Gamification and the Classroom

I’m just old enough to remember video gaming in its infancy, and just young enough not to be mired in nostalgia for the good old days. I still play the new stuff (and some of it is quite good). There is a special kind of fun discovering a hidden level, beating the final boss, and watching a digital protagonist “level up.” It’s so fun, there is now a cottage industry focused on using the unique rewards and punishments employed in the game world to solve real world problems. Reworking an activity as a game is now called “gamification.”

As a professional educator, I am always looking for a new edge for my classes. Next semester, I’m gamifying my Logic class.

Everyone who has a college degree can remember a professor or two who seemed as though he was unconcerned about his students’ performance. I’ve been in a class like that myself. But, unfortunately for my students, I am not that kind of professor. In fact, I tend to obsess about being a better teacher. I think of my challenges like this: there are some students who will not learn, no matter what I do. There are other students who are so interested in the topic and so attuned to it, they hardly need me at all. Then there are the students in the middle – the students who need me to explain the concepts and encourage them to succeed. Each semester I try to capture more and more of that third category and also find ways to win over a few more of the first type. Perhaps, if I was a better professor, I would discover that many of the students that appear to be unreachable are, in fact, reachable.

All that is to say: I really care about this. So, how do I motivate the reachable students? I try to make their tasks very clear. I give them evidence of their good performance whenever it happens. I give opportunities to overcome poor performance. I try to remove all artificial barriers to their success. Lastly, I try to get on their side, so that we can tackle the learning together. Yet these are the motivational techniques that video games do so well. Tasks clear? Go kill the dragon and take his treasure, check. Evidence of good performance? A giant bloom of white light erupts from the screen when achieving the next level, check. Opportunities to overcome failure? Extra lives, check. Removing artificial barriers? Video gaming has responded to players by becoming more and more accessible, check. Trying to get on their side? Video game designers want the player to have fun and keep playing – everyone on the same team, check.

For logic, it looks like a match made in heaven, and that’s why I plan to try it out. The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work well. There is little danger, though. My desire is to assist my students, so I won’t sacrifice their performance for the sake of my experiment. I’m still trying to work it out in my mind, but here is my current plan. I would LOVE your suggestions.

  1. Switch from a grading model to an achievement model.
  2. After each section, the achievement for understanding that section is available to be earned.
  3. Achievements are earned by passing an abbreviated exam over that section.
  4. Letter grades for the course are assigned based on the number of achievements earned. 9/10 or 10/10 is an A. 8/10 is a B, 7/10 is a C, etc…
  5. Achievements can be earned in any order as long as they are earned by the end of the term.
  6. You can test for any achievement up to 4 times (three times during the term, and then also on the final).
  7. The final allows students to collect any unfinished achievements in addition to the achievements for mastering the new material since the last achievement test.
  8. Quizzes are diagnostic. They are not graded, but merely serve to show where the students need to focus their energy.
  9. Homework is not graded, but available so the students can practice the skills needed for each achievement.

Using this model instead of the traditional midterm/paper/final model has some advantages for this particular class. Since Logic class is primarily designed to build up a new skill, the midterm/final system is artificial, as are assigning and grading homework and in-class quizzes. My students are legal adults. They are in my class to learn something. I’m there to teach them. Why not ask them to do what I in fact want them to do, namely, to build the skills to analyze rudimentary arguments? I can still have high standards, of course. But those standards are based on the performance needed to gain competency achievements, not an arbitrary feeling I have that I am “hard enough” as a professor. The students know exactly what they need to learn in order to pass, and can start checking each one off as they progress through the course.

Anyway, those are my musings on gamifying Logic. I’d be interested in having a competitive aspect, but that might not be possible. If a reader can think of a way for the students to compete against each other yet still protect the privacy of their grades, please share it in the comments below.

Perhaps there is something in your life you can gamify? Try it, and have fun storming the castle!

6 responses

  1. If they actually learn logic by the end of the gamification, then by all means proceed. But it would serve no purpose to make it easier for students to breeze through a class without a globule of the book wedged in their minds.

    Also, the games should exercise all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: memory, comprehension, analysis, etc. I do enjoy a professor breaking the mold however, and wish you the best.

    • Thanks, Discipulus. My goal isn’t to lower the standards for success, but to make succeeding more enjoyable. People do things they enjoy, and also try to get better at them. If I can harness that, the students have a better chance of actually learning and succeeding.

    • I’m not a historian. Maybe Western Civ would be a bad class to gamify. I can’t see a way to gamify my upper-division philosophy courses. Well, maybe I could have taught Post-Modernism using gamification, but that would be only for ironic purposes. 🙂

      Are there specific things you want them to learn? Can you reward them for learning each one so they can check it off as accomplished?

  2. This sounds like a really fun way to take a class. As a gamer myself, it sounds like something that would already be familiar and might make learning more natural. You should try it for sure!

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