Gamified Lectures: What Went Right


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As I wrote before, the gamification of lectures changed everything: assessment, attendance, grading, and the nature of learning activities. (If you haven't read my previous gamification post, it's good idea to do it before you read on.)

Looking at it from the perspective of a completed semester, I must say gamification has been a great success:
  • it boosted attendance at non-obligatory lectures
  • it made over 60% of students work systematically throughout the semester (as opposed to less than 10% in the traditional lecture mode, when most students do nothing for four months, and then borrow someone else's notes and try to pass the exam with one-day last-minute cramming)
  • weekly contact with the learning content made many of them see connections between parts of the lecture, and task-based assessment bridged the gap between theory and practice
  • as a bonus, beside the core lecture content, about 80% practised the use of online tools: Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Forms and Prezi, which was another step into the realm of Digital Humanities (one of them termed it "the most practical lecture")
Now some facts and figures.

One of my lectures had 62 students. 8 of them never tried to do any task, and 16 decided to quit the game before they amassed the minimum 30 points required for a pass. Summing up, the total number of students opting for a traditional oral examination at the end of the course was 24 (38,7%), with 38 (61,3%) passing thanks to systematic gamified work throughout the semester.

Among the many Special Tasks, I included Prezi Designer and Questionnaire Designer: students were encouraged to learn how to use Prezi and Google Forms and use them to create presentations and quizzes submitted as Regular Tasks. They would earn points (and +1 Life for Prezi) when they first delivered such a task, and then a small bonus to each subsequent task created in the new tool. Thanks to that,
  • 22 students used Prezi to create multimedia presentations
  • 21 students used Google Forms to create questionnaires (in most - but not all - cases the Prezi ones and the GForms ones are the same people)
  • 54 students used Google Docs and Google Drive to create/share files (everyone except for those 8 who never even tried)
The Life-maintenance system, installed to encourage systematic work on a weekly basis, worked very well. To put it shortly, you start a semester with 3 Lives. You are expected to complete one task based on the given week's content for 10 consecutive weeks (or Rounds in game-speak). You skip one week - you lose a Life. To restore a Life, you need to complete one of extra Special Tasks marked as "life-savers" (requiring a considerably more effort than other tasks). To get credit for the course, you need a least 1 Life at the end of the game. If your Lives are reduced to 0, you accumulate negative Life levels: -1 and -2. If you ever reach -3, you die. No coming back from there.
And here's how it worked with those who successfully completed the game:
  • 13 students didn't lose any Lives
  • 19 students lost 1 Life
  • 5 students lost 2 Lives
  • 1 student lost 3 Lives
  • In the end, two students reached the level of 5 Lives, eight reached 4.
There were also 3 students who tried for some time to work systematically, losing only 3 Lives, but didn't make extra effort to "resurrect" (from 0 Life to 1 Life), and scored between 20 and 28.5 points in total - below the minimum of 30.

In my other lecture, I had only 20 students. 3 of them never tried, 3 did but didn't collect enough points to pass without an oral exam. In total, 30% opted for an oral exam, 70% succeeded in the gamified pass. Summing up,
  • 8 students used Prezi
  • 6 students used Google Forms
  • 17 used Google Docs and Google Drive
Among the successful 70% (14 students),
  • 7 didn't lose any Lives
  • 3 lost 1 Life
  • 3 lost 2 Lives
  • 1 lost 3 Lives
  • One person reached 4 Lives.

...and this happened in the group which used to be most difficult to teach due to their extreme laziness. Not all individuals are like that, but the group as a whole has been the biggest challenge I've ever had in my teaching career (this opinion being shared by all their teachers I happened to talk to). Now, when I managed to make 70% of them work systematically during the semester - for a lecture with non-obligatory attendance! - it feels like an epic win. I mean it, guys. I never thought it was going to happen.

But the whole experiment had its downside. Pleased as I am with the results, I will not carry on in the same way in the upcoming summer term. More about it next time. You can expect "Gamified Lectures: What Went Wrong" pretty soon.

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