Let’s Play A Game

About a month ago, one of the tech specialists in my building asked me if I would be interested in playing around with badges in my courses. The concept of badges is very simple. A person gets a badge (sometimes called an Achievement) for completing a specific task or a series of related tasks. The idea comes from gaming.

He was interested in how badges might get used in teacher ed courses and what, if anything, might come out of using them. I said yes because: (a) I always say yes to stuff that sounds even remotely fun and (b) I was already wanting to do this a year ago.

I knew that before I could think about badges I had to think about content. So I took one of my fall courses, Explorations in Literacy, and began to tweak the syllabus. I’m thinking this is going to be about my 8th time teaching this class so the syllabus is pretty good. It’s not at all the same syllabus each time. It’s just that I got the rhythm and flow of this course down. I really know what I want to accomplish in it. So it seemed like the best place to start.

level 1 badgeWhen the course had been flushed out a good bit I decided it was time to take a step back and read a bit about badges and, if I could locate anything, how they were being used in education. My question lead me to a blog called Teched Up Teacher. Chris, who runs TUT, has a whole series of posts on gamification. I read through these posts like crazy, and then I read them all again.

Chris is now the EdTech coach in his school district. Prior to this, he was a high school English teacher who gamified his classroom. Gamifing the classroom, at a very basic level, (and trust me, I’m operating on very basic level at the moment) refers to running the class in ways that mirror video game rules and principles. Some very basic examples:

  • Assignments are Quests
  • Grades are Experience Points (XP)
  • Experience Points can translate into Achievements (Badges)
  • Achievements (Badges) can also be earned separately from Experience Points
  • Achievements can translate into Achievement Points
  • You can take your Achievement Points and buy things from an Item Shop

Now, Chris is much farther along the continuum than me. He eventually moved into creating an Alternate Reality Game in his classroom (see his post here). It’s something to aspire too.

For me, just the basics of gaming – minus the ARG – were plenty to get excited about and sink my teeth into. And let me tell you, it has been so much fun to spend my afternoons playing around with these ideas in conjunction with a syllabus. When you think of courses through a gaming lens, so much changes and so much becomes possible. It is just amazing. I can’t stop working on my classes. It’s a little nuts.

I got so into it that I decided to do all my classes this way next year. So both my fall classes, both masters classes, will be gamified. And you might be wondering:

  • what does a gamified teacher ed. class look like?
  • how much work does it take to get a course gamified?
  • how will the students react?

I obviously don’t know the answer to the third question. But at this point I am going to be switching over to a series of posts that video gamesdocument for you what I have done, am doing, and have learned about just the creation of a gamified course. I will tell you that the first one took a lot of time, but now that I have I have it under my belt the second one is going much faster. A big issue for me in gaming my courses was getting my head wrapped around what needed to be done to make it happen.

Chris’ blog has been a HUGE help in getting things together. Not only does he have posts about what his experiences have been like, but he also breaks down the process for you (Step 1, for example, is about getting your XP straight). I have followed his steps to a T and they have worked beautifully. So if you’re interested, I recommend reading what I am going to share here and then combining that with what Chris has already laid out. While I will be talking about getting XP set up, I will assume you are going to read Chris’ post on the topic and will therefore be offering a teacher ed view of how to think about XP.

Of course, before you can do anything you have to have the content of your course relatively stable. You have to know what you want your students to read and what the assignments will be. I could not do anything related to gaming my course until I had those components in place. Yes, some of them shifted a bit as I played around with the gaming concept, but you gotta have them there to begin with. You will get new ideas about what to do in your course as you play with the gaming concept, but those ideas need to be rooted in something.

Get your content under control first. I cannot stress that enough.

In my next post, I will be discussing how I designed quests and then developed XP. That’s the ground floor to gaming (I think). If we’re lucky, I might even be able to share examples from both my fall classes.

One Year Ago Today