COETAIL, Course 4

Gamification: why I’m a skeptic

Pixar's Up :Carl Fredricksen by Imaginesto

Just get started already…
I’ve been contemplating this post for a couple days. Now it’s time to stop the researching and thinking and just write. We’ll see how this goes! [This post got LONG…sorry!]

Gamification vs Game-Based Learning
There’s a difference. And neither are particularly new.

Learning through games is not a novel approach. Elisabeth Corcoran (Corcoran, 2010) claims that there are at least 3 types of games used in education: the classic edu-tech games, games developed by students themselves like Scratch and the last approach gamified courses, meaning adding game mechanics to various applications, tasks, etc. Whether offline or online, games have helped scholars reach their educational goals in a more engaging way. Nevertheless we must note the difference between the so called “educational games (serious games, simulators)” and the gamification of e-learning. While the first employs a bigger quantity of resources, game design knowledge and graphics, the second one does not engage as many resources or a special design. (Muntean, 2011)

Go read Corcoran’s article. There’s a difference. However my point of view is a little different than Corcoran’s. I prefer how Glover put it…

Educational Gamification is not to be confused with Game-based Learning, Simulation, or Serious Games. These focus on creating games (and game-like experiences) which impart an educational benefit, and includes software such as simulators. This is the direct opposite of educational gamification, which seeks to add game-like concepts to a learning process.

Game-based learning is using (video) games to learn content. Gamification is adding game elements (competition, achievement, etc) to non-gaming situations.

[Warning: I’m about to be honest.] I don’t love the idea of gamification. In fact I kind of hate it.  I wouldn’t mind being convinced otherwise but I’m having a hard time seeing how it’s going to make education better.

Games make use of many different reward mechanisms, depending on the context, but three main categories typically evident: Leaderboards, Prizes, and Achievements. (Glover, 2013)

Hold on…hasn’t education already been ‘gamified’? Students do work. They get letter and/or number grades based on their work. They tell all their classmates what their report cards say (leaderboards). If they get a certain GPA or make honor roll, we give them prizes (my last school gave cupcakes to freshmen on honor roll; Family Video gives free movies for A’s…). And if they pass enough classes they move on to the next grade level and eventually earn a diploma (achievements). Most people agree that extrinsic motivation is not the type we should be striving towards in education. So we’ve shined it up and put a new label on it…and now it’s okay?

Gamification Part 2 – Motivation

I struggle too Rebekah. It seems to me that it’s already a battle to intrinsically motivate kids…so why add gamification and make our job even harder?

Gamification seeks to increase motivation by providing extrinsic recognition and reward for completing activities, however there is the possibility that such rewards can serve to de-motivate learners with an already high intrinsic motivation (Groh, 2012). This psychological concept, particularly evident in gifted children, is called the ‘Overjustification effect’. In fact, a negative correlation between extrinsic motivation and academic achievement can sometimes be observed; that is, increased extrinsic motivation, such as rewards, reduces learning and achievement (Lepper, Corpus, & Iyengar, 2005). In order to mitigate the potential negative effects of Overjustification, it is therefore important to make the gamified elements of a learning process optional. This will allow those learners who are already motivated to remain so, and provide motivating elements to the remaining learners. (Glover, 2013)

Optional. Okay – but then I have to create two lesson plans? How about if I just try out gamification for awhile. What happens if I decide it’s not the best thing for me and my students?

Thom, Millen and DiMicco (2012) investigated how removing gamification elements from a social networking system in a large organisation would affect levels of interaction and found that, without the extrinsic incentives, participation was dramatically reduced. However, analysis of the comments and posts on the system showed that the overall quality of the interactions was lower when the gamification elements were being used. This suggests that, without careful consideration of the rewards for interaction, gamification can be counter-productive and give tacit approval of distracting and time-wasting activities for some individuals. (Glover, 2013)

Uh-oh. So experimenting with gamification could actually be detrimental to the quality of learning and reflection in my classroom? No thank you!

Gamification Part 3: Girls
In my former school district, we had a single-gender magnet program. I didn’t teach in it but I was able to attend a couple professional development sessions on single-gender strategies. One of the big ideas that has stuck in my mind is that boys thrive on competition while girls thrive on collaboration. However UKSTL has me on this data kick so I wasn’t comfortable discussing single-gender strategies unless I could find some evidence to back it up.

Our experimental evidence suggests that women seem to be shying away from competition, as also shown by other studies. However the bulk of our evidence suggests that a girl’s environment plays an important role in explaining why she chooses not to compete. We have looked at the choices made by girls from single-sex and co-ed schools and found that there are robust differences in their behaviour: girls from single-sex schools behave more competitively than do coeducational girls. Furthermore being assigned to an all-girls group affects the decision a girl makes, even when controlling for composition of he group to which she is randomly assigned for the experiment. We also compared girls’ behaviour with that of boys from single-sex and coeducational schools, and found that girls from single-sex schools behaved more like boys. (Booth & Nolan, 2009)

Most girls are in coeducational settings. These girls aren’t very comfortable with competition (compared to boys in the same setting). By introducing gamification, are we actually negatively affecting girls motivation and learning? We need to be careful. (more resources: single-gender best practicessingle-gender classrooms)

One time…
I haven’t participated in team sports since I quit playing AYSO at age 12. I’m not, and have never been, a gamer (although I do play Plants vs Zombies every once in awhile). Maybe that’s why I don’t like gamification? But I am competitive. I ran track for 9 years and cross country for 3. Put me on a track or in a 5k and I want to beat people. But I compete just as hard against myself. Here’s a story of when using a few gamification mechanisms actually worked on a whole group of high school girls [warning: this may be a little long]: I started running cross country in 10th grade because I didn’t want to be in marching band anymore and because I wanted to stay in shape for my true love (track). I was pretty bad and completely unmotivated to do better. Three years later during the banquet my senior year I balled while giving a speech to the team (actually I might shed a few tears now just thinking about it). During those 3 years I fell in LOVE with cross country and found the balance between having fun & being motivated to run! Why? A few ideas: first & foremost I was competing against the clock and myself. For each race, our coach gave us a small slip of paper with the splits she wanted us to run. If we ran a Personal Record (PR) we earned a small pin that our coach’s art students made.

PR pin

This little guy was the ultimate prize. I cherished those pins and (10+ years later) still have them in a box in my parents house (as do many of my former teammates). That pin meant that I had accomplished something I wasn’t always convinced I could. I was MOTIVATED to get that special PR pin (prizes). Secondly, we became a team. From the 1st to the 25th runner, we were there for each other. No matter who was on Varisity (top 7 runners) and who wasn’t (junior varsity = Jarsity) we ran together at practice and supported each other (leaderboard). Those girls MOTIVATED me because they cared. This ‘gamification’ of running lead us to the state championships my senior year…where the top 7 girls ran their way to an MHSAA Division 2 State Title (achievement). By 38 points. Our championship t-shirts had every girl’s name on it (I still have it btw).

Gamification Part 4: What I’ve Learned
However. That was a sport. Not school.

It is important that gamification elements such as leaderboards and points are completely divorced from the formal assessment of learning, and that the learners understand this to be the case. Gamification should only be used to increase motivation and should not be another mechanism by which to grade learners. It is not a paradox that the person at the top of the leaderboard might also be the lowest achiever in formal assessments, but it would suggest that the gamification choices need to be refined. (Glover, 2013)

School has already been gamified and we’re all trying to find a way to make it better (because it’s a little broken). Gamification enhances external motivation while running the risk of squashing kids’ natural internal motivation. Competition (=gamification) can be detrimental for girls. Gamification elements should be completely separate from assessment. So remind me…WHY?

Game-Based Learning
My husband is what I would call a “gamer” and has been talking to me about (video) game-based learning for several years. One of our middle school humanities teachers is extremely enthusiastic about MinecraftEdu and has created the World of Humanities. I’ve been skeptical. Then I really started thinking and reflecting on my why. [See Glover‘s quote above, page 2000]  I’m all for learning through play in early childhood education. Is game-based learning the older sibling? My favorite reason for using technology in education is to connect people around the world that otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate/collaborate.

Another way games can be helpful in simulating situations is when recreating real situations is too expensive or dangerous.

van de Pavoordt goes on to give two examples of using simulation games:

For example, if you want to teach students about how to handle with toxic chemicals by using expensive equipment. In a real life situation this would be too expensive and dangerous, however the game Environmental Detectives lets teachers recreate these situations by using augmented reality.


In Revolution each student takes on the role of a townsperson in a colonial Virginia community in which they take on events leading up to the American Revolution. The game combines research and role-playing in teaching history. It is not a simple visit to a “living history” museum, but the players personally experience the events leading up to the American Revolution.

Game-based learning has the potential to give students experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to have. Wouldn’t you say that that is an instant when technology has the potential to redefine education? I might be able to get behind this (if it’s done right).

Done Right
I wouldn’t consider using ‘existing commercial games for learning’ game-based learning. Finding something cool and trying to pigeon-hole it into education isn’t technology integration. The examples above are games specifically created for/by students.

Finally the study showed that the students were very enthusiastic about using games. They found that it was not like a boring lesson, they had actually fun and at the same time they learned something. Also more than half of the teachers were enthusiastic about using games for their lessons. And among younger teachers the numbers were even higher. (Glover, 2013)

That’s great that kids are more enthusiastic. But where’s the data showing the benefits to learning, the increase to achievement? Because that’s what matters to me. Here’s a start at least.

_____-based learning
This seems like it’s become a catchphrase in education.
-based learning

Glover asserts that

As learning is a participatory process, it follows that there could be greater benefits from incorporating games concepts with education than with these other, passive activities.

Why is the solution gamification? All of these you-name-it-based learning approaches actively involve students.

After all of that…
I’m not convinced by gamification. I still need to be talked into game-based learning. But I’m open-minded…I just want to see the proof.

p.s. Did anyone else find Glover‘s article contradictory? He discusses game-based learning and gamification, brings up valid criticisms and then goes on to tell us how to gamify our classrooms. I don’t understand. (pages 2003-2004)

p.p.s. Watch Dan Pink talk about Drive. Interesting things motivate us – autonomy, mastery & purpose (not external factors). How do those sync with gamification?


25 thoughts on “Gamification: why I’m a skeptic”

  1. Love the deep thinking and love that you’re taking a stance…’ve done your research and you believe what you believe. The part of your post that stuck out to me was this part:

    ” A few ideas: first & foremost I was competing against the clock and myself. For each race, our coach gave us a small slip of paper with the splits she wanted us to run. If we ran a Personal Record (PR) we earned a small pin that our coach’s art students made.”

    This is intrinsic motivation the type of motivation that we want our students to have but it also had an extrinsic reward in the pin. Intrinsic motivation is always better when we have something physical we can look at 10+ years later and have those feelings come back.

    I think about; how do we get that into the classroom? How do we have students be intrinsically motivated and then give them extrinsic rewards that they can then use to remember that accomplishment.

    It’s the same reason I can’t get rid of my baseball glove from college. I just can’t….it’s a reminder of all those hours I put in to get there and everytime I put it on those feeling come rushing back. It’s also the reason why every opening day of baseball season I write a blog post of those memories.

    There’s something in this all…..I’m not sure what it is…I’m not sure how we get it into our classrooms but for lack of a better term at the moment we’re calling this gamification because I think that’s where we see it most.

    I watch “gamers” sit and play games for hours because they want to pass a level. They don’t get a grade, their is no external reward. Their only reward is passing a level…but there is accomplishment in that and it’s a focus on the process that I think is what we’re really after here. How do we focus on the process and reward the process of learning rather than the outcome? That’s the switch I think….or at least what I’ve been thinking about and how it relates to games, sports, and motivation.


    1. I see where you’re coming from Jeff. I guess my biggest question is how can we motivate students with extrinsic rewards while keeping gamification elements removed from formal assessment? I see how people are motivated by extrinsic rewards in other areas of life…I’m just not convinced that adding more into education is going to make it better. I’m all for engaging students but I’m not jumping on the gamification wagon to do it.


  2. Great thinking.

    Motivations can start off being extrinsic and become intrinsic, for athletes an olympic medal is an extrinsic reward but if they want to win it badly enough it becomes intrinsically rewarding to them.

    But I do agree that “do this and get that” approach might stimulate desired behaviours in the short-term but will ultimately fail if there it doesn’t hold real value.


    1. It seems like a chicken & an egg riddle…what comes first, extrinsic or intrinsic motivation? Athletes won’t even be able to think about an Olympic medal unless they have spent countless (or 10,000 as Malcolm Gladwell tells us in Outliers) hours practicing in order to be good enough to go to the Olympic trials. I think the intrinsic motivation has to be there and the extrinsic reward is just a bonus. Ultimately I was running & competing against myself because I always wanted to be better…the PR pin was a bonus and tangible proof of my hard work but not the be all, end all.


  3. Hi Lissa,

    I was really interested to read your thoughts on my paper (and those of your fellow ‘coetail’ers in their posts). I’m glad to see that the paper has stimulated such deep thinking. I am happy to respond to any specific questions that you or your colleagues on the course might have about the paper, but for now I just wanted to address your ‘P.S.’

    I am very much of the opinion that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to effective learning – what works in one situation or for one learner may not be appropriate for another. My intention with this paper was to summarise some of the thinking behind behind Gamification. My target audience was people with some understanding/experience in e-learning who have perhaps heard of the term but don’t really know much about it. I also wanted to make sure that criticisms of the approach were addressed and draw on a variety of sources, ranging from academic papers to gaming review websites. Ultimately, the paper tries to give people enough information to evaluate Gamification and then, if they want to continue, get them thinking about how they might apply it. Perhaps the distinction between the ‘evaluate’ and ‘apply’ sections isn’t as clear as I had hoped, though.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the paper and Gamification.




    1. Thank you for reading my post and responding Ian! Like I said in my post, I love that technology connects people and allows discussion that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

      I’m completely with you that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. I absolutely believe in having many tools in your toolbox. I’m just worried that we take something and run with it before we’ve properly evaluated it too often in education. I very much appreciated that your paper wasn’t simply pro-gamification and that you presented the criticisms. I was just confused because the criticisms were very convincing so it seemed contradictory to me to then discuss how one might gamify. Maybe it was the order that threw me off.

      I very much appreciate that you took the time to clarify for me! I would love to continue the conversation as I am not opposed to being convinced otherwise…with solid evidence of course 🙂


    2. Hi Lissa

      I’ve bookmarked your post but haven’t had time to read it…but I will! I did look at your P.S. and Dr Ian’s reply, though.

      I didn’t find his paper contradictory. He obviously believes in gaming (He gave me a Gaming badge after I read the paper!) but he also knows that there are people who have reservations (like me). I find his paper credible because he is not afraid of addressing those reservations and criticism. I’m sure you’ve heard me “freaking out” via Twitter regarding all my fears, as a parent about social media and various aspects of technology etc.

      I don’t like the bubblesphere where everything we read is “go! go! go! do it”. Website articles can get away with being one-sided and they want to appeal to their audience so they even desire to be one-sided. I like research articles (and wish we were made to read more of them) as research journals need to present some facts and research behind their opinions and they need to present evidence of critical thinking. Critical thinking, to me, means addressing the limitations, and criticisms. I feel more confident about believing someone when they’ve presented two sides. (I didn’t find Jane McGonigal that credible because she says Gamification is going to save the world and didn’t mention any limitations. I found her presentation very entertaining and compelling, but not convincing.)

      I feel better about allowing Gamification in the classroom because Dr Glover has given me some criteria in which to evaluate it in my teaching.

      (As an aside, I worry about how diluted knowledge is becoming because everyone can throw up a webpage and say whatever they want without needing to offer much evidence. It’s far easier to do that, and guess what…most of what we read out there is just that: opinions and hurrahs and bravado.)

      Thanks for sharing about your blogpost in Twitter and telling us that Dr Glover has commented. Waayyy cool!

      🙂 Vivian


      1. Hi Lissa

        I’ve read your post (and Jeff, your Dh’s) and will read Corcoran’s later.

        I enjoyed your post a great deal. This is the type of writing I appreciate. It’s backed by research and critical thinking.

        I honestly had not heard of the word “Game-Based Learning” before. I was lumping all games into the word “Gamification” when I wrote my blogpost. If I were to write my blogpost all over again, I would say that I desire (and have used) Game-Based Learning when it has made learning fun; I am skeptical of the elements of Gamification (points, leaderboards, competition) precisely because they are extrinsic motivators. I was (am) still one of those girls that don’t like competition. Competition makes me feel terrible afterwards, even if I have “beat” the other person. (yeah…I’m weird.)

        I’m motivated by PB (Personal Bests), as you mentioned. I agree that I work for the PB. But, I also enjoy placing down a marker to celebrate it, as it feels good to place down that marker. In terms of my present school work, it’s when I hit the “publish” button after I blog. After I do a run, I log my time into my running log. Seeing my blogpost on a webpage and writing down my time could be seen as extrinsic motivators but I would not be motivated to do school work or run more/faster by “points, leaderboards (how embarassing!), or certificates”. I make my own markers and that’s a part of working for PBs.

        So, what’s the difference between an extrinsic reward and an intrinsic reward? An extrinsic reward is created by someone else. An intrinsic reward is created by myself. However, someone else’s extrinsic award can represent someone else’s appreciation and celebration of myself reaching my own goal. That’s where things get a bit difficult for me to differentiate, as I’ll take that form of an extrinsic reward.

        How can we make the extrinsic reward just a token and a cap-off celebratory thing—instead of the THING we’re working for? It wouldn’t consist of pixels, I would say. The pixels are the fad. If we could sort that question out for school, work (Isn’t money an extrinsic motivator/award?) and everything else in this world…we would be on the verge of redefining school and everything else.

        Sorry for being a bit muddled in my explanation but it’s a big thing that I’m struggling to explain.

        I loved your blogpost and it expresses pretty much all my skepticisms of Gaming too. I appreciated all the critical thinking & evidence. I’m open to being convinced about the merits of Gaming…but I can’t see the inherent worth of awards made out of pixels so it’s unlikely I will ever change my mind…

        Hope to see more of this kind of blogging in the blogsphere.



      2. I’m with you – when I log workouts, no one else sees them. The motivation is that at any time I can go see how many I’ve done. And how I feel. That is motivating for me…but it’s all me. If something else compliments me that’s just a bonus but not my motivating factor.

        “How can we make the extrinsic reward just a token and a cap-off celebratory thing—instead of the THING we’re working for?” – We’d make a lot of money if we had the answer! 🙂


  4. Hi Lissa,

    I really enjoyed reading your post, especially your approach in agreeing to disagree. You certainly have done your research and chewed at this topic from all sides.
    This is a very controversial topic, and one that can be debated back-and-forth till the cows come home. I guess at the end of the day it all boils down to how much change we are willing to undergo, old-school vs. new-age, how much new learning we as educators are willing to stack on our plates, and what tools we need to implement such change.
    In my opinion (and a bold statement at that), educators that find themselves in a comfort zone should resign, because it is expected of us (by the students and their parents) to continually research, plan, look for ways to improve our lessons and to engage our students more, as well as to find ways for our students to progress.
    Adding Gamification to the mix, not only adds to our already full plates in a major way, but is a longer-term, international campaign required to be researched methodically, and implemented gradually. To me, too much haste might just very well come back to haunt us.

    However, having said all that, there are certain aspects to Gamification that to me, do make perfect sense. You mention Leaderboards, Prizes and Achievements are already part of the conventional classroom learning, and I totally agree.
    What intrigues me, is the drive and engagement kids have for games. Imagine they approached our lessons with the same vigor! Imagine they never gave up trying, even after repeated failure, just because they want to reach the next level (something that the majority do while gaming). After-all, how many times is a student really willing to re-do his Math corrections just in order to “move to the next level”?

    I guess the question I’m asking myself is this: How can we overhaul our lessons to have students engaged with the same level of enthusiasm, persistence, and skill-sets they approach gaming with?
    There is undoubtedly a strong magnet drawing them to gaming. It has to be worthwhile investigating the same approach to education. The challenge is the mechanics of finding that perfect marriage between the two.


    1. “In my opinion (and a bold statement at that), educators that find themselves in a comfort zone should resign, because it is expected of us (by the students and their parents) to continually research, plan, look for ways to improve our lessons and to engage our students more, as well as to find ways for our students to progress.”
      -I’m with you Marius! To be a teacher is to be a life-long learner. Once teachers have stopped pushing themselves, they should be done.

      “How can we overhaul our lessons to have students engaged with the same level of enthusiasm, persistence, and skill-sets they approach gaming with?”
      -The million dollar question! Seriously, if you figure out the answer, please let us all know! I’m all for engagement but I think we need to revamp what our content standards look like and focus on the skills we’re teaching kids instead of shoving information into their brains.


    2. Hi Marius

      I think children that play games, persist, and aren’t put off by failure in Gaming is because they don’t equate losing in a video game with being stupid or being true losers. That’s why it’s safe. They restart the game and get a fresh new start. They’ll know they’ll succeed if they put out just a little more effort the next round, or two, or three etc…

      When students make mistakes in school and learning, they’re made to feel stupid and losers. I’m not saying that teachers or parents purposely make them feel stupid or like losers. Somehow, it’s been hard-wired in them from someone or something… It’s no wonder they’re not motivated to do their math corrections. They don’t see it as a step along the way towards learning and empowerment. Instead it’s a reminder to them of their “stupidity”. How to break that false construct? I don’t know and I really wish to know! That would be the first step towards bringing those positive attributes you see in Gamers to Students in the classroom.


      1. I agree with you Vivian…students so often feel like they just can’t succeed in school. I don’t know how to change the entire system. But I do think individual teachers can model and encourage a shift in their own classroom environment. It has to be relentless but with hard work individual teachers can make their classrooms warm environments where mistakes are seen as just something to learn from (not the end of the world).

        Is this generation being set-up to not know how to deal with failure? This article puts it all on the parents. I don’t think it’s all on the parents, but I can clearly see the pressure that parents put on their children to succeed. In our recent parent conferences most of the parents were not happy with the grades their students were getting…they have to think about their GPA! However the parents also were focused on me as the teacher, not on what their children could do differently. And none of these students were actually failing the class…one even had an 87%! That just wasn’t good enough. 😦


      2. I think culture definitely has to do with parent’s attitudes. In Asia, parents see exam results as the be-all and end-all of everything. They put their children into an International School setting (for the English and private attention and less pressurized environment) but then they want the International Schools to behave like the local schools which is to cram content, test everything, and to rank the kids. They want their kids to score “high” which means the top of the school so nothing less than the top of the school is good enough for them.

        They want the same education style they had for their kids (tons of homework, testing, ranking) but paradoxically they’ve put their kids into an International System (with Western teaching philosophies). You can’t have your cake and eat it too, you know?!

        International Educators are caught in the middle between the parents and their own convictions about what is good education.

        I imagine that parental attitudes are similar in the Middle East to those of the Far East.


  5. I don’t even know where to start. So much great stuff to think about and worry about and think about some more.

    The one thing I keep wondering is, have you played a video game? Have you played a game with your students? Have you talked to gamers? It’s not a real research, but it’s a start. Games don’t always have to be about competition…in fact many games only reward collaboration. I don’t think gamers play games to collect points. Maybe they play to “beat the game”, but for many games the journey is incredibly important. They do it because they like playing the game, exploring a world that is unimaginable to them, and they can play with people around the world. Gamers are playing because of an intrinsic motivation to play.

    I don’t think I’ll ever have a perfectly gamified classroom. My classroom is a remix of lots of different things. And I also think that my kids will be okay if I mess up and don’t do it correctly. Because I have other safety nets in my classroom for when I mess up. But if we introduce game-based learning (or any other types of __________-based learning), the metacognition skills are even more important than before. If my kids realize we’re playing a game and make connections to the big concepts or skills we’re learning and are actively engaged then I’m willing to have a go.

    Thanks so much for sharing your struggle with this and pushing back. The conversation you’ve started is fascinating.


    1. In middle school/early high school I played Warcraft. Then it started sucking up my time. So I stopped. I played Plants vs. Zombies. Then I beat it repeatedly and it wasn’t challenging anymore. Then Plants vs. Zombies 2 came out. I played it until it got so hard I couldn’t succeed anymore. I had intrinsic motivation but I the inability to succeed made it not worth it anymore. Now I only play if I have a Yeti zombie or a Pinata party. Losing myself for hours in a video game makes me depressed about all the things I could/should have been doing.

      To me a gamified classroom and game-based learning are different. In your classroom, are you introducing game elements or are your students learning through simulation?

      I think remixing a classroom is the best way to go…introducing many different elements to engage the maximum number of students. I can’t argue against that!


  6. I am a bit late to the party- but nonetheless- what an interesting conversation!

    A few things I might add from my own experience
    1. According to Tim Driscoll – one of the first steps to gamifying your classroom is to use gaming language in your activities. I have tried this out explicitly with a few different lessons and mini-units and it was a huge success. Why? From what I gathered from my own observation and feedback from the students is that “gamifying” the language in an activity helped them better to understand what they needed to do and also gave them added motivation to finish the task/activity, while also “embracing failure” (it was no longer something that they had to do, but something they felt the “must” do and wanted to do). For example- simply changing directions to “Mission Scenario/Brief” and Tasks to “Missions” amped up participation, engagement, and overall results (for the three activities I had 100% percent participation, 100% completion, and all students performed higher than their previous work). Now, I admit that this could be an anomaly- perhaps if used consistently overtime these “language” effects would wear off- however, as Rebekah and you both mention- teaching should be a mixed bag- not a one size fits all, all the time. In my experience at least- there is value in Gamifying the language to make some “work” “learning” seem like “play” some of the time.

    2. The links with Assessment for Learning and Gamification
    I have been focusing a lot on AFL this year and how to help my students move from a “fixed” mindset to a “growth” mindset. Here in lies another value of gamification- they (the students) paid more attention to the process than I have seen with other activities. They were able to more easily identify how/where/why they were achieving certain results and make adjustments, set targets, and adapt how they approached the task to achieve better results. This touches on the intrinsic motivation for mastery- they wanted to do better and “master” the game.

    3. Competition-
    As Rebekah mentioned, and I agree, that gamification doesn’t have to mean competition. It can mean collaboration- mastery- or as mentioned before, just making “work” and “learning” seem like play. While the argument against this is “In the real world they aren’t going to be playing”, but to what extent is that true? Wouldn’t well designed games/scenarios be more representative of reality? This is something I need to read and think on a bit more, but in the mean time, there is definitely value in games that are designed to support/develop the process (problem solving, critical thinking, perspective taking, collaboration)- the key is finding/creating the right kind of game.

    In the end- as you and Vivian mentioned- sometimes we (or at least I) feel like everything we learn here must done/transferred into our own classroom. You are right in that we must view/proceed with caution and find value. For me, I have found some value in gamifying some aspects, some of the time.

    Thank you again for an awesome read and to all others for insightful comments. This has really gotten me thinking!


    1. Hi Ian

      Can you tell us more of the “Gaming” language, for those of us (like me) that don’t really do gaming? You mentioned:

      Mission Scenario/ Mission Brief
      Missions (instead of Tasks)

      This sounds very interesting and doesn’t necessarily involve turning everything into points and leaderboards. What words did you use to make failure “OK” and even something they needed to embrace? What language emphasized growth instead of fixed mindset?

      Thanks. This sounds like something that I would be able to incorporate. 🙂



    2. Thank you for the input Ian! As I’m not currently in the classroom it’s really interesting for me to hear accounts of how people are actually using these models.

      My favorite part of blogging – being forced to reflect and think…and then think again! Thanks for contributing to the conversation 🙂


    3. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Ian. I love seeing people trying something out and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’m assuming you’ve blogged about this (you’re not in my part of the alphabet and I miss stuff in the A-J range :). Thanks for adding to this great conversation!


  7. I really loved your insightful and personalized discussion of the idea of gamification! I’ve been mulling over some of these same points for a while now. I still wonder about the question of motivation and the effects on work ethic.


    1. Thanks for chiming in Bernie! I still haven’t completely bought into gamification but I’m all for trying new strategies and seeing what works for the students. I’m with you on the motivation & work ethic. Have you read much Daniel Pink?


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