This semester we had the opportunity to work with five new instructors at the University of Michigan to make their courses gameful. We asked each to share a bit about how they got started with gameful learning, and what they hope to see over the course of the semester. We’ll be featuring their responses here on our blog over the next several weeks.

Laura-OlsenLaura Olsen, Director of the Program in Biology, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Alex Stern, Professor of American Culture, Women’s Studies, History, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Director, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies/Brazil Initiative

AMCULT 241: Health, Biology, and Society: What is Cancer?

What got you interested in gameful learning?

Laura: It sounded like fun! It sounded like something different. I like fun and different.

Alex: I love games so I liked the idea of gamification. Now that we are using GradeCraft, I love its flexibility. Thinking back, when I put together the Health in America course about two years ago I was trying, without these tools, to gamify it. Gamification helps you take a one dimensional course into three dimensions. Now I am looking forward to designing many of my courses this way. It meshes with with my flexible and interdisciplinary teaching approach. For this course, it allows us to build in certain requirements in an integrated and holistic way. I do think students students will take something substantive away with them from the foundational assignments we’ve created.

L: Something I have discovered is this difference in philosophy: I’m used to lecturing and being focused on the content, wanting to make sure that I present all of the details correctly. And now, I don’t have to deal with the stress of that because they don’t have to take an exam. But we have very high attendance at lecture, and they’re coming with questions that show they’re engaging with material. I started with the idea that I couldn’t bring this to my other courses like Intro Bio – and now I think I could, it’s just a question of coming up with the right activities.

What has this meant you’re doing differently in your class?

L: I’m trying to be a lot more creative in what I’m doing – certainly with a broader range of interactive options. My other classes tend to be interactive, but maybe not as much as this in a way. I’m focusing less on grades and points, that’s for sure. That may or may not make students feel better.

A: This class definitely has more group work. We’ve built that in because we have group tables in the classroom and we do in-class exercises. In the past I’ve done this but they’ve been shorter, more individualized exercises. Students work together to solve a problem or answer a question, and get points for it! This can create a buzz of energy in the group, which then builds into full class discussion. I am very enthusiastic about this mode of teaching and hope to see it expand in the humanities.

L: We’re getting different people to speak up now too!

What reactions have you observed in your students?

L: Everything from anxiety to enthusiasm. I think the students for the most part really like it, I’ve heard them talking to each other about it at different times. The first week or two there was more anxiety, but now I don’t think it’s so much that.

A: I think especially once we get back from break and have completed more grading, generating more points for them, the students are going to start to feel more reassured.

L: I think once they get into the B range, they’re going to be more secure. They’re starting to think less about points, and more about assignments, and that’s a great thing.

A: We want them to know that it’s not just the quantity, it’s also quality. I have been giving them a lot of feedback on their assignments, and I think now they realize that just submitting an assignment doesn’t necessarily result in receiving full points.

L: At the least the ones I’m seeing know how you use the grade predictor and are using it.

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