Linda T Darcy has written a decent overview of using game mechanics in the classroom without relying on technology in her post at ASCD Express – No Technology required to gamify your class.
If you have an interest in gamification, this won’t cover a lot of new ground but I was quite taken with her approach to using leaderboards. She proposes using them to measure only individual improvements (e.g. Jenny improved her grade by 15%) rather than setting up purely grade based competition. This enables lower performing students to feel that they still have a chance to “win” and avoids the demotivating effect that leaderboards can sometimes have.
Having said that though, if a high achieving student performs consistently well, there is no room for them to show improvement – unless they game the system by deliberately underperforming at the start – and less recognition of their achievements. The leaderboard may well be seen as something of an “everybody-gets-a-trophy” prize than a true game mechanic.
So I guess what might work is a leaderboard that uses both direct performance but can incorporate improvement – or perhaps just two separate leaderboards?
Have you had any experience in using leaderboards in education that worked well or failed horribly (I mean, that provided a valuable learning experience to you?) Please feel free to share it in the comments.
(Don’t you hate it when you change your mind about an idea as you write it down)