Gamification: Second edition

All, Teaching Tips

I gamified my classes years ago, but this semester I chose to go all in – and I’m already wondering if I made the right choice. OK, not really, but setting this up is a lot of work. For several years I have used badges to recognize and assess class participation. In short, students recognize their peers’ contributions to our class community by awarding merit badges and we decide as a class how those badges translate into letter grades for class participation. Other than refining my process for tracking badge awards (see badges), I am quite happy about grading class participation with badges. However, I have always been intrigued by another gamification idea: using badges to mark progress toward a goal or recognize specific achievements. I have used this method in my graduate class, but struggled with how to translate it to my undergraduate classes. Re-reading my post about that class reminds me that my new plan does not offer as much choice for my undergraduates as I would like, but it is definitely a move toward using badges to mark progress toward a goal. Here is where I am currently.

I have reclassified my assignments as achievements, because I hope my students will think about them as such. I truly loathe disposable assignments and strive to make the work we do in my classes meaningful and purposeful – with the assignments serving as a visible demonstration of what students have learned rather than a stick used to measure their failings. Most of our achievements take weeks to unlock and should be recognized as an achievement because students learned and grew through the process of completing the work. At least that is the message I’m hoping to send…

I have also labeled each of the activities we do to support successful completion of these achievements as microachievements. Microachievements are very specific and typically take less than an hour to complete. For example, every undergraduate class is currently working on a Community Microachievement this week (our first week of classes). Students are expected to review my thoughts about why I consider community important to our work, write a blog post responding to my thoughts and some questions I pose about community, and then write a thoughtful response to at least one classmate’s blog post. This week every undergraduate class has four microachievements to complete (orientation, community, introduction, and badging). That will be a pretty typical week for my upper division class – three or four microachievements each week — although my lower division classes will average two or three a week. My hope is that this label will help students better understand the relationship between these tasks and the larger achievements. We will see…

Assessment in my classes will essentially stay the same. The major assignments are staying the same for both my general education classes and my professional writing class and they will be graded as usual using a scoring guide the classes build together. The three common assignments I always use (community, reflection, self-assessment) will also stay pretty much the same although I think the microachievements might make it easier to understand the difference between community and reflection as well as better support reflection assessment (but we’ll see!). Community is simply contribution to class activities (not just doing the work but active, thoughtful participation) and is assessed by aggregating merit badges. Reflection is the act of doing the work (blogging, commenting, workshopping, etc.) and is assessed by simply completing the microachievements. Self-assessment is a weekly private journal post noting the microachievements successfully completed, lessons learned, and challenges faced. These will be assessed on a pass-fail basis but hopefully will help both students and myself spot troublesome trends and intervene before anyone gets too far off track. The big question remains if tracking microachievements in this way will make life easier or harder or simply make my head explode. I hope it will make it easier for my students to track their own progress. My small test audience of teenagers says it will but only time will tell!

Ultimately, I hope the use of achievements and microachievements will be as beneficial as my experience has been with badges, but I imagine there will be a lot of lessons learned this semester. Are you interested in gamifying your classroom? How do you use gamification to support your teaching and pedagogy?


  • Deanna, I have not jumped in to the gamification realm just yet. I need to do what I’m already doing better, first! ;D Thank you for this valuable post, however. I’ve pinned it under my “gamification” label and will come back to it when I jump in! Keep sharing!

    • It’s not easy, can’t lie! But I have already had some great feedback from students about microachievements and this is only this middle of week 2. Start small – gamify one aspect of your class. I only used it for participation for years!

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