As a dutiful instructional designer, I’ve been paying attention to the concept of gamification. I’ve read some James Paul Gee, I’ve reflected on the time spent in my formative years (or *cough* last weekend) playing Zelda, and I’ve listened to our resident guru on the subject, Daniel Stanford, talk about how we could make the concept work within our courses and within D2L. But gamification remained only an interesting side topic that I sometimes devoted brainspace to until a couple of weeks ago, when I purchased the Fitbit Flex.
First, a disclaimer: I’m not trying to do any awkward product placement in our blog. There are several activity trackers out there, and I just happened to buy the newly-released Flex.
I started researching activity trackers a few months ago. I’ve been a runner most of my life, and last summer, I was in a rut. Even when I signed up for races, I was feeling unmotivated to implement different training methods. I bought those Insanity DVDs, but that wasn’t really the change I was looking for (and I became paranoid that I was making my downstairs neighbor hate me). I thought that if I could just know a little bit more about what I’m doing every day, maybe I could make some more reasoned, supported changes.
The Flex, like most activity trackers, is a pedometer. From that pedometer, the applications from Fitbit can take my input data—age, height, weight, stride length—and calculate how many calories I burn per day, taking into account my basal metabolic rate. Then, I can add in more data, like specific activities that a pedometer wouldn’t catch (yoga, crosstraining, rowing) and food, and I can see on my dashboard how I’m performing every day.
As soon as I started watching this data, my behavior changed—only slightly, but more importantly and permanently than it had with other things I’d tried over the past year. My motivation reappeared. Since I knew I was “getting credit” for everything I did, it was easy to put in an extra ten minutes on the elliptical machine or to run an extra mile. I tried to figure out (unsuccessfully, so far) how I could sprinkle more active time throughout my day. I haven’t made significant changes to my eating habits, but the post-workout donut from Glazed and Infused tastes even better (which I didn’t think was possible) because I know I have truly earned it.
And, yes—by just paying attention to this data, and feeling slightly more motivated, and thinking just a tad more about what I’ve eaten and what I’ve “earned” each day, I’ve dropped a few pounds.
More valuable, though, is the way this has totally blown open my thinking about how I [we] teach. Gee and Daniel aren’t floating on the outskirts of my brain anymore; they’re in the forefront. My thinking is unpacking itself in two ways:
- The days of “learning for the sake of learning” might be over. I’m loath to let go of this, but here’s the thing: I’ve been running since I was 12. I run or work out in some way almost every day, and I feel lousy on the days I don’t. This is something I’m invested in, something I do just for the “joy” of it. I had come to a point, though, where I needed change.And now, lots of other things feel different. By being more focused and informed in this area of my life, I’m feeling more focused and informed in others. My colleague Ian Hall recently shared how he makes lists for everything he does in a day, even the littlest things, and I realized that his listing strategy fits into this same framework. I implemented it, and I’m feeling much more at productive and peaceful at the end of the day.
Given how significant these changes have been for me, I’m anxious to assess my classes and figure out ways to make sure that my students feel like they are accomplishing specific goals and seeing the connections between those smaller goals and the broader scope of the course. I think they’ll still find joy in learning, but I also think they need to be able to define the benefit they’re garnering from each assignment and reading more clearly.
- For those who are already motivated enough to have signed up for your course, making clear connections to outcomes will provide that extra bump that the interested but content student needs. Again, I was a happy enough runner who was noticing a rut. Now I’m an insanely motivated runner for whom Jeni’s ice cream tastes better than ever before. This clear path to having goals and meeting outcomes would help students feel just as motivated about the content in my course.
I don’t think the first steps I’ll take to “gamify” will fit into the traditional definition. I’m not going to add in Easter eggs, release conditions or intelligent agents—yet. I’m going to start by making sure the accomplishment gained through each assignment, reading and activity is clear, and I’m going to make sure there are incremental and defined steps to success built in, as well as clear feedback points to let students know when they’ve been successful. Then I can get to the fun part: figuring out what level of success the class has to meet to earn some donuts.