Overview of Gamifying Education

One of my school courses has given me the awesome opportunity to find a client, analyze their needs, and subsequently develop a system to satisfy those needs. Most students in my class have chosen to find clients with practical needs – a new invoicing system, a robust ticket ordering system, and so on. While these are all adequate and will undoubtedly provide the students with vital real-world experience, I’ve decided to use this course to start implementing my vision on gamifying education.

For the uninitiated, gamification is the inclusion of gaming mechanics and systems into non-gaming domains. This is usually done to increase the appeal of said domain. A common example is the rewards system tied in to many major credit cards. The SonyCard, for instance, gives you a number of points every time you purchase something, points that can then be redeemed at the Sony store for Sony products. Adding this rewards system to a credit card is a prime example of gamification. Knowing that each purchase brings the elusive reward closer motivates the consumer to spend more.

Gamifying education isn’t as simple as adding a points system that gets students physical rewards like new TVs or music players. Providing physical extrinsic rewards might work in the short run, but eventually you’ll run into problems. How would you deal with a student asking for a “raise”? What happens when, for whatever reason, you need to reduce the quality/quantity of the rewards? Kids don’t tend to respond very positively to that. Having said that, a compelling rewards system is still completely necessary for motivating students, but that’s a topic for another day. Today I want to focus on three major mechanics that I’ll be incorporating into my gamification system:

  1. Progression. The system will keep track of a student’s progression through the use of a leveling up system. Completing any school-related task will net the student a number of experience points. Upon receiving a specific number of experience points, the student will “level up” by increasing their overall level by 1. As a student levels up, they unlock new perks or features that were previously unavailable.
  2. Collectables. The system will allow students to collect and optionally display items. There will be three types of collectables:
    1. Achievements. Achievements will be one-time unlockable collectables awarded to students for accomplishing specific tasks. Achievements cannot be stacked (only one of each achievement can exist for any given student) and they cannot be removed or locked again once unlocked. The system will keep track of all currently unlocked achievements and allow the student to view the requirements for locked achievements.
    2. Currency. A virtual currency will exist in the system. Upon completing a school-related task, or meeting a set of requirements, students will be awarded an amount of the currency. The student will have the ability to spend the currency within the system on various digital goods.
    3. Experience points. All school-related tasks will provide the student with experience points. Demonstrating a high level of competency for any given task will result in a larger number of experience points being granted. The number of experience points can never decrease.
    4. Crafting material. As with experience points, completing any school-related task will earn the student items that can be combined (crafted) into other items. These items will be collectively known as crafting material and the system will keep track of said items through an inventory system. Demonstrating a high level of competency for any given task will result in higher quality items being received. Quality will have direct effects on crafting.
  3.  Random awards. Many interactions with the system will have a small percentage chance at rewarding the student with a random bonus. This random bonus can be in the form of extra currency or additional crafting material.
A lot of my ideas are still being formulated as I go, so I might come back and edit this page as I solidify them. I’ve also tried to keep the mechanics abstracted from a user interface so as to not be tied down to any one way of implementing them. The system will likely be web-based with a major focus on mobile accessibility.

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