Gamifying the Educational Experience

May 14, 2021
Caucasian man in front of laptop with game icons floating in front of him, over laptop.

Let’s Talk About It

“Roll the dice to see who goes first.” “Press the start button.” “Heads or Tails.” We’ve all encountered at least one of these phrases throughout our lives and all three of them have one thing in common: games.

Consider your first experience with a game. Perhaps it from moving pieces around a board to achieve a goal, maybe it was from firing up a video game console and working to complete levels and ultimately defeat a boss, or it could’ve been working with a team to achieve a common outcome.

As you reflect on these experiences, think about what motivated you to succeed and achieve the desired results and how you would describe playing a game. Words that come to mind for me are intrigue, excitement, and positivity. In drawing attention to the last word, positive experiences lead to better engagement and ultimately a return to it.

Games are Everywhere!

Society has slowly started integrating gamification into its fabric. The most recent examples include using augmented reality to chase Pokemon, quick and easy yet controversial ways to invest in stocks and even Amazon has started a program to increase motivation and output in warehouses. Whether or not we choose to accept it, games and gamification of experiences will become more accepted and relevant in the future. If we encounter these situations in our everyday lives, why shouldn’t we expect our learners to want this type of experience to carry over to our classrooms?

Gamification has been a buzz word for a long time in education and has gained more traction in recent years as technology has developed to support it in new and different ways. Simply defined, gamification is using game like elements (point scoring, competition, rules) to increase motivation and engagement through a variety of chosen means. The concept draws its roots from the motivational framework of experiential learning, which encourages learning through reflection on doing. Chances are you don’t remember much about your 10th grade Algebra class unit on linear equations, but you most likely can recall an experience where you competed by yourself or with a team in an environment which purpose was to achieve a goal or master a concept. These catalysts help propel the concept of gamification forward. For a deeper dive into the psychology of gamification, I recommend checking out the Octalysis framework.

Action Plan

If gamifying your course or part of it seems appealing, there are several ways to think about how to begin implementing this. Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Encourage Teamwork

In an effort to boost engagement and classroom community, organizing learners into teams is a great way start your gamification journey. Consider ways that you can encourage teamwork by having students compete against others to earn points or rewards. This could include weekly tasks or competitions where teams earn points on a leaderboard that carries throughout a semester. Create the leaderboard using a Microsoft product like Excel or a Box Note.

From here, you can request that your college educational technology team build a widget on your Brightspace course home page to help students keep track of their team’s progress.

2. Create Immersive Experiences

Another way to think about gamification is creating an experience that students want to be a part of. Escape rooms have become an awesome way to engage students while still allowing learning to happen.

These activities include many elements that provide meaningful engagement, from creating a narrative structure to the feeling that a task needs to be completed in a certain amount of time. Critical thinking is also a key element in escape rooms, which can have a lasting impact on retention since it happens in the context of an experience.

3. Awards

Provide opportunities to earn points and awards through the completion of tasks. This type of gamification appeals to the extrinsic motivation of learners. An opportunity for this includes taking advantage of the Awards feature in Brightspace (coming soon!).

This tool will enable instructors to provide merit-based awards to students. These can be included on various activities in Brightspace and further help to provide next level engagement for your course.

4. Stand Alone Competitions

Competitions within a class session or course can further increase engagement and retention by allowing students to compete against one another. This type of activity encourages learners to engage with content before and during a class with the expectation that their knowledge will be implemented.

Poll Everywhere’s competition feature is a great way to design and create an experience that learners can be a part of individually or with a team. Competitions also provides a leaderboard that is updated after each round of questions. The activity is also a great mode of formative assessment to take a snapshot of how well the class as a whole is understanding the content.

Wrapping it Up

In summary, gamification provides the opportunity to create an environment where you as an instructor can harness a powerful tool for human learning through the several elements outlined here. This type of strategy is one that can be deployed gradually throughout a semester as you see fit. Ideally, these elements help guide the structure of the classroom and help learners develop skills that keep them engaged and ultimately succeed in meeting the outcomes for a course.

Gamification will continue to find more ground in education as instructional strategies evolve and we find new ways to meet the needs of our learners. GAME ON!

About the Author

Alex Walters
Senior Instructional Designer & Digital Accessibility Specialist

Keywords: Teaching, Faculty Development, Educational Technology