. “I find it helps me make better collaborative groups with the kids.”

In Kiang’s computer science class, he teaches students with a wide range of abilities. He used to ask students who finished an assignment early to help their peers who were struggling, but with the Bartle Test, he now has a better sense of whether this strategy will be successful.

“The Explorer’s going to love that, because … Explorers enjoy teaching other people,” Kiang said. “Achievers don’t. Achievers are going to do it if you give them extra credit for it, but they’re not going to do it because they enjoy sharing their knowledge—that’s just not important to them.”

But there are other ways educators can engage Achievers, he said, such as by having them build tools to study, or design grading structures for the class. “I’ve sometimes had my Achievers do that,” he said, “because they understand grades, they understand points.”

Using the Bartle Test has “helped me appreciate my students for their strengths,” Kiang said—which is critical to success with personalized learning.

“Every one of those four [categories] has strengths, even the Killers,” he said. “They are the kids who tend to think outside the box, and they will often be the first ones to see the loopholes in any grading system, because they’re used to looking for loopholes. So they’re often the best at crafting a system that is very secure.”

This article was sponsored by School Improvement Network and not written by the EdSurge editorial staff.
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