A professor and game designer shares his expertise on the basics of gamification and how it can increase student engagement.
Earlier this year at Fusion, we met with Tim Samoff, a Professor of Game Design and Multimedia at Moorpark College, to talk about gamification in teaching and learning. But first, we just couldn’t help it – we had to ask him his thoughts on the latest gaming craze, Pokémon GO.
There’s a lot of really cool augmented reality games on the market, so why did Pokémon GO gain so much popularity, so quickly? According to Samoff, it’s because “Pokemon GO allowed people to use augmented reality in a way that very simply fused their mobile lives with their real lives.” He believes this blending of gameplay and real life is something any educator can do within their class, even without the use of a mobile device. Making gameplay a part of learning “can be a really fun way to break up the normal monotony of class time.”
From an early age, Samoff was into designing games and has been a game designer for many years now. But you don’t need to have a background in game design or build a game like Pokémon GO to get your students excited and stay engaged throughout their courses.
Gamification is a great way to make your courses interactive. If you begin by gamifying certain elements of your coursework, it can allow you to engage with your students in a much deeper and meaningful way.
Most online classes don’t look anything like games, so where does the typical educator start to gamify their course?
Start by simply changing the terminology in your courses. By switching up how you refer to certain elements of a course, you begin to look at your course content as gameplay. For example, Samoff suggests looking at ‘modules’ of an online course as ‘levels’ in a game. “When someone gets through a series of levels, they’ve played my ‘game,’” he explains. “Then when they would typically get to the ‘quiz’ portion of the course, they are presented with what I like to call a ‘boss fight,’ where they have to recall their knowledge to beat this snarling beast as it attacks them.”
Samoff was surprised how gamifying certain elements of his course was so effective. “It’s funny – I didn’t think this would be enough.” But once he heard the feedback from his students, he realized how much he had impacted engagement in his class. For an educator to teach through gameplay, you don’t necessarily need to give them a game, you just need to change their mindset.
“The idea of gamification being something that’s very gameful within a non-game oriented paradigm really rings true in this case, because I really just had to change their mindset and that’s all it took to get students motivated and try to get to the next level.”
You don’t need to have a technical background to gamify your course
You just need to know the three C’s.
For instructors to incorporate gamification into their courses, it helps to have a good understanding of what games are and how they work. To help break this down, Samoff has come up with three tips to help people understand what games are and the theoretical aspects of game design.
If you want your students to be really engaged and think that they actively have a say in what happens in their courses, these three C’s need to be integrated.
In a gamified course, similar to gameplay, you need to outline a set of straightforward goals. “Games are really good at laying out goals, so that players know exactly what they have to do to get to the next stage of the game,” Samoff explains. So within these goals, the instructor must present a series of challenges to overcome. This is what the student will need to overcome within the game to learn new skills, and therefore achieve those goals.
Within these challenges, there should be a number of choices. Presenting these choices are the crucial deciding factor between a game and what might be a regular course that you’re teaching. This is because “in games you have free will – you can choose what you want and don’t want to do.” Allowing students choices is perhaps the most difficult aspect to integrate within coursework, but according to Samoff, it’s necessary to do in order to truly gamify your course.
Just like in real life, choices always have consequences. In gameplay, consequences serve as feedback for the player. “Consequences in a game tell you whether you’re doing something right or wrong,” says Samoff. “But where a game really excels is that the feedback never fails a player.” That’s why as an instructor, it’s important to understand how a game allows multiple attempts to achieve a goal. Your gamified course should allow your students to try and try again, until they master a skill or get past a certain challenge. “You have to allow [students] to go back and redo work and provide as many attempts as they need before they really achieve mastery.”