Gamification: Making it more than just a good idea

Gamification. Games can stimulate, motivate, and challenge. I remember my own frustration and borderline-obsessive need to conquer Tetras and Phoenix in the 80s.

I failed. I learned. I persisted. I succeeded.


You’re reading this post, so I’m sure that you feel the same way as I do . . . and would LOVE for students to feel this same enthusiasm about their course work. I’ve thought a lot about gamification—and about incorporating gaming elements in teaching and learning. For me, the challenge has been to make the learning authentic (for students) and do-able (for me, the teacher).

A couple of weeks ago, at the CONNECT 2015 conference in Niagara Falls [i], I attended a session by Dina Moati, Professor of Education at Sheridan College: “Level Up! Gamifying the 22 Century Classroom”. Moati presented a program they developed at Sheridan to engage students in personal development: a badging system with a virtual map offering students a variety of “quests”. The program tracks successful completion of these quests, highlighting students’ achievements and motivating them to take on new quests.

A virtual map? A badging system? Sometimes the idea of Gamification is overwhelming. Do I see the potential benefits for students? Yes. Do I feel that I, as an individual teacher, have the skill and time to gamify my lessons? “Yes and No”.

As a member of Brock University’s Academic-Zone team, “Yes”. Academic-Zone provides students with online interactive learning modules to develop their skills in writing, science, and math. Academic-Zone is part of A-Z Learning Services at Brock University and is comprised of a team of professionals. As a team, we can develop amazing things.

As an instructor for Brock’s A-Z Learning Services, however, “No”. Well, maybe not a definite “No,” but I certainly find it more challenging to gamify my one-to-one work with students.

An example of my attempt at in-class gamification: Last week, I led a workshop on Time Management with grade 10 students from DSBN’s Niagara Academy[ii]. I created a time-management game (with input from my colleagues. . . thanks for the red card idea, Sue!). The game is essentially a stack of cue cards, labelled with various activities and time allotments (e.g., 1-hour study cards, sleep cards, entertainment cards, eat cards, class cards, emergency cards etc.)time management game. In groups of four, students plan “two days as a university student”.  As students work, I hand out “red” cards. The red cards are the “stuff just happens” cards (e.g., USB falls in toilet, computer crashes, friend’s birthday, flu etc.). Sometimes good stuff happens, like “you form a study group and save 2 study hours”. I was surprised by the students’ level of engagement. Students were strategic, creative, and collaborative. Also, students became increasingly engaged as they received the red cards. They didn’t want to end the “game” because they wanted to “win”.

I realized that I don’t need to compete with gaming companies and create a course version of Minecraft or World of Warcraft (although that’d be awesome).  What I do need is to stay connected (with other educators, for ideas, and with my students, for authenticity), to be creative, and to keep the following principles in mind: provide low risk of failure, choice, challenges with increasing difficulty, and opportunities for problem solving.

What about gamifying an entire course?

I just read an interesting post in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Want to Make Your Course Gameful: A Michigan Professor’s Tool Could Help”. In the post, Casey Fabris outlines the work of Professor Barry J. Fishman from University of Michigan who developed a learning management tool, GradeCraft. GameCraft allows instructors to organize their courses in a “gameful” way: Students can explore course concepts and demonstrate their learning in various ways. The tool uses  game “design” rather than superficial gaming elements “like points and leaderboards”.

I was encouraged by Fishman’s work because tools like GradeCraft (1) can help support instructors implementing game design approaches in their classes, (2) can help support wide-spread change,  and (3) don’t gamify in a superficial gimmicky way. Just making something into a “game” doesn’t work. Students will call my bluff: “You’re not World of Warcraft, so stop trying to be.”

What are your thoughts on gamification in formal education?


3c94c98Margaret Groombridge
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

[i] CONNECT 2015, Canada’s Learning and Technology Conference, K-12 to Higher Ed, May 5-8 2015.

[ii] Article on District School Board of Niagara’s Academy

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