What do Grant Wiggins, Guitar Hero, and Gamification Have in Common?

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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I have shared a lot this week about the stroke I suffered in March of 2010, primarily because I want to provide context for a handful of radio shows I will be writing about.

Guitar Hero gamification
Rob Kay of Guitar Hero fame.

In 2010, I was offered a great opportunity to host my own radio show with BAM Radio Network. I settled on the idea of Insider / Outsider as the theme — experts from both within and outside of school who engage on a common topic. I excitedly described this to Grant Wiggins and then asked him, “if you could have one show on any topic with anybody, what would it be and why?” He didn’t hesitate.

He said he wanted to do a show on feedback with Rob Kay. At that time I didn’t even know who Rob Kay was, but I quickly found out he was the brains behind Guitar Hero. That became my mission: to connect Grant with Rob Kay of Guitar Hero. He had been a dear friend, mentor, and colleague for close to 10 years at that point and I wanted to do that for him. So the radio producers and I set the wheels in motion. And then I had a stroke.

A Key Player in My Recovery

As I was learning how to process ideas with now-severely-limited background knowledge, string a coherent sentence together, and engage in a conversation, Grant was a key player in my recovery. He called me every few days to help jumpstart my thinking, offer gentle suggestions, and add a little levity to the situation. Grant helped me come up with questions for that episode and every episode. His coaching was invaluable.

Grant Wiggins
Grant Wiggins was a key player in my recovery.

Recovering from such a catastrophe was difficult, but having people like Grant in my life made it bearable. He helped me re-learn how to think, how to form a coherent sentence. He was a key player in my recovery, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Why Games Work

The show highlights the art of feedback, bringing together Rob’s experience with Guitar Hero and Grant’s in academia. The conversation is enlightening and was exciting for me to facilitate.

Gamification engages young people with constant feedback that, according to Rob Kay, better be entertaining.

“If the player is going through the feedback cycle (and) you don’t get that to be enjoyable, people just stop,” he said.

Rob elaborated on the Guitar Hero model, which provides users with the feedback of hitting the notes, finishing a song, and advancing in career.

“In Guitar Hero, your short-term goal is to finish the song,” he said. “To manage to get to the end of the song in front of the crowd and keep your crowd entertained. If you manage to do that, you get a bit crowd cheer, you win, you rock and you can carry on. Then we’ve got another level of feedback on top of that, again, which is what game designers talk about as mission-to-mission feedback. So you’ve got moment-to-moment, minute-to-minute, and mission-to-mission.”

Where Most Schools Fall Short

Grant was definitely passionate about this feedback model in terms of schools.

“This idea of mission-to-mission is still not to be found in most school settings,” he said. “Most of the feedback that you’re getting is on a moment-to-moment or minute-to-minute basis. You’re getting feedback on the six math problems or the 10 vocabulary words or the poem that you just wrote.

“But we have only recently begun to understand that there has to be a longitudinal progression scheme that underlies the tracking of longterm educational goals so that, just as the video games do so well, the student can have a sense of tracking their performance over time against important benchmarks.”

Listen to the audio, which connects Guitar Hero’s moment-by-moment, minute-by-minute, and mission-to-mission feedback with the classroom.

Do you think we’ve made progress in this area since this show aired six years ago? Have we developed our ability to offer long-term goals to our students?

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