Gamification, for the uninitiated, is an often misunderstood concept that can quickly lead to poor implementation by well-intentioned teachers or developers, and then frustration for those who are forced to participate in the process.
What is Gamification?
Let’s start with what gamification isn’t. Gamification is not playing games at work or school. It isn’t the free printout activities that come with the teacher’s guide to your textbook. It’s not a round of hangman to wrap up the last 5 minutes of class (ugh).
Gamification is the process of applying elements of games and gaming to what are traditionally considered “non-gaming” areas. “Non-gaming” areas, in short, cover everything. You can apply elements of gaming to things like paying bills, saving energy, eating right, battling depression, meeting new people, and of course, education.
What are “Elements of Games”?
Every game has different elements to it, some are more universal, while some might be restricted to certain types of games. While this list is by no means comprehensive, it should give you an idea of what to look for when considering whether something is gamified:
- Boss Fights
- Content Unlocking
- Virtual Goods
This list was adapted from notes taken during Kevin Werbach’s excellent Gamification course which is offered for free on Coursera. I highly recommend the course if you are interested in these concepts.
For many teachers, including myself, the idea of gamifying classes is both exciting and daunting. Just when we start to wrap our heads around what gamification is, we then have to deal with HOW to implement it. Some intrepid teachers choose to create Google Forms to keep track of everything, but the sheer size and expandability of the process can quickly let such a project collapse on itself.
Instead, I plan to start my first Gamified class next semester using Classcraft.
Fair warning: Classcraft has a learning curve, and if you have limited experience with Role Playing Games (like me), you’re gonna need to dedicate some time to learning how the game works WELL before you introduce it to your class. There are much simpler ways to gamify your class, but if you’re looking to dive in head-first, consider spending some time with Classcraft.
How Classcraft Works
In Classcraft, the teacher assumes the role of the “Gamemaster” and the students are all players. The Gamemaster’s role is to give or take away points depending on students’ participation in class. Students can use these points for bonuses (hall passes, access to notes on a quiz), or to help out struggling teammates. Students can get points for answering questions correctly, volunteering to do a problem, etc. Alternately, they may lose points for coming to class late, not doing their homework, and so on.
All of these points given and taken away are customizable on the back end of Classcraft, and you’ll want to spend some time determining what will and will not work for your class before you start.
Each student has their own avatar, and as they gain more and more points, they are able to make their avatar more powerful, thus leading to greater “powers” such as the option to turn in homework a day late, or whatever you deem appropriate.
Students also work together in teams, so if one student isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, the whole team may suffer for it. This can work great for team-building and motivation strategies.
How does Classcraft work in the Classroom?
After you understand the mechanics of the game, you have to understand how to implement it in your class. Classcraft is meant to be layered on top of your normal lessons. Because the points, bonuses, and pretty much everything else are all customizable, you can form it to match the needs of your class.
If you’re extra ambitious, you may choose to have Classcraft “always running”. This means you give and take away points at all times. I would find this overwhelming.
You might also choose to say that if Classcraft is projected on the wall, students can gain points. If it isn’t, the Gamemaster can pick and choose when points are awarded or taken away.
Certain assignments or classroom policies may always be tied into the game, while certain activities may not. If a student is disruptive, you may choose to take away points at any time, but you may choose not to give out points for completing an in-class assignment – that’s expected of them anyway.
You need to set the rules of the game clearly at the beginning of class. One of the rules can be that the Gamemaster can change the rules at any time, but that DOES need to be established.
Incredibly, Classcraft is free to users and allows for a great versatility inside of the free model. They have also developed freemium and paid models, but I would recommend experimenting with the free model first.
There is another cost – and that is the commitment. Classcraft is NOT the type of thing you can experiment with for a week and then forget about for a couple of weeks, and then bring it back in if a couple of students aren’t behaving. It should be integrated into your class and it ought to be built into your lesson plans as well. Though I haven’t implemented it myself, I have played some in-depth games before, and you DO NOT want to upset an involved player.
If Classcraft seems too much of a commitment at the moment, I understand. You’d definitely want to look at it carefully over winter or summer vacation. If you’re looking for something simpler, remember that teachers have been gamifying classrooms for years with things like “gold stars” and leaderboards on the bulletin boards. Searching for gamification options on sites like Edutopia.org or listening to podcasts like EdGamer are also great starts. I will also bring you other gamification options in the future, so make sure to follow EdTech.tv on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for the mailing list below.
If you have ways that you’ve used Classcraft OR other gamifying techniques, let me know in the comments. The beautiful thing about these activities is that they can be fully customized to suit your classes needs, and with just a little bit of nurturing you may find that your students are more engaged than ever.