Exploring #Gamification Techniques for Classroom Management
Exploring Gamification Techniques for Classroom Management. Paper Presented at Games+Learning+Society 9.0, Madison, WI. Available online here. (Author: Scott Nicholson, Syracuse University School of Information Studies)
A variety of gamification techniques from the literature are used in two college courses. Some techniques, such as an experience point-based system and leaderboards, proved confusing or frustrating, while other techniques, such as adding a meaningful narrative layer and allowing students to create their own learning paths, engaged students more deeply. In this article, the techniques used and the effects of each are explored and suggestions are provided for instructors considering adding game layers to the classroom.
The concept of meaningful gamification is that the primary use of game layers is not to provide external rewards, but rather to help participants find a deeper connection to the underyling topic. This is done through game elements that focus on concepts of play, that provide information and choice, and that encourage reflection (Nicholson, 2012).
From case 1: “Meaningful Gamification”, was online asynchronous and was open to both undergraduates and graduates.
While leaderboards helped the strongest students, they demotivated the other students in the class. This leads to an important lesson for those adding game elements to a classroom: game elements should help the weaker students in the class succeed.
After six weeks, the students received a video inspired from their mad wizard guide offering them a Matrix-style choice – to choose red and start a completely different adventure that they would help create, or to choose blue and everything would go on just the way it was. All of the class except for one person (the top performer on the leaderboard) voted to change the class. Several of the other top performers admitted that they felt it would be better for them to keep the class the way it was, but wanted to see what else might happen, so voted to change the class. When the students logged into the class Monday morning, the old syllabus and scoring systems were gone, and students were greeted with the challenge to create a new syllabus, assignments, and gamification system that would run for the last month of class….
Create Your Own Learning Paths
One group came up with an excellent solution: students would assess what they had done in the class, set their own goal grade, and then create a set of assignments (taken from a very long list generated by another group) that enabled them to reach their goal. I negotiated with each student to ensure that the workload was fair given what he or she had done during the first half of the class. Students were allowed to re-do these projects until the work was satisfactory. Some students wrote long papers while others created videos, games, or annotated presentations. In the end, every student except for one succeeded in all steps of their own plans.
This success is predicted by Deci & Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory (2004). In this theory, learners require three things – autonomy, competency, and relatedness. Participants perform better when they have control over what they are exploring; and in this class the students got to set their own paths of learning. Participants benefit when they feel they are gaining competence; likewise, the students got to re-do assignments until they reached a satisfactory level. Participants have a better mental state when they can connect to other people and the world around them; likewise, students were engaged with other students in small discussion groups and then applied gamification to a topic area of interest. This theory is at the base of meaningful gamification with the hopes of using game elements to help people engage more deeply with non-game settings.
From case 2: A campus-based course on public speaking and design, was a required course for undergraduate students. (non-gamers)
Using a Story(Role-Playing) for Engagement
One of the successful aspects was using a narrative layer over the course that gave the students control.
- Students were then able to pick what real-life company they were working for, as the new Head of External Communication for the company, and all semester the assignments were communication activities related to the company.
- The final project had the students being hired as adjuncts to teach this class, so they had to create a their own syllabus.
The Failures of the Grading System
Students who are self-driven will succeed in a space with optional or required activities, but students who are not as self-driven will be more likely to fail in a system with too much freedom. This problem is made worse when students are engaging with a game-based system that is unfamiliar to them and in a course that they aren’t very interested in taking in the first place.
Creating a Failure-Safe Space
One grading element based on play-based concepts that was successful is that of allowing students to re-do an activity. One of the concepts behind play and games is that they are based in failure; learning occurs by trying something, failing, reflecting, and trying again. In this class, students were allowed to re-do assignments on specified dates. This worked quite well, as it gave weaker students the support needed to help them achieve in the class while not getting in the way of the stronger students. Students re-doing an assignment always improved, and it was encouraging to see the students grow and improve.
Most Important Lessons
- Game elements should be selected that support and encourage the weaker students in the class, as the stronger students do not need as much assistance.
- Adding a narrative element to a class, especially if the students have some agency in creating their part in the story, can create motivation for students.
- Giving students choices can empower them in creating their own classroom experiences, but giving them options to not do work will create opportunities for weaker students to fall through the cracks. Using a failure-based model where students can re-attempt work can allow weaker students to learn, improve, and gain confidence. Allowing students to create their own path for learning in a negotiated personal contract can be quite empowering for the student and result in very positive results.