Teaching in a Gamified Classroom Level 5: Theorycrafting Achievements

Level 5 - new rewards based on the ways I challenge myself. Now I know the ways I can push myself to higher and higher places.

Of the dozens of surprising take-aways from my first experience in gamifying my classroom was the ways in which an achievement system stimulated student learning. In previous posts, I discussed how I used a system of knowledge trees to structure content and doing trees to structure skills in ways that allowed students to build their capacities incrementally, in exactly the same way a player builds character skills in a game. In all fairness, some students found these systems highly motivating (the most highly motivated students who had the highest capacity for self-direction), but others found them overwhelming. I think this is because even though students were clearly able to understand the basic game mechanics that were in play in the class (every student had some experience with playing games structured like class), they had spent so many years learning in the 19th and 20th century classrooms that were their lot that they couldn't transition to a learning space that was centered on them.

But every student without exception found the achievement system motivating.

To get an "A" in America 3.0, students had to earn a certain number of points (earned by doing), demonstrate control over essential ideas (shown by earning levels in the knowing trees) and by earning 25 achievements. These achievements have been detailed in an earlier post. Suffice it to say, the achievements served three core needs that my class, and any gamified classroom, requires:

1. Inherent motivation - granting students special points for earning achievements and then making the earning of these achievements public was instantly motivating. I used the Schoology system to manage my classroom and whenever a student earned an achievement, I published that to the class' wall (Schoology works very similarly to Facebook). This proved to be powerfully motivating. More motivating still was the fact that if a student was the first in the class to earn a particular achievement, they earned a "class first" as well as credit for the achievement itself. The desire to earn "class firsts" was a big surprise for me - students were more into this than I anticipated.

2. Structure - I was teaching seniors and I left the decisions about what students would "do" in the doing tree to the students. Some found this overwhelming. The presence of an achievement system gave students who had difficulty with self-direction a sense of what they should do next.

3. Competition - literature on game-based learning points strongly to the need to have a competitive frame for game principles to motivate. Achievements seemed to generate a healthy, productive competitive frame in class without generating some of that negativity that sometimes connects competition to grading.

In the next after-action post, I will look at the question of cognitive load and why getting that right is critical to successfully gamifying your classroom.