Practical Gamification in The Online Classroom

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By Cindy Leibel

There is a common perception that gamification involves a time-intensive process of changing your entire class into an elaborate game-like product, sweeping the students along in wonderment. To the average instructor already swimming with new responsibilities, this could feel like a lofty target. I don’t disagree! However, if you are facing issues engaging your students through computer screens, gamification is a great strategy for helping enhance your teaching. The purpose of this article is to bring gamification down to a more accessible level, attainable with minimal effort. In fact, many of us are already implementing it without knowing. My goal is to help us simply become more intentional in its use and perhaps provide some new tricks to bring into our repertoires.

Defining Gamification

At its core, gamification is about applying game-like features to enhance existing activities (Centre for Teaching Excellence, n.d.). Applied carefully, it can lead to improved motivation, better attitude and in-class engagement, and consequently, increased cognitive achievement (Rahmani, 2020). There are many game-like features that you can use: see this gamification taxonomy for an example of some features.

Figure 1 https://slejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40561-019-0106-1/figures/2
(Toda et. al, 2019)

The Gamification Process

As an instructor, I use gamification whenever I feel that students are starting to become disengaged from routine activities. From a practical perspective, I recommend incorporating one or two low-effort elements into your activities at a time. Try applying them to regular activities such as filling out worksheets or practicing dialogue.  Take an activity where students are practicing giving advice to each other, with some of my favorite elements listed below:

  • strategic choice: students must choose one piece of advice from their partner to disagree with
  • overwriting social rules: students must give really bad advice
  • challenge: students cannot use the word “should”
  • achievements: if students can perform a 1-minute dialogue in front of the class, they unlock a bonus advanced exercise on additional phrases to use
  • chance: without looking, students must pick one of the scenarios from an online flashcard deck or roll a die to decide if the advice will be good or bad

In online forums, rather than photos, avatars can be used (https://avatarmaker.com/ or https://getavataaars.com/), which can be helpful if students are self-conscious about their appearance.

Challenges

However, gamification is not without its challenges. Some key goals that I strive for when gamifying my activities are practicality (avoiding sweeping plans that create more work than they’re worth) and relevance (keeping a deliberate connection to objectives rather than focusing too much on delivery). There are some elements of gamification that I recommend against due to their increased labour and resource-intensive nature. These include:

  • narratives
  • rewards
  • points systems
  • leader boards
  • themes

Getting Started

To gamify your classroom, I recommend starting by completing an inventory of the elements you already use; you likely have some up your sleeve already. Next, experiment with new game mechanics gradually, keeping their use selective. Finally, abundant use of self-assessment would be beneficial after incorporating an element: students having fun does not mean that it was successful in achieving the learning objectives, while a quiet classroom does not mean that they aren’t engaged.

References

Centre for Teaching Excellence. (n.d.). Gamification and game-based learning. University of Waterloo. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/educational-technologies/all/gamification-and-game-based-learning 

Rahmani, E. F. The Benefits of Gamification in the English Learning Context. Indonesian Journal of English Education, 7(1), 32-47. doi:10.15408/ijee.v7i1.17054 

Toda, A.M., Klock, A.C.T., Oliveira, W., Palomino, P. T., Rodrigues, L., Shi, L. Bittencourt, I., Gasparini, I., Isotani, S., & Cristea, A.I. (2019). Analysing gamification elements in educational environments using an existing Gamification taxonomy. Smart Learning Environments, 6(16). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40561-019-0106-1 

Biography

Cindy Leibel has been teaching English as an Additional Language since 2008, with a Bachelor of Education from SFU and a Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from UBC. Her interests include gamification and classroom technology, vocabulary instruction, and academic speaking. 

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