This blog post was originally posted on the CUE blog.

Gamification in the Classroom – Getting Started

by BLOGCUE on OCTOBER 23, 2013

Angry Birds

Angry Birds

By CUE Member Alice Keeler

Gamification – what made me venture into the world of games as a teacher? One day I had a struggling student eagerly bring me his math homework and exclaim, “What is my grade?” Well… the student had not done any homework the whole year, failed every test and one homework assignment was not going change that F grade. All I could do was give the student a weak smile; the student left feeling dejected and unmotivated to do his homework again. Moments like these have me asking myself how the system can be better to motivate students to learn.

If you have ever played an app-based game such as Farmville, Angry Birds, Candy Crush or any other popular game and find yourself thinking about it when you should be doing something else you fully understand the motivating power of games.

GAMES

Many teachers play games in their classroom. A jeopardy review game can make a boring review activity fun. However, games are not the same as gamification.

GAMIFICATION

Gamification is the application of gaming mechanics to non-game situations. The basic idea is to look at what makes a game motivating and see how you can apply it to the classroom. One tip for gamification is to play games. As you play, try to figure out what aspects of the game are designed to motivate the player.

LOW RISK OF FAILURE

In a game, if the player is not successful the result is typically that they have to try again. When you first play a game such as Angry Birds the player will launch the bird, not quite sure what they are doing. Because the risk of failure in the game is low the player is willing to try new things, with minimal directions.

One way to gamify the classroom is to create a culture where there is a low risk of failure. Encourage students to try, praise their attempts and avoid putting everything into the gradebook.

Farmville Example

Farmville Example

IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK

In almost every game there is a feedback system and the feedback usually is immediate. As soon as the player launches the bird in Angry Birds, it is immediately known if they were successful. The player can use the feedback from path of the bird to correct their trajectory and try again. In Farmville, the game tells me when my crops need harvesting and I see the coins and XP points added to my account as soon as I harvest. The feedback in games is given along the way not necessarily only after a task is completed.

Games provide a variety of different types of feedback. Feedback is most valuable if it can be given as soon as possible. Computers can have the ability to let students know after each answer if they are understanding the material. Finding ways to provide feedback to students can help motivate them.

PROGRESS

Many games utilize a progress bar and levels to let the player know where they are in the game. The levels are indicative of how much success the student has had and it is usually clear what the student needs to do to get to the next level. Some games will increase abilities or unlock things to the player as they achieve higher levels.

One way to gamify a classroom is to give each student a progress bar or have them maintain one for themselves. As the student earns points the progress bar increases. The student can see tangible growth from their efforts. Progress bars and levels can help students to set goals and celebrate success. In the case of my student who did his homework and did not see his grade change, if I was using levels we could have figured out how much closer this put him to the next level and figured out what else he could have done to get there.

World of Warcraft Example

World of Warcraft Example

GRADUATED DIFFICULTY

In Angry Birds, the first level only requires that a single green pig be smashed. However, as the game progresses more pigs are added, wearing helmets and hiding in cement bunkers. When players start at level 1 it is typically very easy to reach level 2. In games such as World of Warcraft the player only needs 400 XP to progress from level 1 to level 2. The completion of the first quest is enough to reach level 2. However to increase from level 85 to level 86 the player needs to earn 8.5 million XP. Why does the player not feel frustrated by the need to earn 8.5 million XP? The player has 85 levels of success to build on, success breeds success.

Design your units to start with simple tasks that you can recognize and reward students for achieving. Break up units/instruction into smaller tasks that gradually get more difficult.

QUEST

Not all games have a story line, but several do. Angry Birds is not just a catapult launch, it is a game of revenge against these green pigs who stole the bird eggs.

Instead of a bridge building project, tell the students they are stuck on a remote island and a volcano is about to erupt. They must use their bridge building skills to evacuate the island before the volcano erupts…. Making a unit into an epic adventure can help draw students into the learning.

CHOICE

When a player comes to a game, they may each have different motivations or goals in the game. In playing World of Warcraft, I have many choices in the game. I can choose which quests I want to accept. I can choose what gear I want to wear. I can choose which continent I want to play on. If I don’t like a quest, I can abandon it and choose another. I choose to be a more casual player, gathering flowers and minerals to see how much I can sell in the auction house. Others are more serious gamers and choose to run dungeon raids to earn XP and level quickly.

Try offering students choices in how they achieve the learning objective. Allow for different paths to let students choose different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, different ways to express themselves creatively or perhaps let them choose to do a LOT of worksheets. I learned from World of Warcraft I can go in the woods and beat on wolves and bad guys, and eventually I will earn enough XP to level, but that will be slow going. Completing quests, of which I have several to choose from, will help me to reach my goals faster.

BADGES

When gamification is mentioned, there are some people who assume that meansbadges. Badges can be part of gamification, but are no means required when implementing a little gamification into your classroom. Badges can take on different roles. Badges can be used as rewards, recognition of specific achievements or ways to encourage students to go above and beyond. Another way to think of badges is as certificates. Badges allow for visual celebration of student achievement. It is nice to be recognized.

leaderphotoMASTERY

Games are about actual Achievement. I must actually kill the bad guy to earn points. I must smash all the pigs to earn any stars. I must play a word in the English language to take my turn in Scrabble.

Along with a low risk of failure,games encourage a mastery learning model. Sometimes students can feel that a single poor performance on an assignment or assessment is burned into the gradebook, never to be removed.

Some games are about competing against other players, Scrabble for example. Competition can be very motivating to some students and very de-motivating to others. The best competition is to compete against yourself. In playing the game Dots, you are your own leaderboard. The competition is to get a new high score.

Help students to know where they are at and help them to celebrate beating themselves.

PLAY

The best way to get into gamification is to play games. While games and gamification are not the same, games are the inspiration for mechanics of motivation for the classroom. Tell your spouse you are doing “research” and play. Heck, you worked hard… very hard. You deserve to play some games anyway.

Alice Keeler

Alice Keeler

Alice Keeler is a board member for CVCUE. High school teacher who uses gamification with her students. Adjunct professor, California State University Fresno. Doctoral Student at Boise State in EdTech for Gaming and Simulations. Google Certified Teacher, New Media Consortium K12 Ambassador, Microsoft Innovative Educator, IRON CUE 2011 competition winner, founder of coffeeCUE, #profchat, #GBLchat and master of the spreadsheet. Alice blogs at http://alicekeeler.com and tweets @alicekeeler