Last year I attempted to gamify my Science courses. My reason for wanting to gamfiy my courses was to increase student engagement. I wanted to see more students working and learning Science. I started by using gaming language, such as calling assignments quests and calling independent work soloing, for example, and by offering students badges for completing certain quests. That first attempt at gamification did not go anywhere near as well as I had expected or hoped. If anything it was quite a failure and nothing really changed in my classes. You see, I had already gone gradeless as a means of fostering intrinsic motivation in my students by doing away with carrots and sticks. What I got was a decrease in pressure on my students but maybe too much so. They had such little pressure to get good grades in Science that many of them did very little work! When given the choice to learn Science for learning sake or to learn and do cool stuff versus enjoying other pleasures such as socializing in class, many students chose the latter more often than not.
After reading ROLE (Results-Only Learning Environment) Reversal by Mark Barnes I found some possible reasons that my gamification attempt failed to engage many of my students. I had eliminated grades in favor of more specific feedback and I gave students time to work and learn by lecturing (talking) less but didn’t give students enough choice. In terms of what motivates people, choice, autonomy, and mastery, I’m not sure that I was giving students enough autonomy. With autonomy it’s tough because while some kids may need more a hands off approach to do fine other kids will need a lot more support. Mark’s book gave me a way to make my classes more student-centered to engage all my students. Mark ran his classes much like workshops and that idea appealed to me. Now how to do it.
The methods and ideals in ROLE Reversal are very much in line with gamification. So when I gave 3D GameLab (3DGL) a try this past summer I found the tool I needed to create a ROLE (Results-Only Learning Environment) and a gamified classroom at the same time! And boy I was surely not disappointed! 3DGL has provided what I needed to make my assignments into quests. The Learning Management System (LMS) style of 3DGL organizes all my content and manages when students get experience points (XP) for completing/mastering tasks and content, when they level up based on how much XP they have, and when they get badges for learning the different Science topics. Once I input all my assignments into 3DGL it does all the work (with little tweaks here and there). It has been amazing. The other great feature is that students can complete the assignments (quests) not only at their own pace but in any order they want! That was the choice component that I was missing before.
From the above interface I see all the assignments (quests) that students have submitted. Before a student can get XP or badges they have to show mastery. When they have shown a successfully completed assignment I choose approve and the student gets the XP and their assignment (quest) goes into their Completed slot. If a student needs feedback I type it on the dialog box at the bottom of the above photo. With many students I carry on conversations via this interface! I’ve conversed with more students on a daily basis than ever before. As a matter of fact, I’ve been approving and returning assignments with feedback so much that I haven’t had much time to blog here! I even check 3DGL for assignments after school at home and on weekends for real 24/7 learning! With 3DGL I give more pointed feedback than I ever have before. See when I walk around checking in with students I spend a good amount of time talking to them about non-Science stuff. We are connecting, really just socializing. This is important but through 3DGL I am able to give students feedback on their work and I’m giving more feedback than ever. Why? Because some students don’t feel comfortable asking for help, especially around their peers and 3DGL gives them the ability to get feedback without their peers even noticing!
When I give a student feedback and return an assignment (quest) it goes into their In Progress slot with a “needs attention” message. The student then knows that he or she needs to check the assignment (quest) to see what else needs to be done to get it fully approve and get credit for it. As has been said about gamification, it’s unlike traditional grading in that students don’t start with 100%, A+, and then lose points and chip away at it every time they make a mistake (a system I think is totally bogus and keeps our students from taking risks!). Instead, in a gamified classroom students start with zero points, level 1, and every time they successfully complete quests they earn XP (I really like calling it experience points because they get points for experience either doing something or learning new content).
So what I’m finding is kids working on Science a lot more! Sure I still have kids that don’t get much done in class, and even a few who do very little if anything in class, but I have seen more kids engaged. If anything using 3DGL assignments don’t go away just because the rest of the class has moved on! So now those kids who need very little guidance from me get to move at light speed. They actually keep me on my toes and sometimes I’m even creating new assignments to keep them challenged (and they do them for the XP and to level up!). The students who need more time have more time and if they are stuck I can work with them one-on-one or in small groups that need remediation. These are really good things and I have to keep reminding myself about how good this is. What I struggle with is that kids are working on assignments at their own pace and in any order they want. It is so new to me because I’ve never been able to offer it before that I don’t quite know how to handle it. For example, when I give a test or an assessment some do it right away. Some take a little longer and some put it off until they are ready! It makes it difficult to go over test responses! Luckily I don’t give tests often but this working at different paces also mucks up labs. I need to do labs with the whole class and when we do a lab some kids are past it, others are ready, while some are not there yet. I mean, it works but it’s weird you know.
I’ve also found what types of tasks kids are choosing. Knowing kids I’d expect them to go for the easiest tasks and I think I’m seeing that. But here’s something cool that has happened. I’ve been having my students blog for the past ten years. One part of blogging that has been a complete challenge is to get kids to leave comments on each other’s blogs and to leave decent comments at that. Enter 3DGL. Now commenting has become a quest worth XP. I have kids doing the comments quests at record numbers and the majority of them are leaving incredible comments! I finally got something I’ve craved for the past ten years! The down side? Yes, there is one. See, since expecting kids to be intrinsically motivated to do and learn Science, use technology, and comment didn’t work I switched to giving XP and badges. Extrinsic motivators. And they work. As expected. Which means that if something I want isn’t a quest then it probably won’t get done. So now I have kids commenting on each other’s blogs like crazy but if I want them to read keep going I have to make it a quest! Some of the kids are actually responding to the comments they are getting but I’m betting that if I make it a quest to do so more kids will actually do it.
Truth be told I like it better this way. I felt so guilty when I’d wait for kids to be intrinsically motivated to learn and do Science and for the majority it didn’t really happen. Now I may be providing extrinsic motivation but at least they are learning and doing Science plus other skills I was hoping students would learn. Is this bad? I don’t think so. In my next blog post I will share a real life experience of how gaming motivated me to change my life for the better.
And for parents, 3DGL is better than my standards-based progress reports. I hate to say it but it almost seemed like no one was making use of my Easy Grade Pro Standards-Based Progress Reports. Kids ignored them and parents politely pretended they were okay. Those parents who were more upfront told me they wanted to know what their child was missing and if their child was getting work done. With 3DGL I can do that. I made this webpage for parents to show them how they can check on their child’s progress by having their child log into their 3DGL accounts at home: 3DGL for parents.