Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gamifying College

Gamification is certainly a hot topic these days.  Jesse Schell opened Pandora's Box with his Visions of the Gamepocalypse talk.  Sebastian Deterding discussed the promises and pitfalls of gamification.  Ian Bogost came right out and said that Gamification is Bullshit.  And yet, there are many who believe that gamifying education could be a very good thing.

Take Extra Credits (now hosted on Penny Arcade) and their view of how we might gamify education.  They envision rewards systems that count up from zero rather than down from a perfect grade.  Perhaps the most interesting example of gamifying education so far, though, has been the charter school Quest 2 Learn.  I was skeptical of how well the concept would be implemented at first, but the more I learn about it the more impressed and excited I am.

Enter the latest project I've encountered: Just Press Play.  I first learned about this initiative on the Microsoft Research Connections Blog (via Reddit, of all places), where Donald Brinkman posted an article called Unlocking Academic Success with Frame Games for Learning.  As he describes the project:
It began with a simple question: “Why can’t students earn digital rewards for being awesome?” A research group comprised of university faculty, staff, and students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) decided to find out. The team delved into the everyday travails of college life—from academia to social activities—and developed a real-world game, Just Press Play, which helps students earn a digital reward for the ultimate achievement: collegiate success.

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Again, at first glance, it's easy to worry that this is just another one of those gimmicky projects doomed to failure.  But to be honest, I don't think this is going to be the case.  Check out the slides for a presentation made at the 2011 Games in Education conference about the project (be sure to click on the Speaker Notes tab under the slides).  There are definitely hints in there that suggest a lot more thought has gone into this project than what a typical marketing team has probably done for their commercial gamification projects.  For instance, it's clear they recognize that intrinsic rewards are much more sustainable than extrinsic ones, and want to harness that.

This is something I'm definitely going to watch. I like the fact that it's for college students rather than the usual K-12 audience and am intrigued to see how much more the students engage with all aspects of college life.


blagh said...

You might also like to check out Khan Academy - originally was just a guy posting math tutorials for his niece in India, now spanning a plethora of science (including computer science) topics.

Gail Carmichael said...

Indeed. There is lots of interesting discussion surrounding this initiative. (Here's just one example.) Perhaps a good topic for a future post. :)

David Klappholz said...

The Khan Academy videos are great, but clearly work only for extremely bright, extremely motivated kids. You and I and Gail would likely have been in that category in K-12/8-12. Most students aren't.

BTW, Gail, can you suggest a good introduction to what "gamification" actually means -- for a beginner, i.e., someone who isn't involved in playing or designing or implementing games, but who is a CS faculty member with a fairly strong background in educational psychology. (davidk6@gmail.com)

Gail Carmichael said...

That's a great question David. I'll email you as well, but I actually think some of the links given at the beginning of the post might be useful. Are you familiar with James Paul Gee's work? He doesn't necessarily call his view on games and education 'gamification' but I certainly see it that way, and as an educational psychologist, you should be particularly interested in what he has to say.

Oli said...

We've talked about this a bit in the lounge. Basically turn the degree acreditation process into an achievement system. If you do courses x/y/z, you automatically meet the requirements for minor W or major V and it gets tagged onto your official degree description. If you've already got a degree and return to take additional credits, you could get an updated degree printed off which conveys the new minors, or if you've met the requirements for a new major without necessarily enrolling in the program, you could get an invitation to attend graduation rather than having to apply to graduate. As far as letting students see their progress, the degree requirements are already spelled out in the course schedule. They'd just have to be able to see visually how they've met and progressed against various sub-requirements as they progress through their coursework.

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