What if NAPLAN was a game and not a ‘test’?

What if NAPLAN was a game and not a ‘test’?

While NAPLAN might be effective in terms of assessing students’ academic achievement, the test has nonetheless been the topic of controversy.

Former high school teacher of 10 years, Matt Esterman, is an associate with Six Ideas – a global network of specialists helping people with workplace and learning strategy through the lens of space.

Esterman told The Educator that through his discussions with other teachers, it is clear that either the test isn't being used properly, or the reality of how it's used doesn't meet the expectation.

“There is an overwhelming feeling that teachers lack the time to genuinely digest the information provided by NAPLAN, develop interventions to best help every student, then apply those interventions in a genuine way,” he said.

One potential solution, suggests Esterman, is gamifying NAPLAN. However, he cautioned that this would involve “completely flipping the process”.

“NAPLAN is a top-down process and accountability-driven tool. Despite originally being conceived as a diagnostic tool, it's rarely used as such,” he said.

“The ‘game’ would be played by kids perhaps over a long period of time and the purpose of the game would be to support learning, one output of the game would be data relating to literacy and numeracy.”

Esterman said games aren't driven by a player's desire to be measured by some external ‘body’, but rather a desire play the game and achieve certain levels and rewards as a result of increased skill and knowledge.

He referred to online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft as an example.

“The theme of the game isn't important [and not everyone is into medieval fantasy] but the idea that anyone in the world could connect, develop characters, engage in stories, work in teams and lead teams, that's what's interesting,” he said.

“The experience is the test and the test is the experience. NAPLAN, in its current form, is nothing like the experience of school but it is dictating that experience for weeks if not months beforehand as teachers try to train kids to perform well.”

The trouble, says Esterman is that NAPLAN is “an easy tool to use”.

“Yes, it takes millions of dollars to develop and roll out (which some have questioned) but it is easy to measure as a tool in itself. Test goes out, test gets done, results are developed, results are disseminated and published, then repeat,” he said.

“To create a genuinely engaging, worthwhile, learning-rich gamified environment would be costly, complex and the results of which would not easily fit a mould of simplistic accountability.”

Gamification gives students agency

Esterman said Gamification can be effective when it engages the audience in a genuine way.

“People approach different games differently but everyone enjoys a game that is easy to learn and difficult to master,” he said, referring to Bushnell's Law.

“It's also tactile and experiential: you feel like you're doing something rather than having something done to you. You have agency, and a role to play. You have to make choices, balance priorities and achieve goals [or not] and both have consequences.”

Esterman said that when done well – such as in Minecraft or other successful gaming environments and approaches – this allows students to take part in co-constructing the learning experience by personalising parts or all of the experience.

“Like any other approach to learning and teaching, it needs to address needs that learners have. It can't be imposed in a standardised way otherwise it's just as bad as a paper-based test,” he said.

“That's why students need to be involved in the development. Teachers have used games to engage students forever, but we haven't fully explored their potential to completely turn around students’ engagement with school.”