What is Gamification? by Tyler Wood

We all know that video games are addictive, just walk up to a child playing a game and turn it off and watch their reaction and that becomes apparent. When I was growing up with the Nintendo NES system in the early 80’s, my parents would always be hounding me for playing too much. They wanted me to come to dinner, but they didn’t understand I couldn’t pause the game and I had to beat the level! 

Much like most parents who did not grow up in this virtual world, many educators do not see the opportunity there. Imagine if educators could learn from these games’ ability to engage children (and adults)? Imagine if we could disassemble the elements that make games so enticing? If we could do that, we could apply it to something less engaging, typically, the opposite of a game - school. This is the basis of gamification for education. The dismantling of the lure of games and applying it to education.

Gamification is growing in popularity around the world for business and education alike. It is, simply put, bringing game elements into a non-game environment. The trilogy of elements frequently tied to this idea are points, badges, and leaderboards. Gamification, however, is so much more than those three things. 

Game designers have done much of the footwork in deciphering motivation already. They have proven, with the billions of dollars they make each year (and research I will address later), that their strategies to motivate are effective. Every parent with a child that plays video games can attest to that. The game elements show up in the form of rewards, points, badges, and leaderboards, but tap into something bigger. Gamification is the injection of fun into something mundane. 

Perhaps you didn’t know this, but you have most likely seen gamification in action already. Nike Fuel tracks runners using game design, Toyota Prius has an in-dash game to track how efficient you are driving, another example of gamification entering the world of computing is Ribbon Hero. This game teaches the player how to use Microsoft Office software right in the programs themselves (Chou, 2013). Gamification is starting to make it’s way into the world at large, so at the very least, it should be something teachers are aware of. “Gartner estimates that over 50% of organizations managing innovation processes will gamify aspects of their business by 2015” (Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014). I would say we can do it one better, we can utilize gamification for a better education experience like big businesses are utilizing it for better profits. Our profits are student grade increases and higher graduation rates, however. 


Chou, Y.K. (2013, April). Gamification in education: Top ten gamification case studies that will change our future. Retrieved from http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-examples/top-10-education-gamification-examples/#.VYTdWWDoFFI

Why Gamification? by Tyler Wood

If you have played a video game - any game - you have probably noticed that the first level is usually very easy. It gets you used to the controls, the rules, and the story premise. But it doesn’t just tell you, it shows you these things in a very simple level, the designers’ English teachers would be proud. It provides a mastery-by-doing structure. It does not list a bunch of rules, the player experiments, fails, then learns how to proceed from their past mistakes. In the process, they learn how to succeed. All the while, they are enjoying themselves and smiling, usually. Even when they have met a hard challenge in later levels and it gets frustrating, they persist. I remember throwing a controller and yelling because I was stuck on a certain level of a game as a child. What I did next though is the key, I took a break and got back to work to try and figure out the level. Persistence. As an educator, this scenario is what we dream our kids would be like in our class, minus the throwing things, of course. Imagine if your students learned by doing, persisted past failure, and were not only excited about it, but spent their own time doing more of it because they wanted to? That is the potential of gamified learning. 

Why is playing a game better than traditional education? When done correctly there is more to the game than game-like prizes. “Beneath these game-like prizes lies another level of reward that may include relevant feedback, learning reinforcement, and a lively and collaborative class environment” (Educause, 2011). An “environment that encourages feedback and reinforcement, not only between the instructor/teacher and students, but also between the students themselves” (Chou, 2013). In other words, there is more to the games than extrinsic motivation. 

Consider this, there are approximately 30 million people harvesting crops for fun right now. They are not farmers, they are players of FarmVille (Mashable, 2010). While those 30 million people invest their money and time into harvesting digital crops, many students are dropping out of school, 1.2 million according to All4Ed (as cited by Lee & Hammer, 2011). It seems that students prefer the points, badges, and leaderboards of games to the grades, report cards, and rules of school. A good game design will teach without explicit instruction but with trial and error and maintain motivation throughout. 

The traditional school tends to punish failure, especially when factoring in high-stakes testing. Gamification can alleviate that stress and create an environment more conducive to mastery by way of experimentation in learning. Students would be able to retry and learn from mistakes. Gamification also helps bring out natural intrinsic motivation. What is the typical reward for beating a level of a game? A harder level with more challenges. Helping to foster that type of environment in a classroom would be very beneficial to the learning process. Games can also help the emotional process of failure. “Crucially, they also help players persist through negative emotional experiences and even transform them into positive ones” (Lee & Hammer, 2011).



Educause (2011). 7 things you should know about gamification. Educause Learning Initiative.  Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7075.pdf

Lee, J. J. & Hammer, J. (2011). Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother? Academic Exchange Quarterly, 15(2).Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/570970/Gamification_in_Education_What_How_Why_Bother

Mashable (2010, February 20). Farmville surpasses 80 million users. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2010/02/20/farmville-80-million-users/

TEDx Talks. (2014, Jan.). The future of creativity and innovation is gamification: Gabe Zichermann at TEDxVilnus [Web Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ZZvRw71Slew

What does the Research Say? by Tyler Wood

The term ‘gamification’ is relatively new (coined by Nick Pelling in 2002) and, as such, is lacking in a large amount of research, though "learning from play is not a new concept. It is the fundamental way young mammals acquire knowledge of the world around them. In both the fields of education and psychology, much research has shown that human children are no different" (Sheldon, 2010, loc. 356). Though play is well documented, gamification itself is still a young subject. Having said that, there is still research that has been done with gamification specifically. There is also research on gaming generally that can be applied, because of the nature of gamification. There is also the research that has been done around now well established pedagogy that gamification lends itself to. I will address the established pedagogical practices for motivation first. 

There are four main categories of established pedagogical practices of motivation that align nicely with gamification: ability to fail, quick feedback, progression (scaffolding), and storytelling (continuity). 

Students that are allowed to fail and learn from that are learning from a mastery mindset. “If students are encouraged to take risks and experiment, the focus is taken away from final results and re-centered on the process of learning instead” (Stott & Neustaeder, n.d.). Teachers have been using this approach for a long time by way of formative assessments. This is also linked to student self-assessments because the game will allow the student to learn directly from their mistakes without a teacher to point them out because of results. This leads us quickly into the second category - feedback.

Game feedback checks off all the necessary boxes that support positive results for feedback. According to Grant Wiggins feedback should be goal-referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, on-going, and consistent (Wiggins, 2012). Any well designed game will have a clear and transparent goal, and the feedback will be directly aligned with that goal. “Joey Lee and Jessica Hammer of Columbia University encourage teachers to "maintain this positive relationship with failure by making feedback cycles rapid and keeping the stakes low”” (Stott & Neustaeder, n.d.). It must, unless the game is impossible to beat, be a tangible goal. It will be actionable and timely because you will be able to attempt whatever you just failed again and again immediately after failing. It will be on-going because the game does not end until you reach the goal and it is designed to be consistent because it is a game, it has rules. The way in which it is on-going leads us to the next of the four categories - progression.

There is plenty of research in support of scaffolding for better student success and that is just what games do with progression. The first levels are easiest, and usually teach controls and basics of the game (like grammar or terminology). As the game progresses, the difficulty rises and rises. In a gamified educational setting, this progression can even be applied directly to Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide. Two graduate students at The University of Arizona, Hackathorn and Lieberman, used Bloom's Taxonomy in their gamified class “by incorporating lower order thinking skills into the first stages (identifying, remembering, understanding), progressing to higher order thinking skills in subsequent levels (analyzing, evaluating, critiquing, summarizing) and finally arriving at the highest order thinking skills in the final levels (composing, creating, designing, planning, inventing)” (Stott & Neustaeder, n.d.). This is the epitome of scaffolding, but by design in a gamified classroom. 

The final category is storytelling. Storytelling needs very little research to validate itself, but there are mountains of research anyway, and thousands of years of history to boot. However, the one thing that most classrooms do not have is a unified story that connects the entire year. This is something gamification can, and should, provide. “Providing a unifying story throughout a curriculum can put the learning elements into a realistic context in which actions and tasks can be practiced, something that is considered extremely effective in increasing student engagement and motivation” (Stott & Neustaeder, n.d.). Studies have shown that students retain information better when couched in a story than when learned independently. Those facts you want your students to remember will be remembered better if they come packaged in a storyline. 

There have been two relatively recent studies that looked at educational games specifically from NYU and Stanford that have proven to be generally positive for gamification. The NYU study was of middle school students and showed that math educational games boosted motivation. It focused on the two types of goal orientations - mastery and performance. Mastery goal orientation is when the student simply wants to get better at the task and allows for mistakes. Performance goal orientation is when the student wants validation or to look smart. ““Educational games may be able to help circumvent major problems plaguing classrooms by placing students in a frame of mind that is conducive to learning rather than worrying about how smart they look,” adds co-lead author Paul O’Keefe, an NYU postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study and now at Stanford University’s Department of Psychology” (as cited by NYU, 2013). One of the worries of gamification, with competition built in is that it was assumed that the performance goals would outweigh the mastery goals. However, “the findings revealed that students who played the math game either competitively or collaboratively reported the strongest mastery goal orientations, which indicates that students adopted an optimal mindset for learning while playing the video game with others” (NYU, 2013). So, ironically, competition in the game created a mastery goal orientation. 

The Stanford study was looking into math proficiency by way of educational games. They used the game Wuzzit Trouble (this is the Stanford study Gabe Zichermann referred to in his TED Talk) to test students’ number sense. “Number sense involves being mathematically proficient with numbers and computations. It moves beyond the basics to developing a deep understanding about properties of numbers, and thinking flexibly about operations with numbers” (Pope, Boaler, & Mangram, 2014). The game involves tapping cogs to rotate them a certain number of times in order to get a key. “With the action of tapping the smaller cogs to activate them and turning them a certain number of times to retrieve the keys, the player is using mathematics in an authentic environment to reach a goal. The player is immediately able to reflect on her choices and apply them to completing the challenge of the next level” (Pope, Boaler, & Mangram, 2014).

Finally, I looked at a pretty comprehensive literature review of the studies directly about gamification. “The literature review suggests that, indeed, gamification does work, but some caveats exist” (Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014). The caveats are a concern, but related to what has already been mentioned, that games need to be designed well. We can take the backward design approach to gamification and ask, what goals do I want the students to attain? Then design the game accordingly, or find a game that matches what goals you think would best suit the students. In other words, just picking any random game will not do at all. Games are good at motivation and engagement, but can cause negative effects as well because of heightened competition, problems with task evaluation, and some even fail with design features. Each student will have a different experience with the game, so that is something that should be adjusted for continually. According to Hamari, Koivisto, and Sarsa, one student might want to be at the top of a leaderboard and another might be happy with just being on the leaderboard. Or one might be excited and motivated by competition and another will be turned off by that. 

What can be gleaned from the research, is that, although it is still in need of more research, the evidence is looking very strong for supporting a gamified learning environment for your class. You can even add your experience to the growing pool of research and offer more insights we can all learn from. 



Stott, A. & Neustaedter, C. (n.d.) Analysis of gamification in education. School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University. Retrieved from http://clab.iat.sfu.ca/pubs/Stott-Gamification.pdf

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification. In proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, USA, January 6-9, 2014. 

NYU. (2013, Nov.). Educational video games can boost motivation to learn. New York University. http://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2013/11/06/educational-video-games-can-boost-motivation-to-learn-nyu-cuny-study-shows-.html

Pope, H., Boaler, J., & Mangram, C. (2014, April). Wuzzit trouble: the influence of a digital math game on student number sense. Stanford University. Retrieved from http://www.brainquake.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Pope_Boaler_Mangram_PAPER.pdf

Sheldon, L. (2011, June). The multiplayer Classroom: designing coursework as a game. Engage Learning. Kindle Version. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Multiplayer-Classroom-Designing-Coursework-Game-ebook/dp/B00B7RE84E/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Wiggins, G. (2012, Sept.). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

Why in Korea? by Tyler Wood

Seoul, South Korea - where the internet is a right and we celebrate that with the highest speeds on planet Earth. Where PC bangs (private internet cafes) litter the city with neon lights and advertisements informing the customers what games they specialize in. Where the internet is only getting faster with the support of the government (Hahn, 2014). Where wifi is standard on the subway and everyone is playing a game on their phones. Where investing in upgrades in technology is rarely debated and usually welcomed with open arms. This is the place where education can change to meet the already high-tech culture. We, as educators, have an opportunity to make a change. 

I am an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. As such, I am looking at implementing changes here. It is no slam dunk, however. The Korean government has a love/hate relationship with gaming. Casino gambling is illegal for Koreans, but there are a few casinos that serve tourists. There are plenty of Koreans who bet on the dog tracks, though. Video games are even more complicated. There are two television channels that show people playing video games 24 hours a day, like CNN for Starcraft players. There are approximately, 22,000 PC bangs that support the gaming industry worth nearly $3 billion (McCurry, 2010). However, though the laws have been loosened, there is still a government push for curbing gaming addiction (Lee, 2014). And yet, as you can see from the chart below, gaming remains on the rise. 

With focus on technology and it’s benefits to society at large by companies like Samsung and LG, the education industry of Korea, on the other hand, remains very much traditional and unchanged. High stakes testing, rote memorization, and long hours every day starting in kindergarten have been the norm in Korean schools for decades. Many educators, especially foreign born, or Koreans who have studied abroad, have been commenting on the conditions for awhile with little to no actual changes happening until recently. “The critical view of “traditional” Korean education has spurred Korean governments to introduce new reform measures intended to promote students’ creativity and student-centered education sensitive to individual diversity” (Park, 2013) because of the generally held view that creativity and intrinsic motivation for learning are lacking in Korea even though they perform at high levels on international rankings. Although the author is critical of the changes and the critiques of traditional education in Korea, this is an opportunity for implementing change in this country, especially related to student-centered education focusing on building intrinsic motivation, like a gamification model would.

My experience as a teacher and friend to Koreans, who I have talked to in the country about their schooling, has proven that education is of the utmost importance in South Korea. So much so that children are in school almost everyday for upwards of 10-12 hours a day. These students are studying all day long, and they still find the time to play games because they are so obsessed with them. As can be seen in the chart, the gaming industry shows no sign of slowing down either. The ban on late-night gaming showed no effective results. I believe that gamification, especially education game building and acceptance of gaming in schools, would solve two problems at once. It would take advantage of the love of gaming here and insert it into the education field; and it could reduce the dependence on after school programs that keep the students out late at night studying.

Taking the clear motivation of games in this country with interest in building a better way to help students learn and express creativity and 21st century literacy, this starts to look like an obvious place to implement gamification into the curriculum. So, what can we do?

As an educator in Korea, we can start to implement these changes in small increments. We are given a lot of freedom in our classes here and we can use that to get our foot in the door of change. Think locally and the ripples can have enormous effects. 



Hahn, J. (2014, Oct.). South Korea is set to unveil 10gps broadband internet. Digital Trends. Retrieved from http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/south-korea-make-world-even-jealous-10gbps-broadband/

McCurry, J. (2010, Internet addiction driving South Koreans into realms of fantasy). The Guardian July, 12, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/13/internet-addiction-south-korea

Lee, M.J. (2014, South Korea eases rules on kids’ late-night gaming). Wall Street Journal Sept. 2, 2014. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2014/09/02/south-korea-eases-rules-on-kids-late-night-gaming/

Park, H. (2013). No matter how high your test score is, you are still bad: Korean education’s response to PISA. Revue Internationale d’education de Sevres. Retrieved from https://ries.revues.org/3749

How to get Started? by Tyler Wood

When beginning a class design change to gamification, I think it best to use the backward design method. Starting at the end, or goal, of your course will allow you to figure out where you are headed, so you will be able to make smart choices in the design of your course. 

Once you have established your goals for your course, then you can start deciding what kind of gamified environment you want to use. There are two main ways to gamify your class - video game-based learning or a 'multiplayer classroom', to borrow from Lee Sheldon. Below is a link to some great resources for getting started in gamification. 

The video game-based learning will consist of using, at least in part, video games to teach concepts in the classroom. Ananth Pai is a great example of this approach. You can see from the video that he has chosen many different games for each child to play. This is where backward design comes in handy, deciding what your goals are helps you decide which games will get you there. This may take some work finding the right games. Mr. Pai has used off-the-shelf games on laptops and Nintendo DSs for his class, so there is no need to be a computer wizard or code breaker for setting up a class this way. It will take some time going through the games, trying them, and getting feedback from your students on which ones were liked and which ones weren't, however. It is important to keep an open conversation with your students for good feedback from them to better serve their interests. This is differentiation, after all. 

If you are not already in the gaming world, you will need to find some games that will work for your class. As mentioned, decide what standards or skills you want your students to learn from games first, that might help you narrow down the games because there are an overwhelming amount of games out there. Below is a link to some games that might help you in your class.

If you are not finding what you want, are computer savvy, or have too much time on your hands you can create your own games. Remember that this is not a quick fix or a simple solution, but you will most likely be learning a new skill and getting exactly what you want in a game. Below is a link to more information about building your own video games.

The 'multiplayer classroom' is a way of using game-based learning without the video games by creating a role playing-style game within the classroom. This would consist of designing a game that the students participate in as the curriculum. Unlike a video game that has been designed previously, you would have to create the game itself. There are two things to consider when designing. 

   1. The game dynamics

   2. The game mechanics

The game dynamics are based on the storyline of the game. The game mechanics are the rules of the game. Both are important, but you can lean more heavily on one or the other, depending on your comfort level. Mr. Matera is a good example of how to run a 'multiplayer classroom'. He focuses on the game mechanics, though he points out that a colleague of his is depending on game dynamics for her class' motivation. When designing this kind of class it is important to remember that "well-designed games provide integrated assessment and contextual feedback: they are good at keeping players motivated and in flow; they incorporate established pedagogical techniques including scaffolding instruction, variable ratio reinforcement, and social learning" (Sheldon, 2010, loc. 1145). The game is more than just a story arc or points and badges with the common theme. As Lee Sheldon points out in his book "The Multiplayer Classroom", this method is never really finished. The class will always be changing based on constant feedback from observation and student responses and direct feedback. One of the benefits, he mentions, is that when the classroom is a game, it offers a relaxed environment where students are more willing to offer feedback, which is great for maintaining a motivating gaming experience. 

One thing to remember is that you do not need to gamify the entire year right out of the gate. Try making a lesson into a game for starters and see how it goes. Then you can build a larger and larger construct over time. If you have a framework that is working, then you can simply add to it until you are comfortable building a year-long game for your class. This is what Mr. Matera mentions at the beginning of the video. He created a unit that was gamified, and he saw great results. Then he decided to create the year-long version. 


Davis, V. (2014, March). Gamification in education. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/gamification-in-education-vicki-davis

Sheldon, L. (2011, June). The multiplayer Classroom: designing coursework as a game. Engage Learning. Kindle Version. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Multiplayer-Classroom-Designing-Coursework-Game-ebook/dp/B00B7RE84E/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

My Classroom by Tyler Wood

I am beginning the process of implementing a video-game element into my after school English classroom. I will be using a modification of the popular game Minecraft in my class that will allow a sandbox-style approach to gaming. The worlds are not pre-made, but created by the students. They are not being tested on whether they can survive the world created for them, but they are builders themselves. 

One of the issues I have been facing with an ESL classroom, now that we have switched to Common Core standards, is reading comprehension. Previously, our students were expected to memorize vocabulary and facts from stories for quizzes, and that was the majority of the learning done in school. We have changed that to start expecting critical thinking. This was a hard change for the students, and some parents, this year. I was looking for a way to motivate the students to challenge themselves in this new way. They struggled at the beginning of the year and I did not want to lose their attention for the whole year. This implementation will include reading blocks with directions they must follow in order to continue in the game. There is no better way to teach reading comprehension than having the reading directly correlate to an action they must take, especially when they are motivated to make sure they want to pass the challenge. This is immediate feedback and authentic assessment. They will know right away whether their idea worked and they are in a world with consequences. If they cannot figure out how to get over an obstacle, they will be stuck and not be able to move on. The class is not racing ahead of them based on something relatively arbitrary like time. Students will be able to go at their own pace while progressing when they have mastered the challenge they have been up against. 

Even though this is an English class and my focus is on reading comprehension, it is a nice side-effect that they will also be learning elements of physics, chemistry, geology, and digital citizenship along the way. 

Update: There have been some other organic ways that teaching with Minecraft has helped my students use their English in authentic ways because of their engagement - like working together to problem solve and helping each other. They are working on goal-oriented tasks that all students must participate in. They are using English to discuss their world without thinking about it being an English class, which makes it less stressful as well. 

Our long-term project is to build our school to Minecraft scale as detailed as possible. Take a look at the pictures to see the process and what we are doing. 

The second way I am implementing gamification into my classroom is by creating a fully integrated game model to play for the whole year. It is based on the game Super Mario Brothers and includes prizes relating to the game, organisation based on video games (i.e. levels and Bosses), as well as lots of visual representation for buy in.

At first, last year, I was using digital coins and the prizes were offered through a digital tool they could use coins on. The students were not using their coins to buy any prizes and they were not getting excited about the game. I quickly realised the mistake I was making was the lack of something tangible they could hold. Version 2.0, which is my current version, added a few prizes and physical prize coupons they could hold, trade, and/or show off to classmates, and then trade in to me for the prize redemption. This has spawned an explosion of interest that has spread outside my classroom. I now have students that are not in my class asking about the prizes, which tells me my students are excited enough about them now that they are talking about them. Of course, it is not just about getting them excited about prizes, but their buy in with the prizes has made the motivation to earn those prizes strong, which is where the motivation transfers to classwork. In order to earn those coins to buy those prizes they need to finish classwork and homework as part of each 'level' (Lesson). You can take a look at the class structure by clicking the button below.