Recently I have learned of 'gamifying' courses. I shouldn't have been too surprised, as gamifying is everywhere these days. Consider fantasy football, frequents flier reward programs, or points credit card for purchases. There is an interesting TED talk on the phenomena that can be found here, and recently a research program designed as a game has help increase our understanding of AIDS. Now it is popping up as an educational strategy, one Penn State seems to be taking seriously. The Chronicle has had at two articles about here and here, and more recently a four part series on games in the classroom. (1 2 3 4)
The core idea is that course design plays a key role in determining whether students perceive a course as work or play, and that by adding game design elements we can increase student motivation and enhance learning. Ideally, the psychological incentives of gaming carry over into classroom learning. Gamified courses have students/players engage in various activities/ assignments to accumulate points and increase skill levels. A grade is earned from an initial 0 starting point (rather than seeing each less than perfect completed assignment as loss of points). Often game like labels are attached to parts of the course. More importantly, assignments are smaller, more frequent, progressively harder, and correlated to particular skills. There may be a variety of paths to achieve a grade, and just as in a game the stakes are initially low and increase with player skill. The result is frequent feedback and increased autonomy. Ideally students experience more control over their learning experience and a feeling of increasing competence throughout the semester.
I'm not sure what to think. I sometimes motivate discussion using the quizzes on Philosopher's Net and games from economics and decision theory (such as the ultimatum game and the dollar auction.) (Micheal has previously posted a way to increase participation here.) I briefly tried a 'menu' system of grading which enabled students to choose their own assignments in order to achieve the grade that they wanted. But I haven't thought about gamifying an entire course. Although I can't imagine myself ever talking about a midterm “raid” or student “guilds” I can see letting students choose a group name relevant to the class. (Yes, I realize that is a terribly small step.) I am also attracted to the idea of smaller, more frequent, skill oriented assignments, such as self paced quizzes to test vocabulary and argument analysis. None of this is to say I am on the gamifying bandwagon and about to restructure all of my courses. But I am going to think hard about it for introductory level courses. Once I have put the pieces together, it may be that I have gamified my course.