Gamification of Learning: Part 1

Part 1: Background

Educational games have been around forever. You have probably all played, shown a child, or at least heard of Typing Tutor or TypeBlaster, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, and the Oregon Trail. These are all educational games that have filled a nitch for years and years and have been modified, enhanced or replaced by similar updated versions to meet the graphical expectations and newer tools that kids have available to them today.

A theory of Fun

In real life (outside the university) we see gaming elements being used in a variety of ways in a variety of situations. For example, American Idol and similar copycat programs asks us to participate in picking a winner in their competitive singing program by voting; McDonald’s year after year tries to entice us to play Monopoly, McDonald’s style and win a million dollars; and even Fitbit, Weight-Watchers, and similar health websites invites us to create online communities and challenge our friends to walking more or losing weight while we cheer each other on.

It seems like higher education has made no real effort to join the gaming or gamification movement until recently. But, that’s not really true! Good instructors have been using gaming strategies for years in their classes. We often provide scenario-based instruction, or have students work in groups, each assuming the role of different stakeholders. Some instructors have provided sample exams with multiple opportunities to get the answers correct similar to the ‘many lives’ found in arcade and video games. Flashcards, puzzles, scavenger hunts have also been used by faculty to increase interest and retention of concepts in the classroom. And, these are just a few of the many game strategies that educators use. These strategies make learning not only more fun, but also more memorable.

You might be interested in a presentation A Theory of Fun (click image above) and the author of Raph Koster’s Blog. As a well-respected gaming designer has written essays and given presentations on gaming and the connections between fun and thinking.

Click for PDFCloser to home, Alex St. John gave a keynote at the UAA’s Serious Fun educational game gathering in April of 2014. His presentation gave a very interesting look at why we play. You can see his slides by clicking on the image, and you can watch the entire presentation, posted to Google Plus. Either/both are quite interesting.

We’re going to take a few posts to look more closely at what this new trend called “Gamification” is all about. But before you leave this post, we encourage you click on the infographic below Gamification in Education, Pulling it apart to put it back together.

Click for Gamification in Education Infographic

What do you know about gamification? What are your thoughts, ideas as we start out? Please answer the 3 questions below and feel free to add comments below.




    • Joe Liddle on November 10, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Hi Kathy,
    Great article…

    I have been thinking about gaming/education for years. Here are a few ideas that would introduce gaming elements into online learning:
    1) Some kind of daily reward or incentive to go online every day. In many online games, there is some sort of lottery or roulette wheel that you click and you get a daily reward. This creates a compulsion in the gamer to go online every day or else they miss their chance at the reward. In education the reward might be an extra point on a test, or a chance to redo an old test or something else. I have yet to figure out a way to implement this. You need some sort of coding which includes random number generators to get it done the way I want it. I would hate to be managing this manually for 100+ students. So I would need it automated somehow.

    2) Your idea of having multiple retakes for tests (corresponds to lives in gaming) is something I have been doing for a long time. Near the end of the semester I have surprise days when students are allowed an extra try at a test provided they have the homework score above 80%. It is a reward( a retry on a test) for improving homework, which will itself improve their test score. So it is a self reinforcing circle.

    3) One gaming idea that might work is to introduce some kind of virtual currency into the course website such as “MathMoney”. Students could earn their MathMoney by getting homework done ontime or by getting difficult problems done correctly. They could spend it by purchasing….something? or trade it for something with other students? I have not implemented this idea because I have no idea how to manage this and also I have no idea what they would be able to do with their MathMoney. But virtual money or energy points, or resource gathering is a major element of nearly all computer games. Gamers get very motivated to accumulate their virtual gold, iron, wood food etc. And if there is a market to exchange such things for other stuff they need then they really get moving on accumulating their virtual resources.

    4) Having something to bash, whack or shoot could be a major stress relief for students. It could be fireworks, or balloons that pop or bad guys that you get to shoot. I know it sounds kinda violent but nevertheless students/kids/ adults really get off on blasting things like monsters and asteroids and space invaders. Now if this was somehow connected to learning stuff or as a reward for learning stuff it could really be powerful. Once again I have no idea how to implement such an activit.
    But here is a link to a kids math game where I think they do it really well ‘MathDojo’:

    The Dojo whacks the punching bag as many times as you get the problems correct. My kids love it and consequently are pretty good at adding. That is an example of giving a reward for learning which also releases stress or tension.

    I know for a fact that there are students (eg my kids) who would do eagerly do hundreds of math problems provided that they were rewarded with rockets with which to shoot something such as attacking space zombies. On the other hand some other people might not respond to this type of reward at all.

    Take care

  1. I loved reading your ideas to gamify a course and enjoyed the Math Dojo example. Very well done and fun!

    I was thinking of ways you might reward students with “MathMoney” and what they might be able to purchase with it. Perhaps:
    — Buy a “Get out of jail free card” (turn in 1 assignment late)
    –Buying power to delete one test score
    — Purchase exam from last year to study from
    — or maybe it’s just money or points that get you onto a leader board for noteriety?

    It would sure be fun to create a course using these strategies and see if it makes a difference in student scores when compared to the same course without these strategies.

    Thanks for sharing! Kathi

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