Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gamification as a Tool in Online Course Design

Game of Twelve Lines, an Ancient Roman version of Backgammon
This morning I sat down with my technologist to go through her task list for getting this Ancient Rome course ready to launch by September.  Beyond working with the module designers to input their content, embed videos, etc., she will be working with me to find appropriate Canvas-compatible plug-ins that will allow me to do things like insert polls, have students comment on primary texts (and be able to see other comments), and embed short voice-overs to orient students at the start of new modules or to provide content that we can't find elsewhere.  Another course-level design idea I asked her to work on was figuring out a way to "gamify" the course.  I don't intend to turn the entire course into a game; but rather, want to find a way to use students' natural inclinations to compete for rewards to reward good learning strategies (Audrey Watters will hate me for saying this, I know).  There are a couple of reasons for wanting to build this element into the online course design: first, it's a way of translating an important feature of the face-to-face version of the course, namely, the emphasis on identifying and practicing successful learning strategies--basic things like not trying to cram three weeks' of content into a study binge the night before an exam.  It's also a way of helping these online students feel like they are part of a larger group.  It will remind them that they aren't learning in isolation. 

The big challenge for online students is motivation and persistence.  I'm trying to think about how I can design a course that recognizes and addresses this.  I have some basic ideas: students can earn "laurel wreaths" (or whatever) for things like completing a module within a certain time frame; for persisting on mastery quizzes until they get 100%; for doing practice questions; etc.  They can also be awarded wreaths for particularly good free response answers; for answering another student's question on Piazza, etc.  A particularly impressive exam performance might earn them some sort of badge.  I can imagine allowing them to trade in some number of these for points on an exam.  What I'm struggling with is how to tie these parts together into a coherent whole.  I will be looking around for models.  Have you ever built this kind of incentive structure into your online class?  Can you suggest something useful for me to look at or read?  Do you have ideas you are willing to share with me?  This is very much an experiment and I'd be very appreciative of any advice or suggestions.  I don't want it to overshadow the course itself; the idea is, really, just to add a bit of a fun element for a group of students who will, for the most part, be working on the course asychronously (though I can imagine having some live events, like a kind of quiz bowl before the midterm exams).  Please comment with any ideas, suggestions, things to avoid, whatever!

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