Caskets Imaginarium 3: socially just pedagogy and gamification of education

This is the final blog in our Teaching and Learning Casket Imaginarium series.
In the first Imaginarium, educators considered collaborative learning (Casket 1) and nurturing creativity in class (Casket 2). In the second Imaginarium, participants discussed flipping the classroom (Casket 3) and learning spaces (Casket 4). During this last workshop, participants discussed the concepts of ‘socially just pedagogies’ (Casket 5) and ‘gamified learning’ (Casket 6).
In this blog, we overview both the readings covered, as well as including some excerpts from the discussions raised during the last two-hour workshop held in Sydney in August 2017.
For more on the format of the Imaginarium, please revisit this blog

Casket 5: socially-just pedagogy

Reading: Amelia Hempel-Jorgensen, ‘Learner Agency and Social Justice: What Can Creative Pedagogy Contribute to Socially Just Pedagogies?’ Pedagogy, Culture and Society 23.4 (2015): 531-54.
Exercising ‘learner agency’ is critical to socially just pedagogy, according to this essay by Amelia Hempel-Jorgensen (531). Learner agency, she argues, is ‘essential to learners co-imagining and co-transforming pedagogy.’ (534) She adds:
learner agency is central to achieving educational social justice in that it is essential for both effective learning and instigating and having ownership of social change. (536)
This article is interested in addressing educational inequality ‘in terms of unequal constraints on disadvantaged learners’ capacity to exercise learner agency’. (533)
One way to increase the agency of disadvantaged learners is ‘Possibility Thinking’. Possibility Thinking, or PT, is defined by Hempel-Jorgensen in the following way:
PT is construed as an “engine of creativity” and comprises a process where the learner moves from a position of asking “what is this?” to “what can I or we do with this?” through imaginatively investigating multiple possibilities. It is primarily concerned with learner-driven problem-finding and solving. (533)
PT is focused on creative pedagogy, which can be defined as having four key features: ownership, control, relevance and innovation (541), as well as self-determination, autonomy, agency, question-posing and responding, being imaginative, risk-taking and innovation (542). She adds that the ‘development of learner-initiated imaginative narratives has since been recognised as a key feature of PT’ (542).
The essay identifies three practices that enable PT to take place: ‘standing back and stepping forward, profiling pupil agency and creating time and space for creativity’ (543-44).
The essay also looks at, and critiques, several ‘socially just’ pedagogies, including Critical Pedagogy, Funds of Knowledge, Productive Pedagogies, and the Teachers for a Fair Go Project (531-2, 536-541).
First, though – how does one define ‘socially just pedagogy’? 
These pedagogical approaches are labelled as socially just because they aim to disrupt practices which contribute to producing educational and wider social inequalities.  (532)
Hempel Jorgensen argues that the socially just pedagogies identified aim to enable learners’ capacity to exercise learner agency through five aims:
1) Validating disadvantaged learners’ identities and local knowledge
2) High-order intellectual engagement with learning
3) Critically analysing pedagogical power relations
4) Learners co-imagining socially just pedagogies, and
5) Learners co-transforming pedagogical (and wider social) relationships and practices.
Learner agency is understood as crucial to ‘learning in the form of meaning-making, knowledge-construction and developing competence in a given field’ (534). This is in opposition to the ‘transmission model’ of learning (534).
The argument develops the definition of learner agency to include both ‘individual and collective’ (535). Collaborative agency ‘works towards a communal goal in a democratic sense’ (535). Importantly, agency is also ‘socioculturally mediated’, bringing into play social discourses about social status, gender, ethnicity, and disability. (535)
Hempel-Jorgensen argues that one part of learner agency could be ‘learner resistance’:
This requires resistance to be seen as an accepted form of learner agency and for teachers themselves to take part in resisting the reproduction of oppressive discourses in their pedagogical practices. (535)
PT can also be connected to risk-taking (548). Individual learners and groups of learners in this pedagogical model would be encouraged to ‘resist individual teachers’ unjust pedagogical practices’, and for learners and teachers to ‘co-resist wider unjust practices such as high-stakes testing regimes’ (548).


Workshop discussion on this topic focused on moving forward while dealing with constraints that work against the principles laid out in the essay. The question of whether IT can function as the ‘grand equaliser’ was raised. 
The constraints of the syllabus and the tendency to be risk-averse and ‘anti-risk-taking’ were also considered. Participants noted that thinking becomes constrained by syllabus, and ‘probable thinking’ is more common that ‘possibility thinking’. A need to change mindsets and the culture of thinking in the classroom was also contemplated.
The tendency to focus on the ‘game of HSC and maximising marks’ was a central part of discussion, especially as it tends to ‘restrict teaching creatively’. Teachers voiced concerns that senior students are more worried about ranking than about learning, and that the exam system does not reward risk taking or divergent thinking.
Social injustice at the level of teachers was also raised during discussion, with the need for personal development to prevent disenfranchisement which flows onto students. Participants asked how marginalised students see their world demonstrated in dominant discourses?
Workshop discussion then moved to dealing with student preconceptions about subjects and teachers, as well as teacher preconceptions about students. The role of parental agency was raised, and the importance of relationships with teachers and friends as key for development. 
Questions to consider:
  • How do you address educational inequalities?
  • What do socially just educational systems and pedagogy look like? (533)
  • Is ‘social transformation’ a teaching goal? (539)
  • What might an ‘alternative education system or pedagogy’ look like? (540)
  • How political is education? (540)
  • How can teachers act as ‘agents of possibility’? (544)
  • How can teachers ‘nurture resistance’ and ‘risk-taking’? (548)

Casket 6: gamification of education 

Reading: Jan L. Plass, Bruce D. Homer and Charles K. Kinzer, ‘Foundations of Game-Based Learning,’ Educational Psychologist 50.4 (2015): 258-83.
In this essay, the authors argue that multiple perspectives are needed to understand games as learning environments. Plass, Homer and Kinzer suggest that
‘a combination of cognitive, motivational, affective, and sociocultural perspectives is necessary for both game design and game research to fully capture what games have to offer for learning.’ (258)
While acknowledging that the use of play in education is hardly new, the rise of ‘digital games as mainstream entertainment’ raises questions about how to use such games for educational purposes (259).
Even defining games can be challenging, given it ranges across broad genres of field, content and even genres of games (259). Exactly what defines a game is arguable, with some positing that a game requires players to engage in ‘artificial conflict’ (259).
Designing games for learning requires a unique balance between covering the subject matter and prioritising game play. (259)
This essay also reinforces the integral role of play in human development (259). Play is important in enabling children to ‘transcend their immediate reality’ and hold in mind multiple representations of reality. (259) 
Arguments for game-based learning include:
  • The motivational function of games (260)
  • Player engagement (260)
  • Adaptivity (260-1)
  • Graceful failure – ‘[t]he lowered consequences of failure in games encourage risk taking, trying new things, and exploration’ (261)
The essay considers the difficulty of producing one meta-theoretical model of game-based learning that incorporates all existing models (261). This is especially difficult as ‘games can be designed based on virtually any model of learning.’ (262) Plass, Homer and Kinzer offer a simple model which incorporates three key elements that almost all games seem to have: a challenge, a response, and feedback (262).
The general building blocks of games are identified as:
  • Game mechanics
  • Visual aesthetics
  • Narrative
  • Incentives
  • Musical score
  • Learning objectives and related content and skills
In regards to the last building block, the essay considers ‘a heuristic of four functions of games’ that describe the learning goal of the content:
  • Preparation of future learning
  • Teach new knowledge and skills
  • Practice and reinforce existing knowledge and skills
  • Develop twenty-first century skills
The essay then moves through the foundations of game-based learning using the four perspectives identified originally (cognitive, motivational, affective, and sociocultural).
Cognitive foundations include situatedness, transfer of learning, scaffolding and relevant feedback, dynamic assessment, representation of information (information design), interaction design (learning mechanics), gestures and movement (265-268).
The motivational foundation includes intrinsic motivation, values and interests, and achievement-related goals (268-270).
Affective foundations (under which the authors point out that emotion and cognition are inseparable) includes emotional design (270-272).
Sociocultural foundations of game-based learning include activity theory, social context of learning, participatory learning culture, social aspects of agency, observational learning, relatedness and self-perception, and social interaction design (270-277).
Finally, the essay offers the concept of ‘playful learning’ (278), ‘which describes learning that incorporates game elements, even though such an environment may not be considered a game.’ 


Participants questioned games as an ideal medium for learning. Questions were raised as to whether the instant gratification goes against the idea of what education is. Does it go against the concept of the joy of learning in itself – or learning for learning’s sake? Participants voiced concerns that gamified learning would ‘trivialise’ learning, making it product- rather than process-focused. 
Discussion also centred on using games to provide stimulation or as a diagnostic tool, rather than to provide meaningful learning. The gamification of the school system, including the HSC, was also raised. 
Participants considered whether games should be fun or whether having an incentive is enough, as well as the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Is gamified learning engraining rewards-based behaviour? 
Discussion then turned to the impact of technology upon learning development and learning theory, much of which was conceived before today’s generations, where students are growing up surrounded by screens. This led to questions around gaming and social inclusivity, mental health, and what it means to be human. 
Interestingly, gamified learning developed into a dialogue that centred more on digitisation than on the concept of ‘play’. 
Questions to consider:
  • How are you already using games and play in your teaching?
  • Is there room for ‘graceful failure’ in education?
  • Do the building blocks of games translate to the classroom?
  • How might the concept of ‘playful learning’ be incorporated into your teaching?
  • Which foundation(s) seem more important to you?
  • Are games an ideal medium for learning?
  • What degree of autonomy does the education sector have to say what it values in society?