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Teaching Stories

Three super low-tech ways to gamify your learning

Adding game design and mechanics to your online content can make it more engaging, motivational and enjoyable. Online educational content is competing with social and entertainment content, and so now is as good a time as any to start adding a bit of fun to your teaching.

We’re going to look at three very simple ways to add game design elements into teaching online to encourage students to engage with your content and activities.

1. Challenges rather than tasks.

By framing work as a ‘challenge’, ‘quest’ or ‘mission’ rather than a ‘task’ or ‘activity’, you can completely change the tone of a piece of work, even if the content is exactly the same. Adding an element of team work to this further creates a sense that they are playing a game together, rather than just engaging in another dreaded piece of group work. The work could also ask you students to assume a certain role(s) to help them complete the challenges.

Compare these two examples below:

Example 1: Today’s mission asks you to analyse the following intercepted telecom for hidden messages sent to the Nazis by renown double-agent Eddie Chapman (‘Zigzag’). In your role as linguistic analyst, you need to report back your findings in less than 500 words summarising what you have found and the reasoning behind your answers. You have just an hour to complete your mission.

Example 2: Analyse the following telecom for hidden messages in less than 500 words, including reasoning for your answers. The telecom was intercepted by MI5 from Eddie Chapman to the Nazis. (1 hour task).

You’ll need to scaffold this sort of activity around similar others, or you could just choose to have a week dedicated to ‘missions’ rather than your traditional content and get feedback on how your students have found it.

2. Progress indicators and difficulty levels.

Seeing out how much content you’ve made it through on a certain day or week’s worth of learning can create a sense of achievement and like you’ve progressed in your learning.  

In many games you know how much you have left to complete the level either by a percentage or star system. Each ‘level’ or stage is often divided up into more manageable chunks of increasing difficulty for you to progress through. Once you get to the end of that stage you feel a sense of achievement and are motivated to carry on and complete the next level.

We can apply similar mechanics to online learning and a similar effect will occur. All you need to do to add this sort of engagement is structure the content in a way that looks like students are moving through stages or levels, rather than just completing one activity after another. Adding a ‘%’ to each task also helps students understand how long they should be spending on different activities

Consider the three different ways this week’s activities are presented and think about which one attracts you the most and why. What don’t you like about them?

Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are. (10%)  

Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live). (30%)  

Complete the week’s challenge. (50%)  

Feedback and share using the discussion board. (10%)  
BONUS: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock the secret material.  
Level 1 (Easy): Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.  

Level 2 (Moderate): Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).  

Level 3 (Moderate – Difficult): Complete this week’s challenge.  

Final task (Easy): Feedback and reflect on the discussion board.  

*Optional extra: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock secret content.    
Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.  

Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).  

Complete the week’s task.
 
A checkpoint/ opportunity for feedback.  

*Extra activity – complete this  game for extra material.

Go one step further…

  • Consider adding questions or quizzes students have to complete before moving onto the next ‘level’.
  • Add ‘secret’ content students have to unlock by completing small challenges.

3. Healthy competition.

One of the more controversial aspects of gamifying education is the use of competitive elements, such as leaderboards and rewards. However, if integrated sensitively, they can provide light competition and drive among students, furthering engagement with the materials.

One way to do this is to allow students to vote on their favourite contribution to a discussion board, or a prize for the student who has engaged the most with the discussion.

You can also have a leaderboard for any quizzes that students take as part of the online content.

To bring some team work into your online teaching, consider hosting a weekly ‘pub quiz’ for students to show off what they’ve learnt during the week.

If you’re interested in gamification and game-based learning, you can join the Digital Education Office/ BILT ‘Learning Games’ learning community by getting in touch with either BILT or DEO.

BONUS: Further reading.

Read about ‘Gamifying History’ at the University last year here.
Watch this TEDx talk on ‘How gaming can make a better world’.
Take the ‘Lifesaver’ game – a brilliant example of using a game for learning.

Amy Palmer.

News

Learning Games #2

The second ‘Learning Games’ event took place on 17th January. To give everyone a chance to eat their lunch, the session started with a discussion around the tables about where we would like to use games in our teaching, and barriers we have (except for time – time is a problem for everyone!). Each group fed back and the key barriers were:

  • Resistance to change – some colleagues may not believe that learning with games can be as effective as more ‘traditional’ forms of learning.
  • Not knowing where to start – lack of experience in making/ designing games, what to make the games for, what tools to use, etc.
  • Having the resource/ capacity – this is quite similar to lack of time but is a key point – many staff would like to take time to create a game for their learners but there is not capacity in the team.

Dr Kieren Pitts, a senior developer in Research IT, presented a game he has been working on as part of a research grant with colleagues from physiological science. The game, EyeTrain, was developed to improve oculomotor control in children and consists of three ‘scenes’ (one urban, one woodland and a high contrast scene) in which the player has to tap when they see an animal move. The game encourages the player to move their eyes in repeated, specific movements with both smooth and saccade motion. The game begins with an animal that has quite obvious movement (e.g. a hare that moves its ears) and as you improve more animals are unlocked, each with more subtle movements, and the backgrounds (scenes) becoming more complex and detailed as the player improves. Illustrations were done by Bristol-based illustrator, Alex Lucas, whose work can be seen in the School of Education and on walls across the city.

eyetrain.jpg
Example image from ‘EyeTrain’.

Settings in the game are highly configurable and it has been programmed to collect vast amounts of data to ensure its effectiveness. Early testing has shown it to be effective in improving oculomotor control in children. More information about the game can be found here.

We then heard from two members of staff who have recently been awarded Discretionary Seedcorn Funds from BILT. Dr Frankie MacMillan from the School of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience explained the card game they are making for students studying Histology. Students must place down a card, with the next player putting down a card linked the image on the card before and explaining why. If a student can not go, they can use red blood cell ‘counters’ to buy an answer off another player. They hope that this game will make quite a ‘dry’ topic more interesting and memorable as the students have to create links between the types of cells and tissue themselves.

Next, we heard from Dr Isabel Murillo Cabeza from the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and her game, Microbial Pursuit. The plan for this game is for it to be played across two sessions and is to be used as both a learning and revision tool. The first session students are split into small groups and each write multiple choice questions with three options. The students can use their lecture notes, eBioLab materials, tutorials, essays and other academic material to help them write the questions. In the second session, students are reshuffled into different groups and use the questions to play a board game, similar to the layout of Trivial Pursuit. Students can play as individuals, in pairs or in threes.

The session concluded with a short game that was based around weather predictions (but I’m not sure where the weather link came in!). We all started with a coloured counter balanced on the back of our hands and the aim of the game was to be the last person with their counter on their hand, while at the same time attempting to knock off other peoples.

If you’d like to come along to play a silly game, hear about what others are doing with games and their teaching and discuss your ideas for gamifying learning, get in touch with Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells to find out when the next session is on.

News

‘Using Games in Teaching’ – 26/10/2018

The first ‘Using Games in Teaching’ event, organised by Chrysanthi Tseloudi and Suzi Wells from the Digital Education Office, saw 25 colleagues from across the University come together to discuss their experiences, hopes and ideas for gamifying learning. A wide range of staff attended the event, with both Professional Services and Academic staff represented, and with a wealth of experience among them.

Staff sat at a table at the using games in teaching event

The event started with an introduction from each member of the group, a summary of their experience with games and explanation as to why they had attended the session. It was clear that the understanding and experience of types of games varied vastly, from computer games to card games, everyone had a different perspective on what ‘using games in teaching’ meant.

The main part of the event looked at ‘Decisions and Disruptions‘, a decision-making game using Lego models and cards originally developed at Lancaster University and now being developed further by Ben Shreeve from the School of Computer Science. The game was created to try to understand how organisations have made their investment decisions in the hope to understand how cyber security failures occur. Players work as a team to advise their company what they should buy (items are on the cards), then once these decisions have been made players suffer various cyber-attacks and participants see how their decisions have impacted the organisation. They play the game through four rounds, attempting to secure the organisation over time with a finite budget and multiple consequences. The game is beneficial as it allows staff to work as a team with both technical and non-technical staff, with the Lego working as a visual aid to help the players relate to their own workplace. The tactile element of the Lego also helps embed the learning (a point which was seconded by a number of others around the room).

IMG-0710
Ben Shreeve and his Lego/ card decision making game (pictured here making a paper aeroplane!).

We concluded the event with a small and simple game to play. We were asked how often we would like the ‘Using Games in Teaching’ events to take place in future, ranging from once a teaching block to once a month, with a physical scale being shown from one end of the room to the other. The ‘game’ element came when we were asked to show our answers using a paper aeroplane we had just created launched across the room. This simple yet amusing activity lifted the session and was something which could easily be done in the classroom to add a little fun and make the session more memorable.

Please contact Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells if you’d like to come along to the next one.

Teaching with Games (Informal lunch event)

This event, hosted by Suzi Wells and Chrysanthi Tseloudi from the Digital Education Office.

If you’ve ever used games in your teaching, wondered how, or want to hear what other people are doing, come along to this informal lunch event on the 26th October in between 1-2pm. This event is a chance to share your plans, get ideas and meet others who are interested in the topic. Email Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells to let you know you are interested and they will let you know the location of the event.