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Getting Started With Gamification

By Leigh A. Hall
 | Nov 19, 2015

shutterstock_77073655_x300“Gamifying” your classroom offers the opportunity to increase your students' motivation, help them develop autonomy, and foster positive social relationships in your classroom. You might already be aware of the concept of gamifying your classrooms, or you might have read Laren Hammonds's post on why you might want to incorporate gaming. You might find yourself interested, excited, and ready to go but not exactly sure where to start. I'm here to help you with that.

Before you begin the game

Gamifying your class, be it a small or large portion, is an exciting task. I love creating quests and achievements and have found that it allows me to be very creative with my teaching. But before you start to gamify your class, you have to go back to basics. You have to identify the following:

  • What part of your class do you want to gamify? For example, do you want to gamify one unit or a single project?
  • What do you want students to learn?
  • What are the typical assignments and readings?

You might find that as you get into gamifying your class, some of your answers to the above change a bit. That's OK. The point is that you can't just jump into gaming without understanding what it is you want to develop into a game.

Create your quests

In the world of gaming, words like assignments, tests, quizzes, and grades are removed. Instead, you will want to use words like quests, battles, Boss fights, and experience points (XP). Once you know what it is you are gamifying, you can shift into making any of these things. For example, quests.

Quests are your assignments. They don't have to be anything fancy and can be left pretty much how you developed them before you started gamifying.  Write out the directions for each quest however you normally would. I suggest giving it a fun title. For example, I have designed blogging quests for my courses but call them Exploratory Quests because my students are exploring particular kinds of knowledge.

Determine your XP

In gaming, students earn XP. All students enter the class with zero XP and then work their way up—just like in a video game. You will need to determine how much XP each quest, battle, and Boss fight is worth. Next, you will have to reconcile the XP with however your district calculates grades. 

In my courses, 90%–100% equals an A. I added up all the possible XP students could earn and then made a grading scale that showed how much XP fell within that 90%–100% range. I tell students up front how much XP all their quests/battles/fights will be worth and show them the grading scale. That way, they understand what they are working towards and can have a frame of reference for how they are doing.

Decide if you want achievements

You may wish to give your students badges or other rewards for reaching certain milestones. For example, as students in my course make their way through their blogging quest they can earn achievements, or badges, as they progress. I have Level 1, 2, and 3 blogger awards as well as the Master Blogger achievement. These become progressively difficult to obtain and require students to do more work to reach the next one. I use Schoology to award badges. Not all students will be motivated by badges, but some will. I think it's worth considering.

Final thoughts

Gamifying your classroom can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Here, I have outlined a simple way to get started. As you make your way into the world of gamifying, you will discover that there are a number of interesting directions in which you can go. However, these basics—knowing your content, designing quests, assigning XP, and making decisions about achievements—will always be decisions you have to make. These four criteria form the base from which you will build many exciting adventures with your students.

Leigh Hall headshotLeigh A. Hall is an associate professor of Literacy Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is currently examining how gamification practices can be implemented in education in ways that support students' literacy development as well as teachers' professional development. Her blog, Confessions of a Bored Academic, explores issues of teaching in higher education.

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