Put Gamification in Higher Ed

Gamificaiton, or putting game elements in non game settings, is a powerful tool. Higher education and student affairs can definitely benefit by practicing gamification.  This post will describe how professionals can use gamificaiton in three ways: to enhance the student experience, to brand your institution, and to connect students to other services and programs they may benefit from.

Enhancing the overall experience
Time and time again I’ve been told that “Higher education already gamifies! Look at grades!” That’s true.  Faculty use grades as a way to evaluate and provide feedback for students on their mastery of material. But really, when was the last time you smiled when looking at a grade book? I know that outside of a few outliers, many people don’t look at their grades past the end of the semester.

A good way to gamify the grading system in higher education would be to provide students with a structure (syllabus) that identifies different ways they can achieve a goal (getting an A) by accomplishing different quests (assignments).

Someone can further gamify this scenario by providing different paths in which students can reach the same goal. Example: Public Speaking Class: Quest worth 30% of the student’s overall grade: Choose one of the following: prepare and deliver a 10 minute speech to the class at the end of the semester, memorize a famous speech and deliver a digitally recorded version to the professor, or research an approved public speech and write a 10 page paper on how its delivery has affected society.

In this manner, the faculty member has 1) provided agency to the student by allowing them a choice in assignment, 2) provided different ways in which a student can accomplish a learning objective, and 3) accommodated different learning modalities through different assignments (live public speaking vs. recorded public speaking vs. social implications of speeches)

When you gamify: gamify your school
One specific aspect of gamification that schools often leave out is failing to take advantage of the opportunity to brand their institution, division, or department. This can be done in a multitude of different ways.  It also serves as a way to expand the brand image while simultaneously eliciting student engagement and activity.

Specifically at St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) my Student Activities Office (STACtivities) issues branded currency known as STAKRS that are given out to students after they complete surveys for off campus trips. This approach accomplishes three goals: 1) my office gains valuable insight on student perception of programs 2) the branded currency better represents both my office and the school and 3) the currency can be used for discounts on future off campus trips. This approach generates assessment data, brand engagement, and loyalty towards future events.

In addition, you can consider issuing students bookstore gifts card for successfully completing priority activities (like attending home athletic events, taking surveys, or supporting campus programming). Doing so ensures that your students will spend their new credit on institutional sponsored merchandise.

If you like this, you like that
I love services like Pandora and Spotify because they show me other kinds of music that I would like based on what I’m already listening to. Amazon also does this by showing you items that you may like based on what you’ve bought in the past. We’re now living in an age of data and profiles. This means that gamification can also work for you to create opportunities to connect students with programs and services that you already offer.

Take for sample a gamified student affairs environment where participants are given a “quest” to find THREE famous alumni. Students who return the names, graduation years, and current positions of three famous alumni from their home intuition are entered to win a random series of prizes. The randomization of prizes fulfills gamification’s random reinforcement mechanic. Prizes can include book store gift cards which enhance the student’s overall experience. But the grand prize? The GRAND Prize will be one FREE Hour of resume review, writing, and interview perpetration from the director of career development. The catch? This is a service that is already offered by the department. What has changed? Students’ required agency, efficacy, and effort in order to win this prize.  Therefore, more value is placed on the experience as a whole and the student (and hopefully friends) will learn more about career development at their institution.

In this post we examined enhancing the overall student experience though gamificaiton. Realize that these examples serve as an enhancement to the experience and not a replacement. Student affairs practice means nothing if it is not helpful, educational, and purposeful. When you gamify don’t forget to also brand. The system that you set out to create should take off and you’ll start receiving a lot of attention. Why not make that attention work for you? Make sure that you brand your gamified initiative in a way that is consistent and evocative of your own institution. Finally, your gamified program should be collecting data about student behavior. Make that data work for you by connecting what students have accomplished and engaged with in the past and connect them with what they may like to participate in the future.  In the end remember that gamification is a tool to improve student affairs practice. Use it wisely. Use it well!


Dave Eng



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