Gamification of Education

Google “gamification of education”, which is different from “game-based education” as people in these fields take pains to point out, and you are overwhelmed with choices from nifty infographics to the ubiquituous wiki page to scholarly articles from Behavioral Scientists.

In a nutshell, gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, such as education. For example, you can learn about the geography and history of the Caribbean by playing Pirates of the Caribbean with Jack Sparrow as your guide.


There are several items that encourage people to return to play an app, educational or otherwise.

1) You have to be able to make progress (points and levels).
2) You need to feel invested in the game (pride in achievements, collaboration with others, wanting to get others involved—so you can totally own that smug wiener who thinks s/he can do things better than you).
3) You want to have Cascading Information Theory. This is a fancy way of saying you use bonuses, countdowns, new discoveries, and completing challenges that require multiple skills obtained on previous levels.

Not that any of this is original with me: I’m rather uncritically reciting that nifty infographic from above (remember the default position to adopt? That is, “This person is clueless”.*


*The flip side of freely admitting ignorance is that when I do unequivocally state something, say, “The earth has nine boundary systems that regulate the resilience and stability of the our ecosystems and we’ve already broken four of them globally, more regionally, and by the end of this century we’ll have broken a few more, and the human race is completely screwed then you may want to perk an ear (not that I’d actually say something like that, of course). 😉

First off, anyone thinking of designing an app for educational purposes needs to find themselves a graphic designer and artist if they’re not one already. Secondly, you need to find someone who is real good at coding. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fill that second criteria so we were stuck with me. I think the fairies swapped the code monkey part of my brain at birth for a procrastination monkey; good thing we have nice graphics to distract from my suboptimal coding—also a good thing our graphic designer is pretty good at coding too.

Yarrr, I don’t know what I’m doin’.

In our attempt at gamification we are building a biology app, where “we” = a talented graphic designer, a talented young musician, a talented marketing student, and me, whose main job is to pester the Prof for working code.

The app we designed is a biology trivia game with six categories: Cells, Genetics, Plants, Animals, Evolution and Fungi/Protists. Each category has three levels with 20 questions per level. You receive coins with enough correct answers and can unlock higher levels. The questions are mainly from classroom biology textbooks with some questions from student exams, which we hope provides motivation for students to use the game.

Neat little sound effects, most of them completely home-made by the aforementioned graphic designer, keep the game interesting (sounds can be turned off if you wish). We (will) have music designed by a budding musician who already has his music on iTunes. There is a timer which lets you know how much time it took you to answer the questions so you can beat it next time.

Feedback on each question (will) pops up and gives you more information; also some of the feedback has some quirky material, almost as if a slightly sleep-deprived cynical cranky old biologist were writing the material. Eventually, we would like our game to be interactive so people can compete against other players—but that is way down the future wish list. Images will also be incorporated into the app so it isn’t just words.

Right now we’ve sold the rights to our game to big publishing companies, went on Oprah, became famous, made fortunes, and we each have bought our own tropical islands. Or that might have been a late-night bad-mushroom-pizza-induced dream now that I think of it.

However, the university biology students are playing with an early version of the app, and we’ll incorporate their feedback into the new versions. Ideally, we do want to approach the textbook publishers and partner with them to bring it to a wider audience.

If publishers are on-board we could incorporate all of the textbook questions, have links to specific pages on their online textbooks, and provide motivation for students to buy needed individual chapters at a low price rather than $200 or more for a whole textbook.

We could add relevant material that expands upon answers, especially on questions where students select the wrong answer, convert virtual coins into money that could be used to purchase rewards, more questions, textbook material, or allows access to an interactive responsive design web page [/word salad]. If successful, we could expand the game to include other disciplines (e.g. chemistry, history) —I doubt that falls into Oprah’s purview though, and our tropical islands will have to wait.

In the meantime, however, there are numerous questions to consider. What other game-education ideas can be incorporated into games designed for college/university students? How will this be meshed, if at all, with classroom teaching? Will Nathan Fillion reprise his role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.


One thought on “Gamification of Education

  1. Very good blog Akanja. You are doing a good job. The direction you’re heading is very complex so it should be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do this. 😉


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