Interview with ClassRealm Creator Ben Bertoli

Who reading this enjoyed school?

Who reading this enjoyed school? I'm guessing a large number of you wished you didn't have to go in when you were younger, much preferring to spend time playing with your friends or enjoying your favourite computer games. I'm guessing you would have enjoyed it an immeasurable amount more if you could have gone to school as Morlack the deranged blood elf werewolf, levelling up by doing your homework and battling the teacher every so often. If that sounds like a great idea to you then you are one of the many people who could have benefited from ClassRealm, a system of turning classes into a JRPG to improve performance and participation in school children. I was recently able to interview the creator of ClassRealm, Ben Bertoli, about incorporating JRPG mechanics into his classes, the future of gamification and much more. Read on, and you might get some ideas of how to make your day job a little more interesting too. Laura: Hello Ben, great to have you with us today. For those who don't know, could you tell us a little bit about ClassRealm? how did it come about? Ben: ClassRealm is a classroom management system that is based on role playing video games. Like Pokemon or Final Fantasy it's mainly based on experience points and achievements. Being an avid gamer and a budding teacher I started toying with the idea about a year ago, just kind of "How can I make school more fun?", especially for those students who don't want to be there. Gamification has been around for a while now, but I wanted to fine tune it to fit my classes needs, so I came up with a level system and achievements and gave it a whirl. Laura: And how did your class get on with it? Did it pick up straight away or did it take them some getting used to? Ben: They jumped in right away. It's pretty easy to understand, even from a child's perspective, I do good things and I get experience: the more experience the more level. It probably took me more time to get used to it then them and I'm STILL tweaking it. Laura: You have said before that you initially didn't tell the head teacher (principal) for fear that he wouldn't like the idea, at what point did you talk to other staff, the head or parents about the approach you were taking and how did they find the idea? I'm guessing they didn't get on board with it as quickly as the kids. Ben: Haha. I told me principal once the first week or two had gone by and he loved the idea, but was worried that it wouldn't help the students. I checked in with him from time to time to tell him how it was going. Other teachers didn't quite get it at first and I'm sure some still don't. Laura: Haha, I imagine news spread quickly at school, other kids probably started asking when their classes would become a video game. Ben: Yep, exactly. Laura: Did you get much feedback from parents on it? Did any of them express any issues with your approach? Ben: Nope... haha not much feedback, the little I did get was positive. I guess they just assumed if their kids loved it and it was helping in school there wasn't much to complain about. Laura: What difference did it make to your class in terms of work and other aspects? Did you notice any change in things like reports of bullying? Ben: The main thing I noticed was that participation was way up which meant the kids were working harder so they could participate, which meant they were trying harder to learn, which meant they learned more! Bullying may have declined slightly but it was never a big issue in my class to begin with. Laura: Well that is good news, it's one of the aspects I would be very interested to see if it was effected in a class where that was more of an issue. You also ran a Kickstarter a little while back to raise money for a more structured online version of ClassRealm. It unfortunately didn't get the funding it needed. What were you looking to do with the Kickstarter and what did you learn from the Kickstarter project? Ben: We probably aimed a bit too high. We wanted to go all out with the idea, a real game for the students to play, mass customization, easy to use interface, just cover all the bases and make it the best thing in the history of educational gaming. It's a hard concept to pitch to people, an education gaming system makes both educators and gamers kinda go "Ehhh... I dunno€. I think we shot too high, which is easy to do considering you have to pay Kickstarter and Amazon so much and you have to pay for rewards. Hard to appeal to everyone with a concept like ClassRealm. We also did it a bit early, we should have gotten started on the online interface so people could see it in action. I wasn't sure how it was going to end up at the start, but it was a wonderful experience all the same. Laura: Understandable, it truly is a fantastic concept though. Having spoken to both gamers who didn't do well at school and teachers who are not into games, people seem to agree that it's a pretty impressive concept that has a lot of potential. Ben: Thank you! I love it to death and I'm constantly thinking of ways to make it better. I have hundreds of ideas on how to improve it, but right now we are starting from scratch and can't afford these things. Laura: As someone who has used gamification in this way pretty successfully, do you have any ideas for how gamification might be used in other areas of our lives or by other age groups? Ben: I could see it being used in businesses. People find their jobs boring. Gamification spices it up! Also at home, chores are boring but "Adventures" that involve cleaning are WAY more fun. Putting a "game" spin on anything usually makes it more enjoyable. Laura: Exactly, your project really inspired me to try putting a game spin on some of the aspects of my life that were a little harder to find motivation in. When your sat at the checkout scanning someone's shopping its much more fun if you can imagine that every customer you serve raises your lv so your better prepared to battle that boss on your lunch break Ben: Exactly! You could earn special rewards for doing certain tasks or like get a huge level boost for every blue shirt you ring up. Competition is big part of that as well, it's even more fun if you're competing. Laura: Exactly, even if it's self competition, high score chasing can be a great motivational tool. Ben: Tell me about it, I just bought a DK arcade machine and I'm hooked. Laura: Do you see any negatives to gamification? Have you experienced any problems since incorporating ClassRealm? Ben: The competition aspect can be negative at times, I found that out quickly. The best way to make it work is to give every one the same goal, so don't do like... boys vs girls or Tommy vs Becky, Do the Class vs Mr. Bertoli. Every XP or level should count up to something that everyone wants so if Tommy goes up a level and the the goal is to reach a combined class level of 100 everyone is psyched., they just got closer to the goal and Tommy helped! Collaboration is huge, it builds a sense of community. Even the slowest or laziest kid is going to gain a level at some point and everyone is gonna be happy about it and then maybe he'll think "I like that feeling." Also the work load on the person running it can be negative, I almost went out of my mind at one point with all the info I had on hand. Laura: Yeah, I guess its probably a lot of spreadsheet management and the sudden influx of extra work to mark probably had an effect too. You were saying about the teamwork element being important, do you see a need for a more directly competitive aspect, or do you think classroom gamification works better without it? Ben: I guess it depends on the class, direct competition isn't bad though especially when your helping each other. There may be a competition between Suzy and Molly to see who gets to level 20 first but when one reaches that goal they've probably amassed 35 levels just themselves, so even the "loser" get the feeling of pride for helping the overall cause. Laura: I see where you're coming from, that does sound a good way to manage it. Some people have suggested that in the wrong hands gamification could be a very dangerous tool. When a credit card company for example decides to reward you and lv you up the more often you spend on your card we could find people being encouraged into negative behaviour. Do you see that being a risk the more gamification becomes heavily adopted in society? Ben: With any new concept comes risks of people using it the wrong way or for the wrong purpose. It is most certainly a risk, but I don't think it will happen often. I think gamification can have negative aspects but if people are smart they'll realize when they are being duped. Laura: hopefully yes. My fear is that if they incorporated something like the double exp weekend they had in Call of Duty for people who spend x amount on credit card over Black Friday in the states. I can just see potential for it to be abused, positive reinforcement can be powerful. Before we finish, do you have any last words for our readers? Ben: Keep an eye out for ClassRealm in the coming months! We're coming back and we'll probably need your help! Thanks to everyone who believes in us :D You can keep up to date at http://classrealm.com/blog/
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Long time JRPG and Nintendo SuperFan, Laura is a passionate gamer who comes to WhatCulture to share her nerdy ramblings with the world.

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