What Is Gameful?

What Is Gameful?
Gameful pedagogy takes inspiration from two key places.

First, gameful design applies what Self-determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) says about building intrinsic motivation in classroom experiences: to feel intrinsically motivated, people need to

  • be able to make meaningful choices over what they are doing (autonomy),
  • be challenged by a task but feel like they can succeed (competency), and
  • feel connected to those around them (belongingness).

We establish support for these feelings with our second source of inspiration: elements from well designed games.

Using game elements and SDT as a starting point, we offer 5 main recommendations to apply gameful pedagogy to your course.

Before we get started we want to distinguish between these two terms:

Gamification refers to adding game elements to a course such as leaderboards, badges, trophies, and achievements, without making underlying changes to the design of the course.

Gameful pedagogy goes farther building game elements into the design of the course, such as building up points from zero, user choice, immediate feedback, learning from failure, and transparency.

Core gameful principles
Build up points from zero

In a traditional grading system students start with the best grade they will ever get. On day 1 they have 100% and lose points as they complete assessments throughout the course. In this traditional system, students start from a disadvantageous position. Not all students start with the same level of competency and thus do not have the same likelihood of retaining their points. In a gameful system students start at 0 points and earn their way toward their goal in a way that suits their unique situations.

We ask instructors to start students at zero and build up to a goal grade, rather than starting with 100% and lose points as they complete assessments.

Offer user choice

Supporting autonomy means students have some choice over their learning environment. However, too much choice can overwhelm students and make your assignments difficult to navigate.

We recommend you start with less choice and slowly introduce more over the duration of the course.

For example, students need to gain 12,000 points to get an A, 6,000 are from assignments you ask everyone to complete. Students can then choose which assignments to complete to earn the remaining 6,000 points. You would scaffold the choice by having the majority of the required assignments at the beginning of the term, slowly mixing in the optional assignments over the term. You have many options on how to enable that choice:

  • choice among limited assignments (you offer 10 assignments and they select 5)
  • choice about the way an assignment is completed (when it’s due, what material they’ll cover, or what format they’ll complete the work in)
  • choice of what types of assignments they might complete (choosing from exams, group or individual projects, papers, presentations)
Provide immediate feedback

One of the most engaging aspects of games is getting immediate feedback in response to your actions. Rubrics, auto-graded quizzes, and peer feedback are some methods to help ensure students get immediate, descriptive feedback.

We encourage instructors to provide students with thorough, thoughtful, and frequent feedback, whenever possible.

Rubrics allow you to assess and provide feedback on student submissions in a more rapid and consistent manner. The more detailed assessment information present in a good rubric means that students generally feel like they’ve gotten better feedback, despite their instructors having spent less time grading.

Allow freedom to fail

In games, you can try things you have never done before, fail, and do it again until you get it right. In gameful courses, you can set up learning opportunities in a way that minimizes risks for students so that they’ll be more likely to choose assignments outside their comfort zone and expand their skill set, and less likely to stick with assignments where they know they’ll do well.

Set up your course so it’s safe for students to experiment, fail, and keep trying until they get it right.

Getting a low number of points on an exam in a traditional course can seriously damage a student’s final grade. In a gameful course, by building up points from zero students gain value even from low scoring assignments.

Similarly, in gameful courses, the total number of points available is typically higher than what is needed to get an A. As a result, if a student gets a low score on an assignment, they have opportunities to continue to earn points by doing additional assignments.

Consider these ways to incorporate freedom to fail into your course design:

  • Allow students to resubmit an assignment multiple times.
  • Structure multiple ‘pathways’ of assessments so that failure in one area does not limit a student’s course success. For instance, if a student does poorly on an essay, they can make up for it by writing multiple blog posts.
  • Offer many more points in the course than what’s needed to get an A.
Make your course transparent

Transparency in gameful courses has three main components.

Transparent courses have assignments defined at the start of the term, they don’t grade on a curve, and the way to succeed on each assignment is clear.

Assignments defined early. In gameful courses, it’s important to have assignment choices, values, and grading defined at the start of the term. This transparency aids students as they decide which assignments they’ll take on to build their learning experience.

No curves. As part of being transparent, we recommend you do not use a grading curve. Whatever points a student earns maps directly to the grade they’ll get; if they earn enough points to have achieved an A three quarters of the way through the class, then they’ve earned an A at the end of the semester.

Clear grading. In well designed games you know your goal and exactly why you fail. In a gameful course this manifests as clear expectations for what it will take to succeed on an assignment and understandable feedback if they don’t.