Simple Steps to Gamifing Your Instruction

This post is the second in my series on how to gamify courses in higher education. Part 1 looked at the overall concept and how I started thinking about it. In this post, I will be talking about how to design quests and then develop experience points (XP) from them. This process got a little messy for me so keep in mind it’ll probably be messy for you too. But it’s worth it!

First, before you can even think about quests make sure that you have the following things down:

(a) know what you want students to learn from the course. Have your larger and smaller objectives defined

(b) have a sense of what you want students to read. Before I started designing quests I had all the meeting dates mapped out and the topic/focus of the day in place. I think you can always update/change readings both before and after a course starts, but have a good lay of the land defined.

gamingMy point here is this: I personally find gaming my classes to be tons of fun. I would love to start right at the fun points, but I had to do all the normal stuff that I would do if I wasn’t gaming my classes first. I suggest you just write your syllabus the way you normally would and then go back and game it. I promise it won’t make that much extra work for you and will in fact save you time.

Second, go over to the Teched Up Teacher and read Chris’ post about creating an XP grading system. This is what I used as my home base for figuring out what to do, and I will assume you have read it. I’m going to offer up how I translated these ideas into a teacher education syllabus (it’s super easy!).

Background on the Class

I am going to be using my Explorations in Literacy class as a model during this series. This is a masters level course for K-12 teachers who are interested in becoming literacy specialists. My best guess is this will be about the 8th time I have taught this course. I chose it as the first one to gamify because I am comfortable with it and know what I want to accomplish in it.

Another thing to know about my class is that it is a hybrid course. We do some face-to-face meetings, and then we have some weeks were we interact in different ways. You will see this play out as I walk you through the process.

Finally, I use wikispaces to post my syllabus. As a side note, this greatly confuses administrators because my syllabus doesn’t conform to the boxed up format that they want it to have. So every year I have to repackage it into the UNC conformist model (which is actually significantly less work than the way I do it) and submit it to have on file. No one understands what to do with this online version I have created. Recall, I once said that while universities say they want creativity they actually don’t set up the structures to support it. The way they want syllabi written is a great example.

Related: Three Reasons Why I Hate Syllabi

I will not be giving you all the link to my syllabus on wikispaces. This is because I want to keep the link private to my students. I will be sharing aspects of my work via google docs so you can still see it.

Getting Started With Quests

Quests are actually very simple. Quests are your assignments. Completing quests earns students a certain amount of XP. Chris stresses questsa couple of things about developing your XP:

  • students start with zero XP and work their way up
  • as they gain XP, students level up (just like in a video game)

Obviously you have to create your assignments before you can determine your XP. In my Explorations course, I have four assignments:

  1. Blogging
  2. Post of the Week
  3. Explore Projects
  4. Becoming Connected

Let’s take a look at just one of the assignments for today – blogging. I’ve done blogging for awhile now with my classes, and the directions are pretty much down. I have written extensively about how I use blogging in my courses. You can see my posts:

My first class meets on 8/24. During that class, we will set up our blogs and discuss blogging. The next week (8/31) is when blogging starts. You will see from the directions that I have clearly defined when/how students are expected to post.  Overall, there are 13 weeks during the semester when blogging can happen. Students are expected to blog for 10/13. They can choose their days off (which means I never deal with late posts or make-ups! it is awesome!).

Ok – so we’ve got the first quest down (blogging). You can see that before I even get to developing XP I have developed all the directions for it and mapped out the due dates.

Getting XP in Blogging

First, here is the document that has all the info on how I grade blogging. For ease of discussion, here is the table that shows just the XP:

Type of Quest XP
Heroic Quests (Blogging)
  • Writing Posts
Posts 1-10 500 each
Posts 11-13* 800 each
For a second post in a given week* 500 each
Using appropriate links/pictures/video* 300 per post
  • Writing Comments
For each weekly comment 200 (x2 per week = 400)
Additional comments after the weekly minimum* 300 per comment
Write 20 or more additional comments* 400 per comment (starting with #21)


Let’s talk about this. First, I made blogging a Heroic Quest (I stole this idea from Chris). It doesn’t mean anything except I gave it a label to make it more game like. The first aspect of blogging that students get XP from is for writing posts. For posts 1-10, they can earn a maximum of 500 points. There are ways to earn less, but it would be based on things like not meeting the word count.

Students can write more than 10 posts, and I will give them more XP. Notice that in these cases there is an * next to the action they could choose to perform. That means that these XP do not count towards their grade at all. For example, students can write an extra post in any given week if they want and earn an additional 800 XP each time they do so. However, this will not help their grade and not doing it will not hurt their grade. Same thing goes for comments. Students can do more, and earn more XP, but doing so is always optional.

Now, this might sound like a nightmare to keep track of but I assure you it’s not. I place the responsibility on the student. Back up in the blogging directions document, I link to a worksheet that students must fill in. That’s how I can confirm their work.

Another question you might have is why would students want to gain XP if doing so would not help their grade in any way? Ahhh….well, XP leads to a wide variety of opportunities for students including earning badges, advancing on a leaderboard, and being able to purchase items from an item shop (if you want one). It’s not just about the grade. I’m curious to see to what extent students choose to engage with these additional opportunities and why they do/do not choose them.

Finally, you might be wondering how I decided what something should be worth in XP. First, notice that the numbers are high. One of the things I have learned about gaming my class is that we have to move off the 100 point system. XP needs to be high just like in a game – it’s supposed to make it more fun/interesting.

The XP itself was then pretty random. A post takes more time to write than a comment so it should be worth more. I would love if people would start including videos/links/pictures into their posts, but I don’t feel like requiring it. So if you do it, you get some additional XP,  but not more than writing the post itself is worth. These are things you will find yourself thinking through as you develop you quests and corresponding XP.

Next, you want to take the full XP for all the quests and convert it into a traditional grade. It’s not terribly difficult. You can see how I did that here.


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