Leaderboards are a common fixture in a gamified learning environment. The argument for using leaderboards in a classroom is that they are a motivating way to give feedback to our learners. Leaderboards motivate people by tapping into two primal constructs, fame and shame. The hope is that, when scores are publicly visible, learners will be motivated to climb to the top. For competitive, fame-seeking, achievement-oriented students, this is indeed what happens. However, the students on the bottom of the leaderboard are more likely to be discouraged by the public display of their ranking. In rare situations, those students may be motivated to get out of the bottom ranks, but that motivator is shame. Shame is never the best way to encourage learning. So, are there ways to create less shameful leaderboards that still motivate learners? Here are a few suggestions.
Make them Optional- Mandatory participation in leaderboards is a sure fire way to create a shame dynamic. If you allow learners to opt into the leaderboard, they will be more likely to be motivated by their status, even if they are toward the bottom. For those who opt out, the activity can still be mandatory even if the leaderboard participation is optional. Those not listed on the leaderboard can still check in on where they would fall if they were participating in the leaderboard.
Use Avatars- Using avatars instead of real names gives students a slight emotional separation that can lessen the sting of the leaderboard. An avatar can be as simple as a random identification number or as complex as an alter ego. The important thing is that an avatar grants a certain amount of anonymity to a possibly shaming situation. For more on avatars, see my previous post – 3 Dimensions of Educational Avatars.
Make them Cooperative- Instead of listing individual rankings, list the rankings of groups in the learning environment. This encourages everyone in the group to pull their weight without singling out any one participant. Also, create a collaborative goal for the class. This can help make the leaderboard less about individual achievement and more about top contribution to the group goal. It is a subtle difference but, if spun properly, this concept can be effective.
Display the Top Ten- This is nothing earth shattering, but displaying only the top of the group will give those competitive types the recognition they are fighting for while not publicly shaming those who are not on it. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the top ten. Maybe yours can go to eleven!
Display Growth- Even if you are only displaying the top ten, if those ranks are based on cumulative totals, there is a good chance that they will not change very often. Even students who are working very hard might not ever get listed on the top ten. Instead of displaying a cumulative score, why not display a growth score? How about displaying points earned for the week or the weekly percentage increase? This gives credit to the students giving the most to their own learning even if they are not the top scorer in the class. Tap into fame for as many learners as often as you can.
Personalize- This is a very tricky proposal, but with the right technology we can get it done. Instead of showing everyone’s score in relation to the whole, how about displaying only the five directly above and below the student in question. This would give them smaller goals for overtaking the person directly ahead of them. When you are in 13th place, all you care about is being in 12th. Anyone want to try to get a system like this working? Let me know and let’s get a project going!
Make them Short Term- Leaderboards that persist over a long period of time have a tendency to stall out because those on top tend to stay at the top. The most exciting time for leaderboards is at the front end when everyone is very closely matched right out of the gate. Making leaderboards have a shorter life span is more encouraging to all because everyone has a chance to start over from zero on a regular basis.
Which one is best for your classroom? Good news, Everyone! You do not need to choose any one particular trick. In fact, combining multiple strategies makes for an even better scenario. How about an optional top ten leaderboard that displays team names?
Looking for an simple automated solution for a leaderboard using Google Forms and Sites? Check out this post on how to use my XP Calculator and Leaderboard.
Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.