Wake Technical Community College Fall Professional Development Conference

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:

ENGAGE

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.

ALLOW REPETITION

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).

LATE NIGHT ACCESS TO THE INSTRUCTOR

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.

 

GAMIFICATION AT THEIR WILL

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.

QUICK GAUGE OF PROGRESS

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.

INCREASE RANK AT THE STUDENTS’ CHOICE

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.

RECOGNITION FOR A JOB WELL DONE

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.

Leaderboards

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.

SHOW AND TELL IS OVER

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.

Conclusion

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.

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