Monday, November 8, 2010


Lately I've been doing some preliminary research on gamification - the convergence of video game and social networking experiences that's entering domains not traditionally associated with gameplay. In her MSNBC piece, FarmVille invades the real world, Helen A.S. Popkin writes that Tim Chang coined the term, which has largely supplanted Gabe Zichermann's notion of "funware."

One of the most prevalent examples of gamification is Foursquare, a social-networking application that allows users to "check in" to physical places and earn badges [Learn more]. People who check in to places most frequently can become "mayors" of those environments. The twist is that companies like Starbucks are using Foursquare to make their businesses more "sticky" (by offering discounts to mayors, for example). They know that more frequent visits can yield increased revenue.

Another example of gamification is LinkedIn's use of a progress bar. Once more, we see a non-traditional use of the principle: getting users of a business-networking site to stay longer and do more, transforming the drowsy act of inputing information or writing a recommendation into a sort of game. The trick is the use of (frequently) graphical feedback to produce a positive stimulus upon the brain in a manner similar to that found in video games.

Gamification represents an expanding domain of opportunity, appearing in health, educational, and personal finance fields - even in applications designed to inspire people to reduce their energy consumption [Learn More]. Chris O'Brien's writes in the San Jose Mercury News that "gamification has become one of the hottest buzz words in Silicon Valley" [Learn more].

The historically short shelf-life of buzzwords aside, I'm especially intrigued by potential uses for Gamification in pedagogy. This is not to say that game theory hasn't long been integrated into teaching - rather that emerging applications have more potential for success. Students raised on video games are likely to respond to experiences whose pleasures are similar to those with which they are familiar. Going on "quests," gathering tokens, and showing off their prowess with badges may seem silly to veteran educators, but it's serious business to Millennials.

Many faculty complain that today's students are unwilling or unable to work for their learning. At the same time we kvetch about students' willingness to devote hours upon hours to games. What if there's a way to harness that enthusiasm? In the perfectly titled article, Video games keep tricking us into doing things we loathe, Leigh Alexander writes, "we gamers demonstrate a fascinating willingness to apply ourselves tirelessly to any number of tedious tasks." In an article called Gamifying homework, Jason B. Jones adds, "people will do anything for a virtual badge."

I'm not sure if I like the direction this conversation is going. But I certainly want to know more. And I'm not alone. In fact a number of folks are embarking on ambitious research projects to make sense of this phenomenon. Jones describes Old Dominion University's Richard Landers's plan to seek National Science Foundation funding for a multi-campus interdisciplinary open-source gamification platform. I visited Professor Landers's call for participants and was impressed with his preliminary results. Here's a quote:
"We took advantage of many principles of casual gaming (sometimes called the [gamification] movement) to create a reward system for completing these quizzes. Several levels of “mastery” were created, with increasingly difficult bars to reach in order to achieve them. But when a student achieved a new rank (which they could never lose), a badge would appear next to their name in class discussion areas to provide a social reward for doing well. For example, if the aforementioned student completed the social psychology quiz enough times to reach Mastery Level 3, a little blue ribbon would appear next to their name when they chatted in that classroom. This system was ridiculously well-received. Across those 400 students, 113 (28%!) willingly chose to take optional multiple choice quizzes that would never have an effect on their grades." (emphasis in original)
Gotta follow up on this stuff...

1 comment:

~Darcinator~ said...

As a millennial myself I can see the genius behind "gamifying" work. While it won't work with everyone, a system could be implemented within a department instead of just a class to receive badges and "social status" for lectures attended, overall gpa,and overall participation with people in the department. I think that while this may not automatically improve a student's grade, the more time spent around a department will help them become more invested in their education, which will eventually help them academically. Awesome piece Dr. Wood!