4 Ways To Bring Gamification of Education To Your Classroom

4 Ways To Bring Gamification of Education To Your Classroom

Increase student engagement by gamifying your classroom

The trend is sweeping the nation and companies are using games as a way to engage and motivate its users. This post explores the role of gamification in education and provides four examples of how you can bring the learning method into your classroom.

What is Gamification?

By definition, “gamification”  is the use of game design and mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.

We’ve seen this approach in a variety of settings: completing our Subway punch card to win a free sandwich, receiving a badge on Foursquare for being the first of friends to check in at a particular restaurant, or expanding our profiles on LinkedIn to bring the “completion bar” up to 100%. Gamification has even worked its way into the automotive industry with the innovative dashboard of the Ford Fusion hybrid. A high-resolution display features a rendering of vine-like leaves. Waste gas, and your vines wither. Conserve, and they blossom. The idea is to encourage brand loyalty, so how will gamification impact the education sector?

Gamification of Education

Games, in any form, increase motivation through engagement. Nowhere else is this more important than education. Nothing demonstrates a general lack of student motivation quite like the striking high school dropout rates: approximately 1.2 million students fail to graduate each year (All4Ed, 2010). At the college level, a Harvard Graduate School of Education study “Pathways to Prosperity” reports that just 56% of students complete four-year degrees within six years. It’s argued that this is due to current systemic flaws in the way we teach; schools are behind the times. Watch a single lecture on innovation trends in education, and the presenter likely notes the striking similarities of a modern-day classroom and one of centuries past. It’s been proven that gamifying other services has resulted in retention and incentive. For example, website builder DevHub saw the remarkable increase of users who finished their sites shoot from 10% to 80%. So, in theory, it should work for schools as well.

How Can I Gamify Education in my Classroom?

Educators have tested this theory and seen positive results. There are a variety of ways to introduce your classroom to the gamification of eduaction and we’re providing you with just a few ideas! We hope to spark a discussion on gamifying education so that educators can discuss the topic more thoroughly and provide examples in which they have used gamification to make learning more engaging.

1. Gamify grading: One success story is Lee Sheldon, a professor at Indiana University, who gamified his course by abandoning grades and implementing an “experience points” system. Students’ letter grades are determined by the amount of points they have accumulated at the end of the course, in other words, by how much they have accomplished. Because of the extracurricular interests of the current college-age generation (games!), Professor Sheldon attributes success to the fact that “the elements of the class are couched in terms they understand.” Students are progressing towards levels of mastery, as one does in games. Each assignment and each test feels rewarding, rather than disheartening. Using experience points allows educators to align levels with skills and highlight the inherent value of education.

2. Award students with badges: For each assignment completed, award students with badges. This may seem like a regression back to Kindergarten stickers of gold stars, but it’s working for Khan Academy. As students watch instructional videos and complete problem sets, Khan Academy awards them with points and badges to track progress and encourage perseverance. Western Oklahoma State College is implementing this form of gamification into their technology classes, with badges like “Moodle Noob No More,” or, a personal favorite “Drop It Like It Hot” to indicate mastery of Dropbox. However, as previously noted, it’s important to add value to the badges, like bonus points, skill levels, etc.

3. Integrate educational video games into your curriculum: The use of games allows students to fail, overcome, and persevere. Students are given a sense of agency—in games, they control the choices they make, and the more agency students have, the better students do. Instantaneous feedback and small rewards (or big ones, like winning) are external motivators that work. Case in point, Mr. Pai, a 3rd grade teacher on a mission to make learning fun. He disrupted the traditional classroom setting by introducing the Nintendo DS, among other technology, into his daily curriculum. Students practiced math and language through the use of computer and video games. In just eighteen weeks, his class went from a below 3rd grade level to a mid fourth-grade level.

4. Stir up a little competition: Top Hat is adopting game mechanics by including a “tournament” module in our platform. Professors have found that the tournaments incentivize students to learn the material and practice. After all, everyone wants to see his or her name on the leaderboard, right? Celine Petsche, a teaching assistant in the School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, uses Top Hat’s tournament module to engage her students. Previously using iClicker to quiz her students on the assigned reading, Celine found that the use of the tournament function egged on some competition, boosted morale and got her students excited about demonstrating their understanding. Celine additionally noted that the tool worked as a great equalizer among students. Introverts were able to demonstrate their knowledge of the material and participate without having to raise their hands. Most of all, “gamifying” the review of readings simply boosted the general energy of the class. Something that can be particularly challenging during the early morning seminars!

Other ideas:

Implement a class-wide rewards system: Encourage camaraderie among students by setting up a rewards system where students achieve something as a team. For example, set a goal of 80% of the class passing an exam. As a reward, give the entire class bonus points or even a party. That way, students are working to master the material together instead of competing, and the highest-achieving students will help those around them.

-Gamify homework to encourage informal learning: Ultimately, educators hope that games translate learning into informal environments. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for an educator. Games allow the curiosity—and the learning—to continue after the bell rings. How about a treasure hunt? Quests?

-Create a digital, customizable classroom management system built on role playing themes: Okay, maybe this one is a little more challenging. But read this Wired article on how six grade teacher Ben Bertoli is gamifying his class by doing exactly that.

Those who resist gamification in education often cite its improper use of rewards as a motivator. Critics argue that relying on games can be detrimental to intrinsic motivation. Receiving a badge for a job well done is meaningless without an understanding of what specific skills this badge rewards. We agree; games can’t be used to replace pedagogy, but can be used to enhance the overall learning experience.


A Few Other Gamification Resources:

Education Levels Up! – A no0bs guide to Gamifying your Classroom

Why Badges Work Better Than Grades

TED talk: Jane McGonical “Gaming can make a better world”

Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother? 

Image courtesy of bluewolf.com



Add yours
  1. 3

    Coming this September, I am gamifying my classroom using a TLLP grant. You can follow my trials and tribulations here: gamification.commons.hwdsb.on.ca . Thanks for this post, it’s given me resources to further my learning….a lot to think about! Follow @adeletweets and @gamificationQV.

  2. 4

    I’m surprised that there are no LTI add-ons for an LMS to add a gamification element. Using badges is a start, but there are so many other components. The hardest part is managing all the extra data that a gamified classroom creates, so having something integrated into an LMS would be great.

        • 7
          Top Hat

          Gotcha. Thanks for your feedback. We will pass that along to our Product Team. Have you tried Top Hat? Did you know we have LMS integration for Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Moodle?

          • 8

            I have piloted Top Hat and will use it with one high school class this year. I’m aware of the integration (which was great news) – my current LMS is Canvas, but we have D2L licenses in Ontario so I may switch (export) for at least that one class.

          • 10

            Yep. I teach in Oakville. I think you have a great product and lots of potential for the high school market as well.

  3. 15
    Anu Nevalainen

    Suzanne, thank you for your concrete examples and ideas! We’re just about to
    gamify our company’s trainings so I was looking for ideas about that. Also I’m
    working on my next blog post on how to motivate different people, this post is
    great for that as well. It hasn’t been that long since I realized that
    gamification can be used in learning and was so excited about the idea that I
    had to write a blog post on that: http://www.cloudriven.fi/en/blog/what-motivates-to-learn/.
    It’s all about motivation!

  4. 17

    Some gamified workshops might be totaly controled (players might be given with same or diversified start positions) with so called “lecturers account” or “coach account”. Free demo version of that platform is free to play educating business simulation game http://virtonomics.com/

  5. 18

    I’ve been thinking about gamifying my 6th grade social studies class per ancient civilization (i.e., Egypt, China). You’ve given me some starting ideas – thanks!

  6. 19

    I am a researcher & I’m interested in gamification
    I need your ideas to help me designing a virtual learning environment based in gamification in teaching the English Language PLZ

  7. 22
    Shana Snyder

    I am very interested in learning more about gamification and instructional game design. I was never a huge fan of playing video games, with the exception of the original Mario Brothers, but I have had many students in the past who were huge gamers. I could see how the design of gamification would really benefit students. I like that gamification provides the positive reinforcement of badges for completing assignments that may otherwise seem daunting like homework. I also like the idea of gamifying grading and implementing an experience points system. I feel that students become fixated on the number that they receive rather than the knowledge or experience that they are gaining. The idea of earning points that are later turned into a grade promotes the gaming experience similar to earning points to advance to the next level.

    I have seen students compete in the classroom when we used to have math programs like First in Math where the students compete against each other and members from other schools around the world. Do you have any suggestions for students that are not motivated by competition? I always ran into this incident in the past where a student did not care if he or she was in the top five on the leader board or not.

    Do you think that gamification would be possible in a school with limited technology resources? At my current position the number of computers is limited, but I do have a Smartboard in the classroom. I am very intrigued in the idea of implementing this into the classroom setting any idea, tips, or pointers would be greatly appreciated.

    • 23
      Matthew Baggetta

      Hi Shana,

      Thanks for the comment. At it’s root, gamification is about engaging student in a fun and interactive way that inspires them to focus and exert an effort to learn- even, if not especially when confronted by difficulty. There are no doubt many lo-tech ways of doing this, a quick search of ‘low tech gamification’ yielded this useful slideshare with lots of helpful and practical tips. Good luck!

  8. 35
    Samantha Wilson

    Hi Suzanne,
    Thanks for the information!
    However, I do support the recent idea that gamification causes extrinsic motivation that can do harm. Being an ex-teacher, I know how difficult it is to gain “pure motivation”, that is, the inner motivation that helps students become better in any subject they like.
    However, with the popularization of gamification, it has become really unbearable to see how my former co-workers (teachers, tutors, etc.) are trying to apply gamification strategy to their classes. That’s sometimes pathetic.
    Gamification isn’t a thing that can be used so easily. There are so many aspects of it that should be given a thought.
    Teachers often forget about that and turn the process into a hunt for updates.
    Do you think the paranoia about badges and gamification is going to decrease? Would be glad to hear your opinion.


  9. 42
    Sheldon S

    So often, people get hung up on the fact that so much of gamification theory comes from the world of video games that they assume it has to be an entirely digital exercise. Some of the best examples of gamification I have seen has been accomplished with paper, bulletin boards, and some creative planning.

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