Gamification Gone Wrong

I’ve recently had a conversation with a colleague about what gamification is, and whether she was doing it “right”. This was following a presentation that accurately defined and outlined the principles of gamification, but the presenters failed to apply those principles to design a course, in my assessment.

Gamification of learning emerged as a pedagogy in the early to mid-2000s with a “fad”ish following in higher education. It is not new. In fact, as of today, there are 86,000 articles about gamification in higher education and 19,700 articles with the word “gamification” in the title in Google Scholar. We know what works and what doesn’t, thanks to case studies and empirical studies in different educational contexts.

The presenters learned the gamifying principles from an online certification program. Based on their expressions and enthusiasm, it was clear that they had a great time learning and wanted to gamify their course. The objective of their online asynchronous faculty training course was to orient new faculty to use Canvas for the courses. The looked largely the same, just “reskinned” to be a simulation and did not present training as a game. I argue that they made a fun, game-like environment, rather than truly gamified.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens:

Mika LaVaque-Manty won the 2014 American Political Science Association’s CQ Press Award for Teaching Innovation in Political Science with gamification of learning. Mika explained that this pedagogy means allowing:

  • multiple paths to achievement (not everybody has to do the same assignments),
  • safe failures (let’s allow students to practice the assignment instruments we impose on them before making them high stakes), and
  • “leveling up” instead of “getting points taken off.” (Sage, 2014).

Applied to the faculty development course, this means different paths need to be given to faculty to demonstrate competency and build progress. For a course with simplistic, “onboarding” learning goals, gamification is not appropriate. There are only so many ways one can send an announcement to a course, for example.

To return to the beginning with my wondering colleagues, she was absolutely gamifying her course. The session would have been more engaging and accurate if my colleague had presented instead!

I am currently developing a gamified, graduate-level course for educational foundations. I may use this blogspace to jot down ideas.

Want to chat about gamification? Drop me a line.


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