gamification ramification

Our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable.

I had this brilliant idea that, to make it easy on us, I would attach our badges to the success criteria. Students would have a clear idea of how to obtain the badges. And boy oh boy would they be motivated!! Students would be craving that next badge, and they’d know just how to get it.

I was wrong.

The students had no inclination to achieve those badges. They didn’t care. Sure, they appreciated having clear success criteria so they knew what the expectations were. And they did very well in that Human Body unit. But it had nothing to do with the spiffy gamification that had been put in place.

Not only did the students react indifferently, but it went against my grain. I don’t like external reward systems, and I am not sure if badging is an external reward, as I have blogged about previously. So, I went into this whole thing quite tentatively, but willing to take the risk to see if it was good for my students.

What I realized, near the end of the unit, was that giving badges relating to success criteria was like giving grades. Okay, not ideal, but so be it.  The upsetting thing was that I was going to make that public—the students’ badges would show up on our blog page. Yikes! The hard work that my entire class had done in being comfortable with trying our hardest, taking risks and doing our best was about to be thrown out the window with this public display of our grades. A fake sense of competition.

I scrapped it. I didn’t give out one single badge. And the students didn’t ask about it.

So yes, our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable. A complete failure.


But failure is what we hope for. Failure begets reflection. Reflection begets new approaches and trying again.

And so this is where I am. Trying again.

This time, I’m not going to connect badges to curriculum. Students can earn badges, as many as they choose, by becoming experts at using certain apps. 5 skills—5 badges—make them experts in that app, thereby finishing the quest and earning the Master badge. I’m hoping that the voluntary aspect of this helps create the intrinsic motivation. As a side benefit, I will have student experts at apps that I’m not sure how to use. Could this promote student leadership in the school?

Fingers crossed that this small, contained use of game mechanics will show some success so I can continue to reflect, make changes and try again.

extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards

Many teachers create a rewards-based classroom management system to help curb undesirable behaviour. I’ve used one myself after one of our Board’s “behaviour teams” came to my classroom to observe an unruly student. They suggested a ticket system, where students were given a ticket when they demonstrated a particular positive behaviour. Once a week, they could purchase things from a treasure box, cheap dollar store items usually.

The key was that I had to specifically identify that behaviour so the rest of the students could hear. The hopeful outcome was that all students would want a ticket or want the praise,  so they would demonstrate the behaviour. At the start, all the students enjoyed the tickets and the praise, and in fact, demonstrated the desired behaviour. Within a few weeks though, many lost interest, desire or motivation (or all three). The praise was given out so often, it lost meaning. And, if I didn’t acknowledge certain students constantly, they felt no reward for their behaviour. For me, it took a lot of time and energy that could have been used more productively.

It’s true that some students respond to extrinsic rewards like this, but most do not. They often quickly become bored and disengaged. I’m sure that many of you could tell similar stories about extrinsic reward systems and their lack of efficacy. As educators, we all want our students to feel good about their learning, to be intrinsically engaged and motivated. How do we create that?

I struggle with whether or not a badging system is extrinsic or intrinsic. Isn’t a badge or experience points just like a ticket? If so, aren’t my students going to get bored with gamification of the classroom, just like they get bored with the tickets?  Does gamification create intrinsic feelings of success?

I’ve begun reading Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal, as suggested by fellow hummingbird and speaker extraordinaire, Michelle Cordy. By the way, she posts a thought-provoking and exciting blog here. I’m only two chapters in and I’m beginning to see how games can evoke intrinsic feelings. One only has to read the chapter entitled “The Rise of the Happiness Engineers” to understand that McGonigal wholeheartedly believes games make us much happier than reality does.

I’m not yet a convert, but I am starting to see the flip side here. There is so much more to gamification than just points, badges, etc. I’ll have to explore that and what it looks like in the classroom. Until then, I’m diving back into this book….a great summer read!



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