Category Archives: game based learning

More creating opportunities and less kicking goals

I’ve been playing a bit of Rocket League on the Playstation 4 lately and it’s had me thinking about what I do at work. The game is essentially soccer with rocket powered, jumping stunt cars – it can be played multiplayer with up to 8 people or individually with AI team mates and opposition.

I’ve been playing solo because my home internet is awful and it’s been fun but my AI team mate is a bit dumb. Or to be fair, his programming means that he has a tendency to just dive at the ball whenever I’m about to score a goal and knock it in the wrong direction.

So I’ve started trying more to create situations where I’m positioning the ball well near the goal and he can just charge in and score our goal instead. As long as the goals are being scored, the team wins and we make our way to the finals.

Which is something like what we do in education – create opportunities for students to learn. They still need to apply their knowledge and skills to kick the goal but we’ve set the stage for them to make this happen. And maybe this is what I do as a TEL edvisor. I’m not the one working with the learners, the teacher is. I might have a very clear idea of what goals can and should be kicked but so does the teacher and it’s fair that they are the ones that get to do so. (I’m not suggesting here that the teachers are dumb or have bad programming – the analogy fell down long before now – more that it can be exciting for us to see the opportunities for scoring learning goals and forget that we’re here to create opportunities for the teachers to score them.)

Maybe just playing the game (and it’s a fun game) and being on the winning team is enough.



STELLAR : A project to gamify academic professional development

stellar logo

One constant in my experience as an education support person over 13 years is that generating excitement about professional development activities relating to teaching and learning can be a challenge. I don’t think this is because teachers aren’t interested in their teaching practice or that they believe that there is nothing more to know (well, in most cases), it’s often just another activity competing for scarce time. Calculations have to be made about the effort vs the reward and often the reward simply isn’t sufficient unless it has been mandated in some way (or offers some kind of formal accreditation – or sandwiches and cake)

Gamification (if you don’t already know) is the practice of using game elements (rules, competition, challenges, winning, points, prizes, badges etc) to motivate behaviour in non-game contexts. It’s been used in commerce for decades (consider frequent flyer programs where you earn points towards rewards and level up to better perks) and it has been explored actively in education for about a decade. (This is separate in some ways to the use of play and games in education, which arguably has been happening for as long as we have had education)

I’ve had an interest in game based learning and gamification for a while now – my previous blog was called Gamerlearner and this is still my “brand” in educational social media. (I switched over to Screenface to be able to focus on wider TELT issues).

I’ve been conscious of the fact that while I’ve been doing pretty good work in supporting TELT in my college, there hasn’t been as much happening in the professional development / academic development space as I would’ve liked. (As a one man team, I’m not going to be too hard on myself about this but it still bugged me).

So a couple of weeks ago, I spoke to our Associate Dean (Education) and launched STELLAR as a pilot. A very very beta-y pilot with a lot of elements really not worked out at all. (This was made clear to participants). The plan is to run the pilot over September and use this experience to design a full scale version to run in Semester 1, 2017. Participants earn points for engaging in a range of professional development activities and the winners get a fancy dinner out.

STELLAR stands for Scholarship of Technology Enhanced Learning, Leadership And Research. To be honest, it’s a slightly clunky backronym designed to work with a stars theme. Because I think people like to be seen as stars, its a nice, easy visual theme and putting stars into teams (which was a goal – even small teams) lets us start talking about constellations. I also like that it means that I get to call myself Starlord in my daily STELLAR emails.

At the half way mark, I’ve got a set of activities in place that academics can use to earn points.
(At some point I want to cluster these to enable collection type activities and rewards. I also plan to map them to Bartle’s player types and a few other things to check that there is a good spread of kinds of activities). These can be found in this Google Doc as well as in a page in the Moodle course that I’m using to house resources, organise groups and track activities.

I’ve been trying to encourage spot activities – e.g. you have 24 hours to upload a scholarly selfie to the Gallery – but so far there hasn’t been much engagement. I’ve been lucky that our central TEL team has been running a “coffee course” over the last week relating to the Flipped Classroom. This involves short learning chunks posted on a blog that take around 10 minutes to complete and include the option to leave a comment. (This idea draws from work by Sarah Thorneycroft at UNE). I’ve been pushing this hard and offering generous points for attending and commenting. I’m happy to say that of the 17 participants in STELLAR, at least six that I know of have signed up and five have been the main posters in the coffee course.

Now that the coffee course is over, I’m mindful of the need to maintain momentum so really have to come up with some further activities to encourage people to engage in. We ran a small (2 people) session on Thursday last week about the new ePortfolio tool that the university has introduced and one of our lecturers that is currently using it was generous enough with her time to share her experiences. Hearing “on the ground” stories from peers makes a huge difference.

In terms of the site itself, I’ve been strongly encouraging team play which requires the use of groups (Constellations) to make the most out of the Moodle functionality. This has been much harder than expected, with most people preferring to play solo. I’ve been asking them to join one person groups and now half of the course is in groups. A major reason for trying to encourage group play (ideally 2-4 max) is to foster greater collaboration and discussion in the schools of the college. I appreciate that academic research can be a very solitary pursuit but teaching doesn’t need to be. For all that I read about Communities of Practice in teaching, the culture in my college just doesn’t seem interested yet – particularly at any kind of scale. (As the old saying goes, our university is 70 schools united by a common parking problem)

I’ve set up a leaderboard which is group based only and also set up visible topics that are only accessible by group members but the hold-outs haven’t budged. (These are also the people that have tended to engage less with the course in these first two weeks – in fairness, this has also been the mid-semester break when a lot of marking is done as well as organising applications for research grants). I’m a little conflicted about what to do with this – I’ve made it clear that if people want to play solo it’s fine but it would help if they were attached to a team. As an admin I can just put them in teams but given that “play is a voluntary activity” (Whitton, 2014, p.113), I’m hesitant to force behaviour. (Which isn’t to say that I’m not using game based strategies – fear of missing out and nagging/feedback – to encourage it)

One lecturer – who generally has been engaging – mentioned to me last week that he wasn’t sure what he is meant to be doing. While I’ve been sending out regular emails, they have perhaps been less succinct than I’d like and more fixated on the set up and mechanics of the game rather than the professional development activities that I’m trying to promote. This is definitely a thing to improve quickly.

I’ve been thinking about the games that I enjoy playing – particularly video games – and there is certainly much more direction given, particularly early on. At the same time, these tend to be much more narratively oriented and I don’t have a story running in STELLAR yet. I toyed with the idea of everyone being astronauts and needing to build their ship by earning points which buy parts etc etc but have serious questions about whether this is going too far off track for people in a college of economics and business.

One thing I would dearly like to achieve is to start building a rich collection of learning resources – including case studies/exemplars of good practice locally and research papers into various topics. Having this created collectively would be a fantastic outcome.

I’ve also been making limited use of the idea of random drops. These are unexpected prizes that a player sporadically wins/gets in video games for no particular reason but the possibility that it might happen is used as a motivator. I got 10 coffee vouchers from our local cafe and have been giving Shooting Star spot prizes when people do something new mostly – first suggestion for an improvement, first addition to the glossary, first person to attend a face to face event etc. This system needs some refinement and will benefit from being less arbitrary. My hope is that by announcing the random drops in the daily emails, it is maintaining interest from the people that haven’t yet won one. Maybe a thing to do will be to highlight that these are being won for being the first to do something.

The scoring system is something of a chore – I’m using the gradebook system in Moodle which has meant creating a separate assessment item for each individual activity that people can participate in. I’m keeping a separate Excel spreadsheet because it’s easier to track (in some ways) and need to manually update both. I’ve asked people to claim points in a discussion forum post but am aware that this is entering an unfun grey area of administrivia. What I really want is for people to be sharing what they’ve done in professional development and sharing their learning with the group and I should find a way to reframe it as such. Or automate it more. I can grade some items that are done in Moodle activities but mostly things have been happening externally that I’m tracking. I’m also fairly conflicted about this tracking – for example, I’ve seen people posting in the coffee course and I’ve been giving them the points that they’ve been earning for this. Many of them haven’t been claiming these points through the forum – at least not after the first day. It’s no secret that I’m also in the coffee course because I’m posting comments there as well but if people are earning points for this kind of activity that I’ve seen them doing, is it a little weird?

Digital badges is something that I’m keen to explore and I’ve created some tied to the random drop prizes but we have massive institutional hurdles with badges and our Moodle instance doesn’t support them yet.

I’ve had several other grand ideas that I simply haven’t had time to implement yet. For the groups/constellations, I’d like to have a star field present that grows as they earn more points/stars. So they begin with just their constellation on a black background but a small star appears when they get 10 points or a new constellation when they complete a cluster of activities. Again, when it is a matter of manual handling, it’s a labour intensive activity.

Anyway, that’s the broad strokes of STELLAR, there are twice as many participants as I was expecting (and this is in a time when many people are away) so I’m quietly pleased with our progress but I’m also well aware that sustaining interest and activity is going to be a challenge when semester resumes on Monday.

More than anything though, it’s nice to finally be walking the walk after talking the talk for such a very long time.

Gaming the 1979 Iranian Revolution

It’s been a little while since I wrote about games here but it is still a keen interest of mine – particularly those with an educational angle.

A review on for 1979 Revolution popped up in my Twitter stream and immediately caught my eye. What we have hear appears to be a thoughtful, nuanced look at the 1979 revolution that overthrew the (U.S. installed) Shah of Iran and replaced him with Ayatollah Khomeini and an Islamic theocracy.

Told from the perspective of a young photographer, the game appears to be influenced by the recent Telltale Games style, with a strong narrative, dialogue choices (with ongoing consequences) and QuickTime events in action sequences. (A little bit like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book if you’re not familiar with TellTale’s work)

Built into the story are opportunities (requirements?) to take photos at specific times that are recreations of actual photos taken of events during the revolution. Players can use these to dip further into the history of the time.

From an educational standpoint, these kinds of games tick a lot of boxes for me. There’s interactivity, there’s a narrative that gives the learner emotional experiences and there is decision making and the opportunity to fail.

Even though I’ve been trying to keep clear of games, I think I might have to take a further look at this.

The Try-a-Tool-a-Week Challenge: Week 1 – Socrative (vs Kahoot)

Kelly Walsh over at EmergingEdTech seems like quite the Ed Tech advocate and he has started an ongoing series of posts for the next three months focusing on a range of tools.

He has asked people to try the tool and post some comments on his blog. So, what the hell, I’m happy to see where this might go. First up is a basic classroom quiz tool called Socrative.

At first glance, this reminds me of Kahoot, which I’ve looked at before. Socrative appears to use a more serious design style, eschewing the bright colours and shapes of Kahoot for more muted tones. Overall, the Socrative interface is a little more user friendly for both the student and teacher, with a clean, simple and logical design.

Creating a basic quiz in Socrative was a very straight-forward process and it was nice to be able to create all of the questions on the same page. I did encounter some problems with creating a multichoice question – for some reason it took repeated clicks (and some swearing) in the answer field before I was able to add answers. Editing the name of the quiz wasn’t intuitive either but overall, the process was simpler than with Kahoot.

Running the quiz went reasonably well however I did encounter a number of bugs, related to network connectivity (3G) and an initially buggy version of the quiz that seemed to crash the entire system. (I had inadvertently added a true/false question twice, once with no correct answer identified. Clumsy perhaps on my part but I would kind of expect this to be picked up by the tool itself).

I liked the fact that the student sees both the questions and the answers on their phone and that the feedback appears there as well. Socrates gives three options for running the quiz – Student paced with immediate feedback (correct answers shown on device upon answering), Student paced – student navigation (student works through all questions and clicks submit at the end) and Teacher paced where the teacher takes students through question by question. In the final two options, feedback appears only on the teacher’s computer (presumably connected to a data project / smart board).

Overall I’d say I rate the overall usability, look and feel of Socrative above Kahoot but the connectivity issues are a concern and I’d say that Kahoot offers a slightly more fun experience for learners by playing up the gamified experience, with timers and scoring.


Gamification – a better approach to leaderboards

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)

A hierarchy of digital badges – level 4 Classroom

The final level of digital badges (in education at least) is Classroom badges. Now in keeping with the let’s-not-get-caught-up-on-semantics theme of this series of posts, it applies equally to the training room, the tutorial group and so on – the name ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s the function that counts.

Classroom badges I would consider to be the most informal of all badges, used primarily to add fun to learning and to give recognition to learn progress through a subject as well as to acknowledge notable contributions to class. This might be in an online forum or class discussion, for punctuality or courtesy or in dozens of other intangible ways.

These aren’t generally going to be badges that learners would attach to their e-portfolios or online presence but they can still be valuable tools to enhance motivation and engagement.

Classroom badges are closely tied to gamification, which is simply about taking game mechanics (e.g. instant feedback, competition/leader boards, collection quests, unlocking levels) and applying them to new contexts. Gamification is facing a not-unjustified backlash because it is possible to doing it quite badly and many gamification evangelists take an oversimplistic approach that involves copy-pasting concepts that work in advertising.

Used in education, gamification can drive intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators take the form of external rewards – physical prizes obviously but also unlocking access to new content and particularly peer respect. This can be incredibly effective in the short term but you run a serious risk that learners engage more with the rewards than the learning and when the rewards dry up, motivation plummets. Intrinsic motivators tap into a learner’s own desires and their reasons for undertaking the study. These often focus on recognition of progress and achievement, curiousity and personal interests. These can be more difficult to design but are far more valuable in sustained engagement.

It’s certainly possible to find the right balance of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators in a gamified approach using classroom badges, it just requires a little more consideration.

I’m currently working with the head of our Year 12 program (final year of secondary education) on a badge based approach to encouraging at-risk youth to complete their studies. It is currently largely driven by extrinsic motivators – get enough badges during the year and we will put on an end-of-year BBQ that you can come to – but we will also include some subtler drivers.

Lee Sheldon, in his fantastic “The Multiplayer Classroom” book notes some examples of teachers that also got learners to design and issue classroom badges (a limited amount to increase their value) to their peers for certain achievements such as explaining a concept in class in such a way that they were able to understand something for the first time. Peer based badging opens a whole new door to this approach that is well worth taking further.

So this is what I consider to be the four levels of digital badging in education. Maybe I’ve missed some, maybe the terminology needs some work and maybe creating a hierarchy is redundant (as different people have different needs of badges) but I think this is a decent start.

I’d really quite like to hear your thoughts on this – and particularly where we go next.


Tired of students playing on their phones in class?

Maybe you should get them playing on their phones in class then.

I ran a small session this morning with some of our teachers from Accounting and Law about Kahoot – a great free online quiz game.

Hands with phones using Kahoot quiz

Learners simply visit on their smart phone/tablet/laptop/computer and enter the PIN associated with your quiz game. (Which you are showing through the projector)

They then choose a nickname to use.

Questions appear as your can see in the image above. There is a timer on the side and once everyone has answered (or the timer runs out) the answer is revealed

Points are giving for getting the answer right and also for the speed of answering. At the end there is a final leaderboard and you can download a spreadsheet of results.

This can be a fun and quick way of seeing which areas of content your students have understood and which they might need more support with.

Setting up a Kahoot quiz is also very straight-forward – everyone in the session had a playable quiz game up and running within ten minutes from scratch.

Just go to to set up a free account and get started.
(Yes, looking back, this reads like an ad but I have nothing to do with Kahoot, I just think it’s cool)

Training design workshops from Cathy Moore

Particularly interested in the Scenario Design workshops – there’s an online one coming up and a recording of an older version that is available for free

via Delicious (via IFTTT)