Part 6: Feedback Elements
Previously, in the Insert Coin Series, we have covered the game design element categories dealing with identity and challenge. Now we move to the final category, elements that provide feedback. Feedback is any system which lets players know how they are doing. In this post, I address four for the most commonly used feedback systems in gamified classrooms, Badges, XP, Levels, and Leaderboards. These systems are some of the most effective feedback mechanisms because each one rewards players with in-game status, the most powerful of the 4 Ways to Reward Success in a Gamified Classroom.
Badges- The feedback system that most people probably think about when it comes to gamification is badging. A badge is a visual representation of accomplishment. The idea is that students get a badge when they show proficiency in a certain topic or activity. When students do something noteworthy, they get a badge. At first, this seems like a very simple way to make learning fun and motivating. However, creating an effective badging system is much more complicated than just making a bunch of badges and handing them out at the appropriate time. While it might be motivating at first, an improperly designed badging system can become downright laborious over time. For some tips on badging you can check out several of my other articles like A Botanical View of Badging and 5 Tips for Badging Done Right.
XP- Another common method of delivering player feedback is awarding experience points, or XP for short. XP accumulates over time as players complete challenges in the game. This type of system lets players quantify the exact amount of work for which they have been given credit. The trick to creating a good XP system is differentiation. The more difficult the task, the more XP the completion of any given task is worth. Would a player have any motivation to complete another task if every task, regardless of difficulty, was worth 10 points? Slowly increasing your XP awarded as the challenge level increases is the best way to go. One common mistake that teachers make is to grade students based on XP. While at first this may seem reasonable, as grades are a quantification of work completed anyway, upon further consideration it can go terribly wrong when it comes to motivation. For more this topic, see my upcoming post on Why Grades and XP Don’t Mix.
Levels- XP is just one number, and by itself means very little. That is why many games also use a leveling system. This means that when a player accumulates a given amount of XP the character gains a new level, usually associated with a title or hierarchical role. The higher the level, the higher you climb in the hierarchy of status. For example in a “space” themed game, you might start out as a Recruit and then advance in levels to be an Ensign, Lieutenant, Commander, and finally a Starship Captain. Levels add descriptive milestone markers to the XP system and give meaning to the quantified growth. The key to creating a good leveling system is inflation. Each level should be more difficult to attain than the one before it. For example, a player may need to accumulate only 30 points to rise from level 2 to level 3, but should have to then gain 50 points to get from level 3 to level 4. This inflationary structure makes higher levels even more valuable by making them more difficult to obtain.
Leaderboards- A popular way to keep track of XP and levels is with a classroom leaderboard. Usually this manifests itself as a list of all the students in class ranked in order by total XP. In theory, this seems like it would be very motivating as students scramble to get to the top. However, we need to be careful because leaderboards only operate on two motivators, Fame and Shame. The trick with leaderboards is how to engage the motivator of Fame without engaging the motivator of Shame. For tips on how to do this see my article 6 Tricks for Shameless Leaderboards. When you have mastered that concept and are ready to implement a shameless leaderboard, check out my post on Creating an Automated Leaderboard with Google Forms, Sheets, and Sites. This is a free solution that can help keep track of student XP on a website by simply inputting points into a Google Form.
So, which system is right for your gamified classroom? I have seen classrooms that utilize all four of these at once, and I have been in classrooms which use none of them and opt for less traditional ways to give student feedback. Whichever system or combination feedback systems you select for your classroom, make sure it is quick and responsive. One of the guaranteed fails in gamification is lagged feedback. Nobody wants to shoot a basketball and wait two weeks to find out if it went in the hoop. Choose a system that gives students specific feedback in a timely manner and it really will not matter which form it takes.
Next up… Part 7- Some Assembly Required
Related Articles: 4 Ways to Reward Sucess in a Gamified Classroom, A Botanical View of Badging, 5 Tips for Badging Done Right, 6 Tricks for Shameless Leaderboards, XP Calculator 2.0 with Guild Support
Catch up on the Insert Coin Series! Part 1- Introduction / Part 2-Why Gamification? / Part 3- Essentials of Game Design / Part 4- Identity Elements / Part 5- Challenge Elements / Part 6- Feedback Elements / Part 7: Some Assembly Required / Part 8- Your Epic Fail / Part 9- Game On!