In a recent Radio 4 broadcast Dr Paul Howard-Jones, University of Bristol reader in Neuroscience and Education and co-coordinator for the Centre for Mind and Brain in Educational and Social Contexts, discussed how the desire to win and take chances could lead to better learning.
In explaining his argument, Dr Howard-Jones utilised The Studio teacher Mr Stuart Kerr’s (Business and Entrepreneurial Studies) use of the software Zondle.
Zondle is a program that allows teachers to set up quizzes relevant to their topic areas which the students, as individuals or in teams, can gamble their answer to receive either more points, or jeopardise them completely. It is this element of chance that Dr Paul Howard-Jones argues is fundamental to improved learning.
Neuroscience in Education is a relatively new research field and Dr Howard-Jones is aiming to explain and evidence how successful gamification of the curriculum can improve students’ understanding. Recent press around gamification of learning has not been as positive in terms of its improvement of cognitive function, but Howard-Jones is not deterred.
He argues that dopamine increases when students are offered with the chance of uncertain reward and improves their learning. Although being the hormone of choice when assigning blame for fast-food culture and other negative addictions, when increased in an educational setting it increases the students visceral motivation, increasing their attention and engagement and ultimately their retention of information.
This was evidenced when Radio 4 visited Mr Kerr’s Year 10 classroom. When answering the questions in their Business class students were offered the option of gambling their answer, if successful, to double or drop all their points. The reaction of the class to the intimidating spinning wheel of chance was very interesting – and seemingly proved Dr Howard-Jones’s point. Evidently motivated by the uncertain reward they could obtain by correctly answering the question and achieving the luck of their wheel students were alert, engaged and eager to gain their next set of points.
During interviews students commented that it was “better than normal tests because its competitive, it’s the suspense!” and “that competitiveness gives me drive”.
It will be interesting as the field of Neuroscience in Education develops to witness evidence of how gamification can lend itself to an increase of neural connections and improvements in cognitive ability in children.
The Studio was very pleased to welcome Radio 4 into the school to record this show – it will be interesting to see how the use of Zondle develops as a classroom tool.