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Insert Coin Series: Part 9 – Game On!

The Insert Coin Series has examined why and how one would attempt to gamify their classroom. We have looked at methods for creating student Identity in game. We have looked at common strategies for differentiating Challenge structures. We have considered the benefits and drawbacks of typical classroom Feedback systems. Now that you are ready to embark on your own gamification adventure, it is time to fully disclose that none of this is necessary.

You do not need to gamify your classroom to make it more engaging. According to Daniel Pink’s Drive, Intrinsic motivation stems from a combination of 3 factors: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.imgres Simply put, people are engaged and motivated when they have choice in their task, when they know they are doing well, and when they know why they are doing it. Gamification taps into all three of these motivational components. Consider the three categories of gamification elements previously discussed in this series: Identity, Challenge, and Feedback. When you combine any two of these you produce a component in Pink’s framework. Mix Identity and Challenge by allowing players to choose their own path and you get Autonomy. Give a player Feedback on the Challenges they choose and you get a sense of Mastery. When a player sees their character grow, they receive Feedback on their Identity, establishing a Purpose for playing.

Games are engaging in part because they activate the primary components of intrinsic motivation through a blend of Identity, Challenge, and Feedback. Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 5.57.04 PMHowever, this is not the only way to create Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in your classroom. Strategies like Project Based Learning, Making, Tinkering, Coding, Service Learning, Inquiry Based Learning, and really any type of student centered learning creates an engaging space for learners. As much as I love gamification, it really doesn’t matter if you actually use it or not, as long as you are doing something that gets your students engaged.

You do not need to gamify your classroom to make it more fun. I don’t know if I should say this, but… Gamification does not inherently make your class more fun. If done well, gamification can create a type of suspended reality, an environment where fun can grow.  That does not mean that the gamification creates the fun. Even the best designed games cannot make people have fun. In fact, nobody can MAKE anyone have fun. The best we can do is create environments in which fun can be had. In my article, 4 ways to Make School Fun, I describe four different types of fun which could easily exist in school if we allow them: Challenge, Exploration, Cooperation, and Making a Difference. 3557813915_3d832a2dca_oNone of these require gamification, but they do require an environment which allows for them. Gamification is one tool that helps create this space for playful teaching and learning. However, at the end of the day, as Ralph Koster states, “Learning is fun.” If your class is not having fun, you may need to ask yourself a hard question, “Are they not having fun because they are not actually learning?”

If you understand the fundamentals of student engagement, you quickly understand that nobody NEEDS to gamify their classroom to achieve a fun, engaging learning environment. That being said, if you think learning is truly fun, if you are ready to create a playful environment for your learners, if you are ready to step to the side and play along with your students… Game on!

Missed out on the previous Installments of 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!

Insert Coin: Part 8- Your Epic Fail

In the field of gaming the term “epic fail” refers to a situation where you fail so dramatically that you can’t help but learn something from it. Even with the best designed gamified lesson plan, you are almost guaranteed to have an epic fail. Failure can be scary, especially in front of students, and most people want to avoid it. However, these failures are in fact they are the only ways that your game design will improve. Upon launching your first gamified experience, you will probably have a few unavoidable failures and here are some reasons why.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 1.57.44 PMPlaytesting- Nearly every game that you see in a game shop has been playtested. Playtesting is a rigorous process of finding all of the problems of a game. Test players play the game over and over, trying to exploit as many flaws as possible. During this process the game designer takes careful notes and makes tweaks to the rules and mechanics of the game to try to find the perfect balance of challenge and fun. In the classroom, we do not have the luxury of playtesting. Our game environment is happening in real time. We only get one shot at this version of the game and the next opportunity to make changes may very well be next year. That means that your students are the playtesters, and you can be certain that they will be trying to find every flaw and exploit every loophole in your game design. This should be no surprise because they are most certainly already trying to do this to your regular classroom structure.  So, do what any great game designer does: take careful notes, make adjustments, and appreciate each failure as a way to improve your design.

Player Types- Despite their best laid plans, a game designer can never account for how players use the game to accomplish personal goals. Back in the early days of online gaming (we are talking text based games where you had to type in what you wanted to do), a researcher named Richard Bartles began to study how players used the game despite the designed intention of the game. He proposed that there were four types of players: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers.Character_theory_chart.svg  Since then, other researchers have evolved this theory to include a few other types and change some of the terminology to fit more modern games. One of the more commonly accepted modern models is put forth by Andrzej Marczewski. His player type model includes eight categories like Socializers, Disruptors, and Philanthropists. If you think about your classroom, I guarantee you can picture the students who use your class, despite all of your best intentions, for socialization or for disruption. Be aware that just because you intend for your game to make your players behave in one way or another, there is no guarantee that they will. Each player has their own agenda and will leverage the game environment to achieve it. Guaranteed, you will fail to provide every player with what they need at all times.

Game Life Cycle- All games must come to an end. Most games are usually over when the story comes to an end or when one player wins. However, in a gamified classroom, there is no winner and everyone is playing simultaneously yet at a different pace. So, when should the game be over? When a game extends over a long period of time, the game tends to be over for a player whenever they choose to disengage. Players disengage at different times for different reasons. Maybe the game is too easy, or too difficult. Maybe they have run out of challenges to accomplish or repeatedly cannot pass a certain challenge. Maybe they have assumed they cannot win and seek an alternative oasis for their ego. Maybe they have found a different game to explore.  The bottom line for teachers is that they should choose an appropriate time to end the game. My advice would be to quit while you are ahead, while most students are still engaged. Leave them wanting more. Letting a game run too long ensures that students will begin to disengage. This unknown time to student disengagement is a failure that will sneak up on you when you least expect it.

slipnslideGamification takes a lot of hard work and planning on behalf of the teacher. This is a big risk to take, especially considering the above challenges and all but guaranteed failure at some point in the process. I mention these not to frighten or discourage teachers from designing a gamified setting, but to allow teachers the space to fail gracefully. Even the best game designers need to deal with elements beyond their control. As gamified classroom designers we should expect failure especially on the first go. As teachers, we should welcome failure and model the failure process for our students, as it is truly the only way in which we advance.

Next up… Insert Coin: Part 9 – Game On!

Related articles: Top 10 Gamification Fails

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!

Insert Coin: Part 7- Some Assembly Required

When you open up the box of a board game, like Candy Land, you will find that it includes all of the components needed for the game to work. Most board games include little player pieces so that people can keep track of themselves, an actual game board so that the pathway to winning is clearly marked, and an instruction book which not only tells the story but makes the rules clear so that everyone is on the same page. 5589183352_2f4627fbd2_oIf you were package your game in a box, what would be included? You would need a system for tracking progress, guiding game flow, and informing players. So, let’s open up the box and take a look at how you might accomplish each one of these objectives while incorporating Identity, Challenge, and Feedback to create a cohesive and engaging learning environment.

Pirate Character Sheet FinalTracking Progress with Character Sheets –Character sheets are just like those little plastic gingerbread dudes in Candy Land. A character sheet is a way for each individual player to keep track of their own progress. This character sheet utilizes identity elements like a drawn avatar which acquires “stuff” upon gaining each new level. It also indicates themed status levels, like “Deck Hand” and “Captain,”  which allow for character growth within the narrative. The character growth chart makes it so that player can always tell how many more experience points are needed to progress to the next level. On this sheet there is no place to display badges, but there easily could be. The beauty of a character sheet is that students can update it themselves, which makes the feedback immediate as soon as the teacher signs off on it. Gamification does not require technology, especially if the tech gets in the way of the fun! However, my favorite character sheet that I have seen lately actually uses Google Docs and incorporates student reflection for each mission. Read more on that in my upcoming article Interactive Character Sheets with Google Docs.

PirateMissionMenuforInnovationZoneGuiding Game Flow with Menus and Maps- This mission menu or adventure map is like your game board. This a key element of the gamified classroom because breaks down a larger goal into smaller, discrete, and attainable tasks. While character sheets are intended to be a private matter, mission menus or adventure maps could be displayed in public. The tiered menu suggests appropriate levels of challenge as it onboards players with easy missions at first and then offers more difficult ones later. To add more complexity, consider making certain missions only available to certain character levels or guilds. There is also a differentiated XP value for each mission depending on its difficulty. The mission menu or adventure map should be like any good game board, clearly delineating the path to the Candy Castl… er… success.

Informing Players with a Dashboard- The game “dashboard” is the term I will use to define the public space for displaying information about the overall game. Your game dashboard is like your instruction booklet. Dashboards can be posted anywhere that is public. Usually this means a website, but it could also be a bulletin board. Your dashboard should have your narrative theme running through it, a posted mission menu, perhaps a list of badges available, updates for all players, random events, new information and clues for solving quests, and perhaps even an individual or guild leaderboard.  Whatever is included and wherever it is, make it highly visible and update it often to help keep your players engaged with the game.

Components like these are what hold your game together and make it visible. Choose wisely though, because a poorly designed component could actually break your game. For example, an online dashboard might seem cool, however the upkeep and maintenance of that site might be overwhelming. This lag could slow your feedback system down, thereby decreasing engagement. The trick is to design game components that do only what you need and no more. Don’t get too flashy! The engagement does not come from a great website, it comes from a careful balance of Identity, Challenge, and Feedback. Figure out exactly what needs to be in the box and close the lid.

Next up…  Insert Coin: Part 8 – Your Epic Fail

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!

Insert Coin: Part 6- Feedback Elements

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.

imagesBadges- 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.

5718955698_8221b0457dLeaderboards- 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, Botanical View of Badging5 Tips for Badging Done Right6 Tricks for Shameless LeaderboardsXP 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!

Insert Coin: Part 5- Challenge Elements

Insert Coin: Part 5- Challenge Elements

304317777_0cf4d98181Well designed games, especially video games, are excellent delivering a consistently increasing level of challenge as player skill increases. If a game gets too challenging before the player is ready, the game could get frustrating. If the game fails to offer a sufficient level of challenge, the game may become boring. However there is a narrow zone, right between frustration and boredom, where players feel truly engaged.
Originally proposed by psychologist
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this state of optimal experience is commonly referred to as “Flow”. Game designers are constantly using challenge elements to keep players in flow, otherwise they know that players will stop playing.

Flow in the Classroom- Educators can also use challenge elements to keep learners in flow. We can tell when students are out of flow because they either want to give up or don’t care about the task at hand. There are also those beautiful moments when students find flow in the classroom. They are interested and motivated because they are operating at the upper limit of their ability while at the same time not being overwhelmed. One goal of gamification is to create more of these moments of flow by delivering the appropriate challenge to each student at the exact time they are ready to succeed.  One of the best ways to generate more flow in a learning environment is through differentiated learning. This makes sense because differentiated learning means that everyone should be getting appropriate challenges at the appropriate pace.

MissionPoint Table WWIILearning Menus- Perhaps the easiest way to offer differentiated learning activities is through a menu system. Offering students a variety of tasks at different challenge levels will help them select the challenge that is right for them. Learning menus work well when organized from least to most challenging objectives. It is also nice to have a requirement for completing one or two missions on each tier before moving on. This example of a gamified learning menu is from a high school unit on World War II. In this menu system, the teacher has arranged the tiers of the menu to align with the content standards for the unit. Students actually got to choose at which level of depth they wanted to engage with each standard. In essence this learning menu can actually double as a rubric for student performance on the content standards!

AdventureMap_BAdventure Maps- Another way to move students through a differentiated learning experience is by using a learning map. Playmaker school uses adventure maps as the base of their interest driven curriculum. Each mission along the pathway covers a given skill or standard. But the students also have choice in the direction they want to go. Adventure maps accomplish the same task as learning menus but have a bit more linear flow. They can also layer a bit more fun as a map can match up with your narrative framework.

Resource Management- While Menus and Maps are a great way to have students select their own level of challenge, don’t forget that teachers can adjust the difficulty of each task by either adding or taking away available player resources during missions. Player resources include such things as art supplies, reference materials, technology, time, teacher assistance, and even other students.  For example, allowing students to cooperate on tasks is probably the biggest advantage you could give them. However, limiting the time allowed to complete a mission can add challenge to an otherwise simple task.

The Player Journey- Whichever style you choose for differentiation you should consider these three phases of the player experience: Onboarding, Exploration, Chokepoints. These three concepts are explored in depth in Designing The Player Journey but for our purposes I will briefly describe them here as well. The first few missions in your game should actually teach your players how to play your game. These initial onboarding missions are more about habit forming than they are about the learning of the content. they might focus on things like teach them how you want them to turn in assignments or update their character sheets or to check their point totals. After those habits are  formed, then players are ready to select challenges of varying difficulty and explore the game environment. This is where your differentiated learning opportunities come into play as students self-select ways to show their learning like creating posters, or poems, or videos, or songs, or comics, etc. Eventually, there may be a chokepoint, a challenge ALL players must attempt when they are ready and they may not move on until they have proven their worth. This is your chance to standardize your data collection and compare side by side how players are performing.  Many video games use similar mission flows although they might call it tutorial levels, quests, and boss levels or something similar to those terms. Considering the player journey when creating your learning map will help keep your players in flow by making sure they have what they need before they go, allowing them to self-select challenges, and putting them through a rite of passage when they are ready.

The key to creating flow in the classroom is to provide every student with the appropriate challenge at the appropriate time. A well designed differentiated activity structure is a great first step in this process. The students can select the challenge they are ready to tackle and the teacher can modify the difficulty of each mission by either adjusting available player resources. If this activity structure and expectations are well laid out in a mission menu or adventure map, the students can progress at their own pace. If all of this can be accomplished while staying true to the narrative framework or theme of your game, you are well on your way to creating a fun and motivating gamified experience for your learners.

Up Next: Insert Coin: Part 6- Feedback Elements

Related articles: Designing the Player Journey

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!


Insert Coin: Part 4- Identity Elements

Insert Coin: Part 4- Identity Elements

Who are your students? Who do you want them to become? Student identity is something that, intentionally or not, teachers contribute to creating everyday. One of the greatest rewards of gamification is that it gives the teacher a chance to temporarily modify the identity of the student and in doing so, hopefully modify the behavior of the student, at least within the game context. There are several ways that a teacher can influence student identity within a game by utilizing a variety of game elements. In this post, I will highlight three that are commonly seen in gamified classrooms.

The first, and possibly easiest to implement, is a narrative framework. Simply put, a gamified classroom can be more than just a set of rules and points; It can be an adventure. Perhaps your class will be settlers on a new continent, or deep sea explorers, or even UN diplomats.  Whichever story or theme you choose will determine the flavor of the rest of the game. A narrative framework not only helps put the students’ work in context, but also gives the whole class a fun, common language when discussing classroom rules and objectives. For example instead of calling quick assessments “quizzes,” in a detective themed narrative, they might be called “mysteries.”

There are many ways to create a narrative framework. A common method is to create a themed website that tells a story. A great example of this is “Clockwise” a site by Mr. Daley.  If you click around you will realize that his class is nothing more than an literature based ancient history class. However, his narrative structure allows the students to be time travellers who use literature to travel back in time. A more complex narrative framework is that of an alternate reality game. This type of narrative framework involves incorporating different media, such as social media, to continually advance the story. Twenty Twenty is an alternate reality game created by “The Teched Up Teacher.” In this example,  a Twitter feed is utilized to send students clues and information as the story or game unfolds. Of course the simplest way to tell a story is just by telling a story. It is as easy as saying “You are all meteorologists and we are going to be predicting the path of hurricanes in order to plan an evacuation route.” The only requirement for a narrative framework is creating an alternative, collective reality in which you and your students can play.  

3047085444_7ee4308a19Another way teachers can help students find identity in a gamified classrooms is through the use of avatars. Avatars are a representation of the player in the game. These representations can range anywhere from a nickname to a 3D online character. Some teachers write off avatars as a waste of time, but if used well, avatars can help students take chances in the classroom by creating a small buffer between the student and their failures. For a more in-depth analysis of avatars in the classroom, please read my previous article on the  3 Dimensions of Educational Avatars.

6972091704_a714310d16_bThe concept of guilds is yet another commonly utilized identity element. A guild is a group of individuals who combine their strengths to achieve a common goal. The biggest benefit to the guild system in a gamified classroom is that a teacher can simultaneously create an air of both cooperation and competition. Guild members can cooperate with each other while they compete with other guilds. The use of guilds increases the intensity of the collective success while alleviating the stress of failure by making it slightly less individualized. Guild members can share in their successes (and failures) as a team.

The art of identity creation is often overlooked in the classroom but it is one of the most important elements of the gamified classroom. In his book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee encourages teachers to help students create an “identity of success.” It doesn’t matter if they are a CEO or a swamp monster. Just make sure that they feel successful.

Up Next:  Insert Coin: Part 5- Challenge Elements

Related articles:   3 Dimensions of Educational Avatars.

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!


Insert Coin: Part 3- Essentials of Game Design

Insert Coin: Part 3- Essentials of Game Design

In my last post, I discussed why gamification (done right) is such a promising tactic for increasing student engagement. Gamification is an attempt, within the larger context of school, to construct a straightforward and responsive environment for our learners. Assuming that you buy into that rationale, we should turn our attention to the matter of how to accomplish this task.  It might be useful, then, to look at what exactly gamification is in order to apply it to our classrooms.

Gabe Zichermann, a thought leader in this arena, states that “gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.”

According to that definition, all a teacher would have to do is apply game mechanics and game thinking in their classrooms. This of course is easier said than done because most teachers are not experts in game design. The good news is that you do not have to be. However, you do need to think like a game designer and understand how applying different game mechanics can affect the player experience. So, with that in mind, let’s delve into a little game design theory.

If we were to build a game from scratch, there would be several elements to consider. Five commonly used categories of game elements are: Space, Goals, Components, Mechanics, and Rules. Since we are not creating an actual game, but instead just making a real life situation more “game-like,” several of these are already taken care of for us. The Space refers to the physical or virtual classroom environment, the Components are your students, and the Goal should always be for students to demonstrate their progress toward learning outcomes. That just leaves Rules and Mechanics for us to deal with. While there is a strong argument that rules and mechanics should be differentiated (and for true game design, I absolutely agree), I do not find that distinction useful when helping teachers design gamified settings. So, even though expert game researchers will probably frown on me for doing this, for the duration of this series, I am going to lump Rules and Mechanics and even some of the variations in Space and Components into the general term of “game elements” so we can streamline the process of designing our gamified classrooms.   

Reduction_GearGame elements are, for our purposes, every penalty or reward, every restriction or allowance, every challenge or shortcut, that a game designer can use to change the feel of a game. Think about them like the individual gears of a complex machine. Each gear has a function and needs to work with the others to get the job done. If you change the gears, you change the function of the machine. To illustrate this, let’s examine the basic game of Tag.

The elements of Tag are simple. If you’re it, tag someone. If you aren’t it, don’t get tagged. If you get tagged, the it property transfers to you and you’re it! Let’s change the it transferring element to “if you get tagged, you can’t move, but if someone else tags you, you are free”. Now we are playing Freeze Tag. Or instead, let’s change the game elements so that everyone sits in a circle and the it will tap everyone on the head but they only become it if the current it yells out the name of a specific waterfowl! Now we are playing Duck, Duck, Goose. (I said GOOSE! That’s right, you heard me, Minnesota! …not “Grey Duck!”) gooseTo sum up, we just played three different games with the same goal (chasing someone) but very different elements. The layering of game elements can completely change the experience for the player.

There is a staggering number of game element combinations that a teacher could incorporate into any game or lesson. To help us sift through the multitude of game elements available to any game designer, I will separate them into three functional categories: Identity Elements, Challenge Elements, and Feedback Elements. As you will see, these may bleed into one another, but knowing the primary purpose of the element will help you design your game.

These three categories are crucial to consider when gamifying a classroom because they help us tackle some of the biggest questions we already face as educators: Who do we want our students to be? What do we want them to achieve? How will they know when they have done so?  The next three posts in this series will focus on each category individually and examine which mechanics are commonly employed by teachers to accomplish each one of these three goals.

Up Next: Insert Coin: Part 4- Identity Elements

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!

Insert Coin: Part 2- Why Gamification?

Inset Coin: Part 2- Why Gamification?

Before we dive into what gamification is and how best to approach it, we should examine the rationale for bringing game design into the classroom. In order to understand why a teacher would spend time and energy transforming their pedagogy with gaming principles, we need to first ask this question:

What is a game?  One of the leading authorities in the field of gamification currently is Jane McGonigal. In her book, Reality is Brokenshe states that “When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.” -Page 21

Think of any game and try to find those four traits. I will apply this model to basketball.

Goal- Get the ball in the hoop. That’s it.
Rules- You must dribble in order to walk. You must stay in bounds. You have 24 seconds to take a shot once you cross the centerline. There are 66 pages more of this in the rulebook.
Feedback- The scoreboard tells you who is winning, how much time is left, how many fouls you have. You get feedback from watching the ball in the air and hopefully go through the net. You also get feedback from your teammates, your coach, the other team, and the crowd.
Voluntary Participation- You do not have to play basketball. Even Jordan went and played baseball.

Scoreboard_UConn_Georgetown_Regional_semifinal_2011Games are engaging because you know exactly what you are supposed to do, exactly what you can and cannot do to achieve that goal, exactly how well you are doing, and, if you don’t win, you can always choose play again (or not).

Something very interesting reveals itself when you apply the same model to “school”

Goal- What is the goal of school? …graduate? …learn? …make money? …make friends? I guess it depends on the student, and the family, and the school, and the community.
Rules- What are the rules of school? …the school handbook? …classroom rules? …social norms? …parent expectations? There seem to be a lot of rules, many of them unstated and in constant flux.
Feedback- How do you know how well you are doing? …grades? …dirty looks? …the lunch table you are allowed to sit at? …suspensions? …academic honors? …getting grounded? Students are bombarded with multiple streams of feedback, often in driect opposition to each other.
Voluntary Participation- Nope.

Games are engaging in the exact way that school is not. Games, even the more complex ones, are straightforward and responsive. School, even at its best, is often confusing and sluggish. It’s no wonder that sometimes students feel disengaged.

School is a really lousy game.

Gamification is an attempt, within the larger context of school, to construct a straightforward and responsive environment for our learners. It also is an attempt to bring more fun into the learning environment. There are many types of fun and school has the potential to engage all of them. For a research-based suggestions on how to bring some more fun into a school environment, please read my previous post 4 Ways to Make School Fun. In my next post, I will introduce some fundamentals of game design and begin to discuss how teachers can apply them to their classrooms.

Up Next:  Insert Coin: Part 3- The Essentials of Game Design

Related Articles:  4 Ways to Make School Fun  

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!


Insert Coin: Engaging Learners with the Essentials of Game Design

Part 1 – Introduction

“Insert Coin to Continue…” You have 15 seconds to decide. You have another coin, but you could also walk away and play a different game. You have made it farther than ever before, level 22, just three levels away from completing the game. You know exactly what you would do differently next time. Five seconds left.  Walk away…or “Insert Coin”?

Lately there has been an explosion of books and speeches touting the engaging power of games. This newly rising field of study about how we can harness the power of games is called gamification. Now, companies are paying big money to tap into this power, expecting greater customer engagement. In fact there are many arenas in which this power might be useful, including education. Teachers are always looking for ways to get their students to engage with learning, to get them to insert just one more coin into their education. So why isn’t every educator applying gamification to their classes?

Gamification is a concept that is simultaneously gaining and losing traction in the educational community. When they first hear about it, eager educators are interested in the potential increased motivation that gamification promises. Yet some teachers are finding that gamification is not delivering the engaging environment for which they were hoping. This is because a busy teacher can easily get pulled into the trap of simply applying the most obvious gamification buzzwords without truly understanding how they fit into a larger context of game design. It is not surprising then that some educators have found that implementing these tools without proper planning can actually create a de-motivating environment for a majority of students.

Gamification is not about playing games, like Minecraft, in the classroom. That actually falls under the scope of Game Based Learning (see my previous article Gamification vs Game Based Learning). Gamification is not about Badges and Leaderboards. Those things are not mandatory and are often just a very small part of the gamified environment. Gamification is not about using technology. Some of the best gamification can be done with paper, pencil, and stickers. Gamification is about careful design and thoughtfully created learning experiences that leverage all of those fancy buzzwords.

So what’s the secret? How do you make this whole gamification thing work so that your students get the fun, motivating experience you wanted them to have in the first place? The “Insert Coin” blog series is intended to answer exactly that.

Let me start out by saying that there is no one singular way to do gamification right. It looks different in every classroom that I have visited because each gamified experience should be designed with a specific learning goal, and specific players, in mind. This means that, even though I will be showcasing examples from well-constructed gamified lessons, each reader will have to figure out a system that works for them. This also means that sometimes I will be giving not as much of a “how to”, but more of a “why to” as we look at the educational psychology that informs the general rules that will help you design your own gamified classroom.

The Insert Coin Series will start from the very beginning by addressing the justification for gamifying a lesson and then move into the specific tools and techniques that are more commonly seen in the educational sector. We will finish by talking about how to combine those tools in appropriate ways and also address what could, and probably will, go wrong as you set forth on this endeavor. This series is planned to be released in eight parts(or more?) with weekly updates. Get your quarters ready!

Up Next: Insert Coin: Part 2- Why Gamification?

Related articles: Gamification Defined for Educators and Gamification VS Game Based Learning.

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!