Month: November 2017

Gamification In The Classroom

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On 11/9/17 at 11:00am, I presented at the Wake Technical Community College Fall Professional Development Conference at the Session Gamification In The Classroom in the Engineering Technology Building in Raleigh, NC. This was co-presented by Tyler Dockery and Nicolas D’Agata of Wake Technical Community College

Gamification In The Classroom

In this presentation, we will cover 4 basic topics:

Some Background

This presentation is part of a grant we ran in 2014, discussing the reason behind what we did, the lessons we learned, and how you might be able to integrate these ideas in your classroom. This grant was proposed and monies set aside to train and develop gamified systems in low-performing courses in the WEB curriculum model. In this first part, we will discuss some of these results.


When Things Go Poorly

So, here we see a picture of one of my classes which was gamified, my 2014 class, WEB140 Web Development Tools. This graphic was used to help put students in the mood. It was nice, and captured the imagination of students right off the bat.
At the time, WEB140 Web Development Tools suffered from a series of problems: As an entry-level course for graphic design, web design and web development degree programs, this course had a very high enrollment rate. This was offset by a very low passing rate among students, and low student engagement of students in these courses. With our completions in this course at a very poor showing, I endeavoured to increase retention through greater students engagement by creating a gamified environment in which the students could learn and thrive.

Solution-specific ideas

The premise of the gamification came across naturally. I contacted students from the last year in WEB140 across several different sections, and asked some open-ended questions about the material. What made the courses work for them? Where did they stumble or fall, and how could we fix it?
Students admitted that the reason they did not enjoy the web coursework was because they were not engaged, and could not “get into it”. Based on numbers, quizzes and tests scored low because students did not retain the information or glossed over the work. Because they learned the material once, created it once, and then moved on— many students felt that they could ignore the material. Later, as each assignment built upon the last, students found that they had not repeated the material enough to absorb it, and had “forgotten what to do” or “how to do those kinds of things.” Further, they noted that it was difficult to contact instructors about problems, because many students waited until the due date to upload or even begin their projects.
In an effort to combat this, I made a herculean effort to pull this down into a workable format of solutions I could actually achieve:


I would work to engage the students with great artwork and a storyline which would allow them to become immersed. They would take on the mantle of an Intergalactic Spy, using artwork (through written permission on the part of the copyright holder) and a small adjustment to the storyline. Assembling code, building specific content, troubleshooting errors and problems, and generally assuring that materials could be made in an HTML environment, students would work their way through a 16 week story, one episode at a time, protecting a priceless treasure and solving a murder mystery.


A key point for students was that they were allowed to skip materials with low grades. This compounded their problems with quizzes, midterms, and final examinations. The solution: Allow repetition of course materials until a satisfactory solution was found. Quizzes offered every two weeks would require a minimum score to pass. If a student did not receive the minimum score, or desired to re-take the material, they were allowed 3 scores, and only the largest score counted. In this way, students who scored poorly on basic tags would be allowed to retake the quiz multiple times. Until they scored the minimum amount, they had to take the test again, and if all attempts were completed, the student would then be allowed to proceed and had to keep a low score (but the highest score would count).


In an effort to make students feel as if they could reach out to me (the instructor), I offered to be available from 11p-1a 4 days a week: Evenings on the first day of the week, and within the last 3 days of the week.

Story Form Engagement

By taking the students through the materials one item at a time, student were exposed to a story in serialized form. Each decision allowed student to take quizzes and open things like a choose-your-own-adventure book. A strict list of deliverables were noting requirements each week, and each was made available one item at a time with encouraging messages and explanations. Great artwork moved them through the story with chunked information.


Did it work? Not really. In general numbers, the course was a success, with students having much improved quiz scores and test grades. It seems this was probably an extension of the multiple quiz attempts and a larger pool of exam questions from which to draw. A numeric success, students noted they were actually less engaged in the class than they were in other courses.

Chocolate Covered Broccoli

Students mentioned in exit interviews that the course was exciting for the first 8 weeks or less only. After 8 weeks, the gamification storyline began to become less exciting and more filler content which stopped them from getting to the real meat of the course. Students who missed assignments or failed to turn them in missed content, stating that they could not follow the story any more. Students who did not read the course material failed to understand that there were minimum quiz grades and found they were flunking early in the semester, and many chose to drop.

After the midterm, many students said that they were facing fatigue. Too many classes, too many projects, and they admitted that by week 9 they were simply skipping over the content to get to the work. One student mentioned very specifically: “I didn’t read the story after the midterm. I just wanted to get my work done and find out what the next item on the list was and get my grade.”

Seems like building out all the dependencies and choose-your-own-adventure story lines were really some wasted time and effort. Scores did increase, but the story was not engaging. After

Second Time Is The Charm

In WEB141 Mobile Interface Design, students found that they were highly disengaged with the class, noting that book materials were very paint-by-number, and had little to do with real life problems. Students found it difficult to tell where they in the class, with scores for midterms, finals, and assignments clearly defined, but still hard to calculate where students should put their efforts. Student who fell behind in online courses felt that they could not gain any headway, and messing up on a project or two when coupled with the midterm left them flat with no way to raise their grade.

To combat the issue, Nic D’Agata looked at the data and changed his tactics to better meet student needs.



Since students in the first class found that the gamification content was a distraction, Nic built his material as an overlay. Content for the course changed little, with the gamification built over the top. Students had the option to ignore the gamification elements without detriment to the course content.


Many students found they could not tell which items were best for their grades, and the best uses of their time. Nic installed a system of “Money” earned through the course of the semester. Each week offered one or more project. Each project was a contract with a client, offering money for project which met the minimum requirements, and greater funds for projects which excel. Students were given the goal to reach $1 million by the end of the semester.

Nic also included a leaderboard where students could see their progress compared to other students. No names were given, so no privileged information is released, but it could encourage students to work harder if they’re in the wrong spot.


Students often found that getting behind was like getting in a hole too deep to get out of. At strategic points in the semester, students were treated to “Freelance” options, where they could troubleshoot existing code and earn money to increase their monetary income. This was essentially enrichment activities where students could increase their understanding or take on additional work to increase their grades.


Using blackboard achievements and badges, students would be automatically notified of “industry recognition”. Students could see the badges and gain an instant warm fuzzy for having some minor graphics provided to them.

On the right track

Overall, students reported that they felt more engaged in a course with open-ended projects and gamified elements.

Best of both worlds

Students enjoyed some open-ended projects and did not miss the “paint-by-numbers” approach. Some people really liked the 8-bit gaming platform of the course, and most people enjoyed the scoreboard/leaderboard process. This, along with the monetary system, was super-effective at motivating students

Nothing is ever perfect

Some people found that the assistant screen was difficult to watch and they got tired of waiting. Some students felt the monetary system was hard to understand, and they were looking for answers in grade format. It could very well be that they had skipped over some of the early material, but there is no way to tell.

The Assistant

The assistant is a moving digital display which lays out the information needed in each lesson. In some lessons this outlines projects, in others, it outlines specifics about the learning methods. While only a small number found it detrimental, it was almost a 50/50 split on Liking/Not Caring for the assistant.


The leaderboard answered questions that many students had about their grades, their places in the class, and provided some good motivation. The material was helpful to most students, with many students noting it as a prime motivator. Some students (about 1-2 per semester) found the leaderboard to be a source of anxiety causing them to worry about their location in the class.

The Leaderboard was a simple tool plugin, and could quite easily be coded into your classes.

Hands-On Leaderboard Addition Demonstration

At this point in the presentation, Nicolas answered questions about adding in the leaderboard. Using HTML code directly in his blackboard course, Nic added the leaderboard in to an older course as a demonstration. It was complicated, but well-received.


At this point, we’ve talked about our personal experiences, so lets begin some insight into how you can add this to your classes.

Blackboard Badging and Certificates

The blackboard badging and certificate systems are available to all current blackboard shells. They can both be accessed through the TOOLS menu options on the lefthand side. You can work with existing items, create your own, make your own certifications, etc. They are easily created, and can easily integrate with your course shells at any time.

At this time, we created a shown, in-person demonstration on the overhead.


The services we showed at the end of the material allowed us to include Quizlet materials for easy self-study materials, online games like Play Brighter or Virtonomics, advanced tools like Duolingo, or creating your own badges and materials with OpenBadges. The material was well received, and we did a few extra demonstrations on how to include teaching materials from duplingo, integrating quizlet, and Q&A was fairly sedate.

Faculty Rank Open Forum

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At 1:20pm on 11/8/2017, I attended Adapting and Thriving During Workplace Change, presented by John Bakken, at the 2017 Fall Wake Technical Community College Professional Development Conference in Raleigh, NC.

John is the dean of … and gained control of the faculty rank application process because he has no employees under him, basically acts as a liaison between staff/faculty crossovers. With no employees, he has no skin in the game.

THis session began with a no-nonsense introduction. will have a menu to search for faculty rank. The template has built-in headers, and document for the headings and materials for prompts. Delete these and build your narrative on top of this.

What’s new? nothing has been decided or concluded. There are no new hiccups or roadblocks. Changes included advanced degrees (how does this apply to your teaching if not an advanced credential which is required for your job). This is because not all reviewers are experts in your field.

HOw can we prepare for future applications if we don’t know what is required. Some research items may require years to complete. Those are probably required only on high-level rankings.

Scholarly articles had thrown some people for a loop. We are looking for strategies and good, well-informed decisions. Changes should look to scholarly articles, professional development, etc., instead of simply “Because I wanted to”. Ranks rely on the supervisor to understand the level of publication.

Only the top 4 items will be scored. Specifics should be broad strokes and not granular in nature. I met from fall 2015-spring 2017 for 2 hours each month and I participated in these activities.

Common mistakes include: non-specific answers “I am on a committee”. Give details on committee work. How many night classes have you taught? how many new courses? Community services is for the college. These hours should be representing the college. These are not specific things for your own. The office of volunteerism is a great place to start. fairs and places where you are representing the college.

Associate prof should have multiple packets and they are not read by the same people. Four pages for each are required. We want to see what you’ve done recently. Don’t just drop the old materials in again. Write a new narrative.

Rank is not rescinded at any time. That would be an HR issue.

Percentage of success and retention is used in rank, but only as a vehicle to discuss what you are doing in the classroom, and what you are doing to reduce/adjust/fix this issue.

If budget becomes an issue, the percentage scores are taken into account,but only in that situation. No one knows the scores they received, except John. The VP who assigns the budget only gets a notification on the budget and the amount to fulfill all contracts.

The process is a year-long process. If we follow a pattern, submission is in the fall, and the item goes into effect in June.

Can we talk about something twice in different ranks? YES. If applying for associate, the assistant will not be seen. So information should be considered individually for each.

Can we join the committee? Yes, but let’s talk about it. There is a committee which is involved. There are opportunities to serve. We’re looking for new members in the spring. THey cdo not review. Review committees are built every fall. You must hold the rank to review that level. The requests will go out usually each fall. There are faculty and deans from each division. Curriculum and faculty deans serve on these committees, and serve for a year. You cannot be a reviewer in the year you review.

Ranks are not required for promotion into administration, and should not be.

Everyone was very pleased with the open forum, and the open attitude of the presenter. John Bakken immediately set everyone at ease, and kept everyone engaged and well-attentive to the subject.

Adapting and Thriving During Workplace Change

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At 9:50pm on 11/8/2017, I attended Adapting and Thriving During Workplace Change, presented by Brittany Hochstaetter, at the 2017 Fall Wake Technical Community College Professional Development Conference in Raleigh, NC.

Adapting and Thriving During Workplace Change

Brittany began by telling us a short tale about how things changed in her household after a move growing up. After a short introduction, she discussed how the emotions related to new initiatives can impact us. She asked us: Where were you when accessibility rolled out? Where were you when EPIC Launch happened? Change is constant, and we’ll discuss how to adapt to this change and assist others to adapt to this change.

Change is difficult for us. A study found that organizational change can have a profound impact on employees. During business or professional change, employees are 2x more likely to suffer chronic stress, 3x more likely to quit or look for a new job, and 4x more likely to have health.

Change is emotionally difficult.

We resist change because it feels better to do the same thing.


We resist change because it feels better to do the same thing.
[Silent_Lang.silent language of leaders p.69]

Moving off routine begins a state of uncertainty. We thrive on routine and predictability because it fives a sense of control. Your brain searches for past situations that seem similar to the current one in order to access the emotions attached to them. In the case of a failed change, the negative emotion is brought and transferred to the initiative- regardless of the rationale for the validity of the current change.

Many times, resistance is attached to an emotion. Emotions are relatable, but sometimes things we are told in the workplace are NOT personal, but we take them personally. WE make it personal, especially in our negative emotion.

We resist change because its emotionally difficult. We resist change because we don’t enjoy being told what to do. If things are working out, people will resist change due to the fundamental human objection of having the will of others imposed upon them.

SO, how can I adapt to change and assist others?

IF a changed doesn’t feel different, it isn’t considered a “change”.

1) Increase your emotional self-awareness.

To perform at a higher level, it is not your IQ< its your EQ which helps you to excel. Why are you having trouble with this change? If you envision the emotional response involved, you can adjust and help others. Your change journey might be short (say a 2-second OK on "please recycle your cardboard") or quite long (say a 2-year journey to admit that the death of a loved one had nothing to do with your argument).

This change curve is similar to one used in emotional grief and grief.

2)Adapt to change and Assist Others:
Determine what is causing the greatest insecurity or discomfort regarding the change

  1. Fear of job loss?
  2. fear of the unknown
  3. lack of competence
  4. lack of support
  5. poor timing
  6. lack of trust
  7. former change experience
  8. empathy to a different stakeholder
  9. lack of reward
  10. something else?

3)After you identify what you are feeling and why, remind yourself of your core strengths.

Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman wrote in a 2014 study that people who experience change did better they stopped to journal about the qualities about themselves which they most admired and those which others most admired about them.

In an example, a teacher moved from a 2-person office to a 5-person office. What concerns might she have? How can she build a bridge from her strengths to address her concerns?

example: If she’s anxious about the noise level, she can draw on her friendly and kindly natures to put those fears aside with a kind word, and possibly begin a collaboration environment in the new office setting.

COnnect the dots on anxiety and strengths, you’ll walk back the anxiety.

4) Focus on what you DO know and CAN control?

  1. Your questions and information gathering
  2. Your current performance in your current role
  3. Your relationships
  4. Your well-being choices

What is the “WHY” of the change in question? Leaders need to discuss the WHY, and clearly communicate the why to the people who will undertake the tasks. Ask in a kind and sincere way the details about the change. Sometimes the boss can tell you the WHY and sometimes you cannot know. Sometimes you can tell as much from what they cannot say and cannot tell… from what they do tell you.

5)Adapt and change
Use a mind-body effect and remember your emotions will affect others. Facial feedback, backward motion, and emoptional contagion are all real issues in change.

In the end we will be judged not by how much we opposed the change, but how we helped the change be successful.