What Makes Gamification Work

I have the privilege of speaking with Vicki Davis for her podcast Every Classroom Matters  next week on the topic of gamification, so I have been spending time contemplating what I feel are the most important parts of this topic. One extremely important part about any classroom strategy is what factors are needed for it to succeed. A bit over a year ago, I embarked on  a gamification strategy for my summer library program. My motivation was to attract students to this voluntary program and keep them coming back. I began by studying articles and books on the subject, most notably Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal , Gamify Your Classroom by Mathew Farber, and The Multiplayer Classroom by Lee Sheldon.

After preparing myself mentally, I jumped into a program redesign based on what I thought I knew. Like most new ideas, it did not work exactly the way I thought it would. I spent lots of time designing shiny new badges and buying all sorts of little prizes that I thought would motivate students. Both of those things barely elicited a yawn. As the summer went on, fewer students were even staying for the prize give away or asking for the badges, themselves. As I assessed the situation, this is what I think was happening:

Students want novelty. They gladly jumped into each week’s new science, reading and math challenges, whether they had completed their badges or not. New things, especially hands-on, maker-type things were always wildly popular.

Students want recognition. As I previously stated, actual prizes and physical badges did not mean much, but there were many eyes on the online leader board. Even students who were not at the top of the leader board were very interested in making at least 50,00 points, which caused them to get their name on a special bulletin board posted for all to see.

Students want personal choice and agency. Another reason I think the badges were not as popular as the overall game was that they had some fairly rigid requirements. Points, in the other hand were available for a wide range of activities which changed frequently, many of which were hands-on and open ended. Often, I was surprised, myself, to see what students designed and built to meet the requirements I designed for gaining  points. If it met what I wrote in the challenge, it got the points. Creativity was encouraged.

My journey with gamification is just beginning. If you want to hear where it is going, stay tuned.

 

 


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