Using Gamification to Enhance Civic Learning

Run your own presidential campaign.
Escape north as a fugitive slave.
Crack the clues to solve a history mystery.
These are just some of the games that the civic education community is using to help students improve their understanding of the structures and functions of civic institutions, explore historical events and discover how informed civic action can improve their communities.
The overall popularity of gameplay — more than 1.2 billion people worldwide play games— demonstrates how effectively games can engage. In education, the structure of games infuses fun into learning and provides motivation as students earn points and strive to win, which keeps them interested and actively involved in sometimes dry academic content. Games share important design elements with education, such as feedback loops and ordered tasks of increasing complexity, that are important for 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. They also contribute to workforce readiness because they align with growing gamification within business, military and government.
Game-based civic learning includes both online and classroom games. Here are examples showing the range of game approaches:
iCivics is a free, online platform providing more than 20 interactive games linked to grade-level lesson plans. Examples include Do I Have a Right? in which students act as lawyers deciding if an individual has a constitutional claim under the Bill of Rights; Win the White House, which teaches students about the electoral process as they manage their own run for president; and Activate, which allows students to tackle issues, ranging from bullying to preserving local parks, through game decisions to build awareness and pursue policy action.
In Mission US, developed for middle and high school, students assume the roles of peers in American historical settings. Whether students play a printer’s apprentice in 1770 Boston as patriots and loyalists collide, escape to freedom as a 14-year-old slave or experience the dustbowl as teens on a family wheat farm, they gain historical understanding and meaningful connections that improve academic success.
Politicraft is a narrative-based, action card game aligned with the College Career and Civic Life C3 Framework inquiry arc. Each student identifies a local, state or national social issue and uses cards representing real-world civic, political and social actions to narrate a story of how they are working toward a solution to the issue. The student with the most “Social Impact” points at the end wins the game. Politicraft aims to empower students with the knowledge that they can make a difference in their community and give them ideas of how to get started.
BreakoutEDU is a classroom kit to create customized games in which students problem-solve their way out of an educational challenge. Locked boxes and invisible messages stand between students and their goal. Teachers can share the games they create, and over 80 social studies games have been posted.
Engaged social studies and civic students have a better chance to become engaged citizens. As policymakers and educators seek ways to strengthen civic education, gamification is an important tool to consider.

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