Interview: Michael Matera, Co-Founder at Third Floor Gamers and Edbean in Milwaukee, WI

It’s our pleasure today to introduce Michael Matera, he is an Educator / Speaker / Consultant World History & IR teacher at University School of Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI. He has been speaking at the international and national events, like International Society of Technology in Education, Next Generation School 2014 Conference, California TechFest, Edcamps: Milwaukee, Chicago, & Madison and the list goes on. He has been involved with major projects like Gamification, Game Based Learning, Technology Integration and others as well.

He has co-founded, dedicated to all the educators across the world. While is his game club for highly enthusiastic students learning strategy and critical thinking while having a great time. Lately, He tried to instill learning in his students with the help of Gamification and was pretty much successful in implementing the strategy, wanna know more? Scroll down and see for yourself;


TechieTonics: Can you tell us about your background? And What brought you into the world of Gamification?

Michael Matera: I am a teacher, and I have been for over 10 years. My road to gamification was not a straight one. As an adult, I wouldn’t consider myself a “gamer”. Don’t get me wrong, this is a title I now give myself. However, you must understand, I grew into being an adult gamer. I use the term “adult gamer” because I did play games when I was a child. I loved a good monopoly game with the fam and I played pitfall on the Atari and tried to unlock the mysteries of Zelda when I was young. But, as with everything, as I grew older I became too busy for games. Looking back at this gameless period of my life, I now see that I had the wrong attitude. Games help us keep our minds sharp, they’re shared experiences with friends, and can be a powerful tool to motivate and inspire action.

I started to using gamification in my classroom before I really knew or heard of the term. As with most teachers, I want the best for my students. I want them to be learners with a voracious appetite for learning as well as a solid vision of a growth mindset. As a history teacher, I always saw the power of a good simulation on student’s learning and retention of the course material. Each year I would scour the internet searching for new and improved simulations that I could use with my students. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for me to decide that I need to create an experience for my students. I started with my Greek unit. Students were going to compete in the ancient Greek Olympics. I broke students down into city-states and I transformed my learning management system into ancient Greece. For olympic points, which would help their team win but had no impact on their grade, students could write encyclopedia entries on on class wiki. Within 3 days, and no input or instructions from me, students had posted over 150 entries. Like the runner out of the starting blocks, I saw my students have something most don’t have on a daily basis, drive. They were part of something and now had something larger to work toward then just the grade. With the explosion of student work product, as well as quality, I was instantly sold on the idea of gamification.

Since then, I have become the educational gamification sherpa. I try to do as much of the heavy lifting for the educational community on this topic as I can. I write blog posts, I do a pod-cast, I present at local, regional national, as well as international conferences on the topic. I test out software, I discuss with edtech companies about ways to infuse these techniques into their products. Now, I can say with ease, I am a gamer.

TechieTonics: Gamification and “serious games” are there any difference between these two newly coined terminologies?

Michael Matera: The term gamification, defined as using of the most motivational aspects of games in non-game settings, is the broad umbrella term, under which serious games have a place. Serious games are by definition gamification, however not all gamification is serious games. This subset of gamification is one that is trying to fix a broader global situation. A good example would be that credit card reward structures and coffee house point systems are gamification, but they aren’t serious games.

Over the last few years, there has been a large increase in serious games. The scientific community has used it to find cures, the legal community used it analyze thousands of documents to build cases and a whole host of series games have been made on social justice topics. While these are wonderful, they are not very practical to focus on for an educator like me. These types of games take a greater level of programming then I could ever hope to obtain. Gamification is something that everyone could introduce into their world. For this reason, I will continue to develop and focus on gamification in the broader sense.

TechieTonics: How can startups benefit from Gamification, I mean, people at startups can only leverage on motivation, skill-set and there is always do or die situation, so how can implementation of Gamification strategies help in moving the things towards higher level?

Michael Matera: Gamification at the workplace, done right, could motivate and inspire people to action. I am not sure if it would be any more motivating at a startup company than any other one. It is in giving people agency that you start to unlock their potential. Just like in the example above with my students in their Greek city-states building a wiki. They felt a part of something larger and in control of their contribution toward the group. If a company, startup or otherwise, could give its workers a strong sense of agency they would be on to something great. It is in poor management and lack of leadership that this agency gets lost. Managers who want the world to come to them in the form of memos to justify and prove the work that has already been done. Trust, while not part of gamification, it is a part of good leadership. Leave the verification to the weak links in the company and help identify what it is they can and ultimately need to improve to stay a viable contributing member of the team. Let the other workers fly.

TechieTonics: By the fall of this year, nearly 70% of Fortune 500 companies are expected to deploy Gamification. And by 2016 the spending would be touching around $2.8 billion, what is your take on this?

Michael Matera: This stat is of no surprise to me. Once you start using gamification you begin to understand its many applications. What I am trying to do is increase the awareness and understanding of this technique and how it can be applied in the educational space. Teachers, administrators, and parents are slow to change the schoolhouse but as Jack Welch says “if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. Schools need to adapt and include gamification. The students of today are not nearly the ones we were when we grew up. It is a different world today, it’s one where games play a significant role, and education needs to reflect this new view.

TechieTonics: Morphing HR minutiae into a game might help in retaining talent and motivating employees. How far am I correct in holding such a view?

Michael Matera: As mentioned in my question four, I think this is where HR and any business could really start to improve its retention of top talent. Stop pushing paper and forms and start allowing your works to be inspired and allow them to have some control over their development.

TechieTonics: Have you encountered situation where a line of Gamification strategy has become counterproductive?

Michael Matera: Ultimately, like everything, it’s about moderation. Gamification is a powerful tool. However, a hammer is a powerful tool too and it’s not always the right one to get a job done. We need to be mindful of when, where, and how much we use gamification. In my classroom, it has helped me focus on the learners experience more than ever before. It helps my students in so many ways. So, personally, I have not seen it become counterproductive. The only downside has been the time to develop a thriving and motivating game for my students. They want more than I can give them. This is a teacher’s dream, students who want to do more and more. However, I wish I had more time to keep developing my game.

TechieTonics: Beyond adding point scores and virtual rewards, what game elements do you think might make the system up and running?

Michael Matera: Gamification is more than just badges and point systems. Gamification has two parts, game dynamics and game mechanics. The former, game dynamics, is the touchy feely stuff. Simply put, it is the storyline, relationships, connections and purpose of the game. The later, game mechanics, are how the game works. Badges and point systems would be a mechanic. Other mechanics that would be included would be the rules. Every game is essentially something that could be easy and has been made difficult through rules. In Reality is Broken, Jane Mcgonigal explains how golf is a very simple game of getting a ball in a hole. Then, through the rules and the design of the game, we make it intentionally hard, if not impossible, by moving the hole hundreds of yards away and making golfers use silly clubs to hit the ball. When someone starts to build a game they should pay special attention to the mechanics they use. People will walk away from a task that is too easy, but at the same time, they will walk away from one that is too hard. You need to keep your users in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. Flow is the sweet spot between too easy and too difficult.

TechieTonics: Talking about education sector, if students are immersed in visual environments for learning won’t that deprive them of social learning that takes place in classrooms?

Michael Matera: Gamification helps the social learning in the classroom and beyond. Games are incredibly social and they help the classroom create a community of learners. This will not deprive them of a social learning environment, on the contrary, it will give them one. Since using gamification in my classroom I have seen students collaborate in more authentic ways. There is a real need and desire to work together. Sports are a good example of this team mentality that pushes collaboration and cooperation. My students now see themselves as part of an educational team that they care about and want to see succeed. Our world demands us to teach our students collaboration, yet schools ultimately distort this process by having no real reason to work together other than being told too.

Authentic student collaboration is one of the best aspects of gamification in my classroom. Students marshal their collective group talents and with their newfound asset based thinking produce something that couldn’t have been done individually. This team success transforms the students and their learning for the rest of the school year.

TechieTonics: What advice would you offer to academies and the related institutions all across the globe for leveraging the benefits of game-based learning?

Michael Matera: The key benefits of gamification in education include its ability to challenge and inspire students to become independent learners while encouraging collaboration, and risk-taking. Also, it has the unique ability to be applied alongside, and enhance, any other teaching method. Non-gamified classrooms do not commonly focus on the users’ experiences. More often, we focus on content and achievement of standards rather than on the individual learners.

Gamification puts greater emphasis on voice and choice for the students. Through the various tasks, students begin to develop a growth mindset toward challenges and learning objectives. Gamification gives students agency in their learning and produces greater student ownership of the classroom experiences.

Rapid fire round:

TechieTonics: What is your latest obsession?

Michael Matera: My latest obsession has been to develop a shared blogging space for teachers around the globe. I co-founded a site that is for teachers to share thoughts, ideas, and inspire change in their educational communities.

TechieTonics: Who (or what) has been inspiring you the most all these years?

Michael Matera: Inspiration comes from so many sources. I have been inspired by my students, fellow passionate educators and my 3 year old daughter. The education I want her to get is one that is not widely offered today. For her, I need to start the change today so that she and her generation can begin to learn in a more responsive student facing way than ever before. I want them to stand tall and have an understanding of their talents, creative thinking skills, and that they can make a difference in the world.

TechieTonics: If you have power creation, what will you create?

Michael Matera: If I could, I would re-imagine schools from the ground up. Create a system that is about the learning and not the grade. In fact, what grades. I would get rid of those and focus on the skills of successful leaders like dependability, resiliency, and creativity. I’d create a risk rich environment that allows people to try, explore, fail, and ultimately grow as a result.

TechieTonics: Which future technologies are you excited about?

Michael Matera: I am super excited about Google Glass, Tesla’s peoples car, and the growth of the Chromebook.

TechieTonics: Do you like to share anything before saying goodbye?

Michael Matera: It is my goal to share this powerful tool with others around the globe. Lets connect and grow together.

Michael this has been a real pleasure! I can’t thank you enough on behalf of myself and the team for taking the time to sit with us today and enable us to learn more about you and your career. Please know that you are welcome back any time and we look forward to visiting with you again and seeing much more of your work in the future.

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