Teaching Literacy through Gamification

By Ryan Beach

Fanshawe College professor and researcher Anne Hill has turned to the recent concept of gamification in her effort to develop effective strategies for teaching literacy.

"Gamification" is the application of game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. Intrigued by the novel Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Dr. Jane McGonigal, Hill recognized how current video games can captivate and engage a diverse audience for an extended period of time. After exploring game-design mechanics, Hill began to visualize the development of a series of computer games by "gamifying" successful aspects of current literacy research.

photo of Anne Hill and multimedia students
Anne Hill (second from left) with multimedia students.

Through the incorporation of game-design mechanics, such as goals, rules, feedback systems and autonomy, Hill aims to effectively engage and teach individuals how to facilitate literacy skills with children and adults who are working to improve their reading and writing skills.

From a young age, Hill has been fascinated with the fundamentals of teaching literacy. Her younger sister has developmental challenges and experienced great difficulty in learning to read. At the time however, there was limited knowledge on the subject.

"When I first started to research methods of teaching literacy, I found there was a lack of empirical evidence about how to actually teach people how to read. Because of this, figuring out how to get people to decode, comprehend and write seemed overwhelming," she says.

As a professor in the School of Human Services at Fanshawe College, Hill focuses on individuals with developmental disabilities. She has implemented innovative teaching strategies which involve both the use of computers and assistive technology. Having taught in both the Educational Assistant and Developmental Services Worker programs, Hill claims an insufficient amount of time is allocated to help students learn effective methods of how to effectively teach literacy.

Hill maintains that although teaching reading is still complex, research now shows us what to do. Two critical components are that students actually read for at least one and a half hours per day, and that they read books in which they can actually understand 90-98% of the content.

Currently, many classroom techniques actually reduce the amount of time learners spend reading and discussing books, replacing it with worksheets and drills documented to be ineffective.

By being able to tap into the intrinsic ability of games to captivate and engage a diverse populous, Hill hopes to increase the level of knowledge about how to teach literacy.

(Visit the What Works Clearinghouse website for details on the research findings in plain language.)

Ryan Beach is a student in Fanshawe's Bachelor of Applied Technology - Biotechnology applied degree program. The article was prepared as a result of his participation in the Research and Technical Writing Course (COMM7005), taught by Dr. Carol Hannam.