On 4th July members of the iRead team Mina Vasalou and Laura Benton participated in a Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) professional learning network (PLN) event organised by the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education. These termly events are aimed at specialist teachers in literacy and dyslexia, and provide opportunities for developing and exchanging expertise as well as keeping up to date with the latest research. The network is self-steering and members had decided to dedicate a session specifically to the use of technology for literacy difficulties.
After some hands-on time with iPads, where attendees got to try out and evaluate a number of existing literacy apps, the group moved on to discuss a research paper that came of work from the EU FP7 iLearnRW project (a predecessor of the EU H2020 iRead project) co-authored by Laura and Mina.
The title of the paper is Using Gamification to Motivate Students with Dyslexia, and is focused on the use of a gamification platform called Class Dojo within specialist literacy provision. It details how the teachers used the platform in different ways and how the students discussed classDojo in terms of motivation. The paper also presents an initial set of pedagogical implications for gamification within special education.
During the session we explored the differences between the two teachers within the study and had some engaged discussion with attendees about their thoughts on the paper and experiences in this area. The discussion generated the following points:
- What does gamification have to offer above and beyond current practice? Some attendees felt that it was more about making current practices, e.g. designing personal plans, more efficient rather than changing practice.
- Could gamification bring publicity to previously unnoticed behaviours? Attendees highlighted the potential for embarrassment and being able to compare oneself to the average, which was particularly pertinent for pupils with special educational needs.
- What should the focus of the gamification badges be – behavioural or learning? Teachers’ experiences with it were on behaviour management and the potential of learning badges has been unexplored.
- What are the limitations of gamification? One attendee suggested the use of the system to build on student reading errors and work toward more fine-grained goals, but it is unclear whether gamification can support this fine grained approach to reflecting on learning.
- Is there potential for linkages but also differences between classroom and intervention? It was recognized that whereas classroom use typically uses badges to flag up negative behavior, in our study the same badges were used to identify areas for the student to work toward
- What is the role of theory in appropriating gamification? Our attendees recognized the importance of theory for informing interventions but leaving room for innovation and flexible use for the needs of specific children
- How successful is gamification over an extended period of time? Would pupil motivation dip?
Overall it was an interesting and thought-provoking discussion raising many important issues with the use of technology to support teaching practices, which are relevant to consider within the context of the iRead project.