Dr. Gwen Deger is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at the School of Education at Westminster College in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Her academic tenure has seen her wear multiple hats across many grade levels, and in just under a decade in the classroom she’s spent two years in Elementary Learning Support, five years in High School Learning Support, and two years in higher education.

The Teacher Becomes The Student

As an assistant professor at the university level, I typically built my lessons around lecture. But even though I was working with college-aged students, I found that the traditional “teacher talk, students take notes” approach actually had become something of a barrier to fostering the sort of creative, dialogic environment that I was hoping to bring out in my classes. And the more I lectured, the more I found that many of my learners were still struggling to become engaged in class discussion. And on those days when it felt like my students were barely sleep walking through our course material, I likewise found myself disengaging with the content I was teaching. 

I wanted to be more creative but was lacking inspiration, and
 I felt like I was at a loss at how my students would succeed in their special education certification exams because the content is just so cramped in 10 weeks. 

During Spring 2022, I was struggling with getting my pre-service to engage in content during my lectures. This concerned me as they weren’t able to answer specific instructional design questions which are crucial as a teacher. I went to observe one of my student teachers who was working with Dr. Jen Toney. Her lesson was about opinion writing but it was different. Students were excited to go into the opinion outback to convince their traveling robot to visit their imaginary island. I had never seen 30 students all actively engaged with writing and also editing their work. My student was worried that I didn’t like her lesson when I literally had this confused look on my face. But I told her that I simply needed a minute to process what I was seeing. There was a palpable difference in the classroom, and I had never seen anything like it. 

Joining the Gang and Reigniting That Spark

It was then that my colleague, Dr. Jen Toney, introduced me to the book Fully Engaged and gamification in education. Immediately I saw something that was missing in my classes. I checked out EMC² Learning and found the “Text Quest” activity as a free resource at the Tinker Teacher membership tier, so I decided to give it a shot. I found the slides were easy to manipulate and customize to the course I was teaching. And when I taught my next class, the game of school was changed! My students dove deeper into the content because they needed to defeat the other three clans to be the champions in the Realm of Literacy.

I spent the rest of the semester prepping my summer class, an intro to special education course, to be gamified. This gamified format changed my students’ engagement and collaboration. I found that embedding stories of Scooby Doo and the gang and “theme-izing” the course even helped to bring in my non-education majors to how special education intersects all areas of life, not just in school. 

And The Student Becomes The Teacher Once Again

EMC² Learning gave me springboard to begin thinking about how to teach differently at the college level. It literally changed the game of my instruction and has captivated my students — and my colleagues — in deeper learning. It’s not just pre-made generic materials. It’s materials that can be customized to meet any subject area without losing the most important component: a passionate teacher.  

My students are genuinely intrigued and interested in the conversations during class time. They are using their textbooks far more than they ever did in my lecture based courses. The content dives deeper into concepts I couldn’t cover otherwise because of time constraints. And I meet my students where they are and can encourage them to explore their own interests and how it intersects with our course. My students love coming to class because every day is a new adventure. 

love everything that gamification and EMC² Learning has provided me with in the field that I am so passionate about. My spark and creativity is back! 

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