Gamification is the concept of turning your classroom into a gaming environment. The classroom becomes and MMO without the O, so to speak; you gain experience for doing stuff, you get levels, rewards, and use it to track progress. It seems that it would ultimately work best in a primary classroom setting, but I have managed to use it in my secondary classes.
I first heard about Gamification from my friend Gavin during his first year of teaching (he has since left teaching and taken up massage therapy...I totally support this career change). He told me the idea as a 'wouldn't it be cool if'...and off I went. I started trying to figure out what would be worth experience, how much, how would I record it, creating avatar presets, setting up a complex excel spreadsheet, and figuring out funny names for levels. The idea was that every time a student levelled up, they could add a statistic and add an accessory to their avatar.
I used it all through last year and it had a fairly good impact.
Here's what I learned
Pros: (can't seem to get rid of the big gap here)
- students like the concept of the game mechanic
- gives them a 'value' for their work and effort
- a way of literally counting their progress
- doubles up as a way of tracking participation in class and work habits, which are useful for reporting and discussing the student's progress with their parents
- it made me focus on what students were doing in class and make an effort to take notice of who was working well, who was helping whom
- 'bonus points' take on a new meaning
- students often wanted to know how they were going
- the biggest experience earner was participation, not necessarily 'smarts'
- negative experience can be used to reflect poor behaviour or effort without needing to go as far as a detention or serious consequence (this is good for certain things, when a 'warning' isn't strong enough, and a detention is too much)
- keeping up with adding the accessories ended up being too much (I have since removed that option)
- students wanted non-schooly looking avatars (too much work, I ignored this)
- the Excel spreadsheet got a little unwieldy after a while, though I did know how to mess around with it (my uncle, retired from Sony programming, has since created an Excel database with Visual Basic and it's so much easier to use now!)
- not all students really cared, some thought it was stupid, so it didn't necessarily always work as a motivator...but it mostly did work
- it's extra work (duh)
- when students leave or join the class, it throws my lists out of whack a little (not a major issue, it just bugged me)
Welcome now, to the
Realm of Learning
The Master of the Realm
This is personally how I wanted to do this; I created preset elements on separate layers, which took a fair bit of time, but then creating the avatars was quite easy because I just turned off all the layers and only turned on the ones I wanted. Using the school uniform avoided inappropriate suggestions or outfits, and made it easier for me. The coloured background is a new addition, this is based on the students results from the True Colours Personality Test, which is a great way to get to know your students better.
You could alternatively have the students draw their own, and this works well for primary students and gives them more ownership. High school students get all 'nerr, I can't draw, I don't wanna do it', so I circumvented that by drawing them myself. Most students think they're pretty cool, and start asking me why I'm not an art teacher. There are reasons.
Anyway, to go along with the avatar, students create a name, and they assign beginning 'stats' in areas that reflect the values of our school: Respect, Integrity, Servanthood and Excellence (you could do whatever, that's what I chose to do with).
I decided that students should get experience for being a student. Turning up to class, bringing all their materials, participating or asking questions, helping others, completing homework, all worth experience. I decided that it was appropriate to award those who did well on assessment, because I don't think this should be a 'get an award just for turning up' kind of world, so whilst students get points for turning up, they get lots of points for doing well on assessment (passing gets points, a B gets even more, and an A gets even more than that). Conversely, poor behaviour, not completing homework and so on all garner negative experience, which I think is appropriate so that there is some kind of measurable consequence for not meeting standard expectations. So there is positive experience, negative experience, and just plain missing out because you didn't turn up.
I tested some expectations and tried to figure out how much experience a student could conceivable gain in a week and used that to determined the levels I would have them aim for. I used an experience table I found...somewhere? It's fairly common, I just didn't want to make up my own. I decided on 25 levels total (I didn't get anyone over level 12 last year, but I was fine with that) and it generally works out well. There doesn't seem to be a way for anyone to 'cheat' the system, good students got more experience than students who didn't work well, it somewhat favours more academic students, but I feel this to be appropriate for a school setting where you do, ya know...academic stuff. Students who worked hard and participated well, but didn't necessarily do well on assessment, tended to do fairly well as well, which is what I wanted.
When it comes to actually tracking the experience, that's a whole other kettle of fish. I ended up creating a physical booklet to tally things in class, and at the end of every week I enter the experience and check the progress of the students.
The booklet is good, and I use it to keep track of pretty much everything. I put a notes section at the bottom which is good for keeping track of homework set, things to follow up on, events that may have happened, etc.
The Excel spreadsheet on the other hand...
Yikes. So now I have a much cleaner system thanks to my uncle John, and putting in experience is a much quicker, easier process. Your way of assigning experience could be much simpler, it could be physical, you might be able to write your own program. Other ways of implementing this was ideas like smaller tests being worth experience, and then you levelled up by defeating the 'boss' assessment, so levelling was more based on completing stages of your learning rather than daily activities.
The rewards work in a couple of ways. Every time a student levels up, they assign a stat point to one of the 4 areas of the RISE. I used to have an accessory system so that students could make their avatars more exciting, but the work involved was too much. Now, students gain a physical reward: levels 1-5 is a sticker, 6-10 is a small stationery item, 11-15 a somewhat better item and so on. I love buying stationery as rewards and gifts, and not all items are equal, so I've ranked them in 4 levels, and as student reach higher levels, they can get the better items. One of the experience earning activities is getting a 'compliment', a system of keeping track of behaviour that is above expectation. At the end of each term, these are counted and they can get a reward depending on how many they earned.
In between levelling, there is this last element that I included because it helps with the feel of the game mechanic and helps students to see their work as something worthwhile: achievements. Most of the achievements centre around consistency, and some focus on doing especially well at something. I created a bunch of little badges, and I add these to the students profile.
Achievements bring with them bonus experience, but I decide how much it is worth, because for some students, turning up to class on time for 3 weeks in a row is not a big deal, whereas for others it is a significant milestone, so to reflect the individual abilities, challenges and natures of the students, I vary the experience they receive for achievements. This is my concept of fairness, and I haven't had any objections from the students thus far.
If you're interested in trying out Gamification for your class, I would recommend:
- Doing research, see what else is out there
- Find quick ways of doing things, do feel you have to make it all from scratch
- Form it to suit your workload, don't make it the straw to break your camel's back
- Try and make it link in with elements of your school environment/community, this helps to support the school as the main authority in the classroom and avoids the idea of it being something too 'alternative' or inappropriate
- Focus on the fun, focus on the achievement, and help your students see it as something positive
- Spend a decent session making sure the student understand the process to avoid confusion over the school year