UPenn Gamification Course on Coursera

I just completed a six week online course on gamification offered by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.  The course was hosted and delivered using the online learning platform, Coursera.  I took this course for two main reasons. The first is that I am very interested in gamificiation, particularly as it relates to education and learning. The second is that I am also very interested in online learning and the various platforms that are popping up to provide such a learning experience (for free much of the time).

Coursera has gotten much attention lately, along with other online providers and services like Edx, Udacity, iTunes U, and the Khan Academy. And this gamification course experience is the first of many I intend to have as I explore this emerging online learning landscape in order to find out what works, what doesn’t, and how to think differently about our pedagogy as educators if we intend to engage students in learning online.

I must admit that I did not really have a strategy on how to take notes during this online learning experience – a interesting take away in and of itself, in fact.  So this post will most likely just be a spattering of key ideas that I picked up during the course with an occasional comment on why I found it valuable or specifically applicable to my work.

The structure of this post will first begin with three take-aways from each of the 12 sessions that were part of the course.  The second part of the post will be shorted in length and focus on what I gleaned from this experience as it relates to designing and teaching online courses and what I felt worked well and not so well with the Coursera platform.

Here is the basic outline of the course:

1] What is Gamification?

After the introductory material on the course, the first topic we need to cover is what gamification actually means. As we’ll see, there isn’t universal agreement. However, there are a set of concepts and examples that are clearly within the scope of gamification.

  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Course overview and logistics
  • 1.3 Gamification defined

The definition of gamification – the use of game elements or game design techniques in non-game contexts. I like this definition because it makes it clear that gamification is not trying to turn everything into a game per se, but rather just incorporating parts of games into other contexts.

  • 1.4 Why study gamification?
  • 1.5 History of gamification
  • 1.6 Categories and examples

Optional Materials

2] Games

You can’t understand gamification without understanding games. This unit explains why the concept of games is deeper than most people realize, and the game-based foundations for gamification.

  • 2.1 Gamification in context
  • 2.2 What is a game?
  • 2.3 Games and Play
  • 2.4 Video games
  • 2.5 It’s Just a Game?

Optional Materials

3] Game Thinking

The ways game designers approach their craft is also the way to tackle a gamification project. Seeing situations through the lens of game design is an essential skill in this area.

  • 3.1 Why Gamify
  • 3.2 Thinking Like a Game Designer
  • 3.3 Design rules
  • 3.4 Tapping the Emotions
  • 3.5 Anatomy of Fun
  • 3.6 Finding the Fun

Optional Materials

4] Game Elements

The raw materials of games and gamification are called game elements. We’ll earn how to break down a game into its constituent parts and apply them to create gamified systems.

  • 4.1 Breaking Games Down
  • 4.2 The pyramid of elements
  • 4.3 The PBL Triad
  • 4.4 Limitation of Elements
  • 4.5 Bing Gordon interview

Optional Materials

5] Psychology and Motivation (I)

Gamification is a technique for motivation, so it ties very directly into psychology. This unit introduces the behavioral psychology concepts relevant to gamification.

  • 5.1 Gamification as motivational design
  • 5.2 Behaviorism
  • 5.3 Behaviorism in gamification
  • 5.4 Reward structures
  • 5.5 Reward schedules

Optional Materials

6] Psychology and Motivation (II)

The previous unit explains the benefits of a behavioral approach to gamification; this one identifies the risks and alternatives.

  • 6.1 Limits of behaviorism
  • 6.2 Dangers of behaviorism
  • 6.3 Extrinsic and intrinsic rewards

Module 6 explored different kinds of motivations, and this is one of the primary reasons I am interested in gamification. I was actually quite skeptical of trends in gamifying education because of a tendency to focus on rewards, points and winning and means to engage learners in the process.  This gives rise to the issue of intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation encourages somebody to do something for something else, like a reward.  So in education we would think about gold stars for being good, candy for participating, a good grade for learning the material the way you are intended, and vocal praise for giving a correct answer.  These are all common practices in education, but the danger is that what it actually instills in the learning is not actually a love of learning, but rather a love for the thing that they get for learning. Ergo, when those rewards (extrinsic motivators) are taken away, so too then does the love of learning.  In other words, I only behave well in school because that’s where I get the gold stars, but when I go home or leave the school grounds I revert back to behaving inappropriately because I get no gold stars once I leave the school.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is at play when you are encouraged to do something for its own sake.  In other words, in an educational context, you get pleasure from learning for the sake of learning, not because you get a prize or even a grade, per se.  This then increases the likelihood that even when you leave school your mind has been conditioned in such a way that it gets pleasure from the act of reading, writing, exploring concepts, engaging in intellectual debate and dialogue, etc. not because you get candy or a grade, but because you value to benefits of learning and expanding your mind.

Delving deeper into these concepts, Professor Werbach spent a good amount of time talking about the dangers of pyshcological concepts of behaviorism and cognitivism.

  • 6.4 How rewards can de-motivate
  • 6.5 Self-determination theory
  • 6.6 First half wrap-up

Optional Materials

7] Gamification Design Framework

Gamification done well is a form of design. This unit provides a six-step framework to apply to any gamification project.

  • 7.1 Design Thinking
  • 7.2 D1/2: Business objectives/target behaviors
  • 7.3 D3: Players
  • 7.4 D4: Activity loops
  • 7.5 D5/6: Don’t forget the fun and deploy

Professor Werbach provided his own Gamification Design Framework (D6). These are things to think about when deciding whether or not to gamify something.  The six elements of this framework are as follows:

    • Define business objectives – what determines whether or not this is a success or a failure?
    • Delineate target behaviors – be specific. Whar are your success metrics (“win states”). What will tell you that this has been a success? What analytics are you looking at to asnwer these questions? DAU (daily average users) / MAU (monthly average users)? Virality? Volume of activity?
    • Describe your players – What motivates your players?  Are there overlapping value structures?  With this element, Professor Werbach mentioned Bartle’s MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) Player Type Models:  Players who want to act upon the world are called “achievers.”  Players who want to interact with the world are called “explorers.” Players who care about interacting with others are called “socializers.” Players who want to stomp on other people and impose themselves on other people are called “killers.”
    • Devise activity loops – There are engagement loops at the micro level which generate the following loop: Motivators —-> Action —–> Feedback ——-> Motivators, and so on.  Then there are progression loops, which happen at the macro level.  These manifest themselves as small challenges that are part of a larger challenge and come to represent the player’s journey. In addition, this progression can create a rising and falling of action within the game experience.
    • Don’t forget the fun! – Why would someone really want to do this?  Is this fun? Some examples provided were Samsung Nation, Fitocracy, LinkedIn, and FoldIt.
    • Deploy appropriate tools – With this element Professor Werbach brought us back to the pyramidal framework of Components -> Mechanics -> Dynamics. In other words are these three things working in concert with one another.

8] Design Choices

Saying that gamification is a form of design means that it should involve a creative, human-centered, thoughtful process to achieve the best results. This unit identifies important considerations and options.

  • 8.1 Two approaches to gamification

There are two ways of approaching gamification – doing vs. feeling.

“Doing” would involve marketing and economics, incentives, satisfying needs, game elements (inductive), status, PBLs (points, badges and leaderboards), rewards, making, and/or users do things.

“Feeling” would involve game design and cognitive psychology, experiences, fun, game thinking (deductive), meaning, puzzles, progression, and/or making players awesome.

Four questions to ask to see if gamification is right for me?

  • 1. Motivation – Where would you derive value from encouraging behavior? Emotional connections, unique skills, creativity, or teamwork or, to make boring tasks interesting. Neal Stephenson’s book, “Reamde” was recommended.

    2. Meaningful Choices – Are your target activities sufficiently interesting?

    3. Structure – Can the desired behaviors be modeled through algorithms? The game must be able to encoded in rules/algorithms (e.g. points for Twitter sharing vs. product registration (Samsung Nation)

    4. Potential Conflicts – Can the game avoid tension with other motivational structures? This is where Prof. Werbach brought up the great example of Lee Sheldon’s grading procedure where all students, as if they were in a game, start at zero and you level up to mastery (A), as opposed to everyone starting with an “A” and then just trying not to fall from level.

  • 8.2 Is Gamification right for me?
  • 8.3 Designing for collective good
  • 8.4 Designing for happiness
  • 8.5 Amy Jo Kim interview

Optional Materials

9] Enterprise Gamification

Particular challenges and opportunities when applying gamification inside an organization.

  • 9.1 Enterprise applications
  • 9.2 Workplace motivations
  • 9.3 The game vs. the job
  • 9.4 Playbor

Module 9 looked at the idea of “Playbor,” a cross between play and labor, which can sometimes take employers and companies into dangerous territory.  The example of Target was used in their attempt to track the sales of their sales staff by rewarding points and having leadersboards.  The problem lies in the quesiton, is the game truly voluntary? A game has to be voluntary and hence the employees have to choose to participate in it, otherwise the feedback does not promote the players autonomy it can actually de-motivate.

  • 9.5 Daniel Debow interview

Optional Materials

10] Social Good and Behavior Change

How to apply gamification to make the world better, or to improve people’s well-being, primarily through behavior change techniques.

  • 10.1 Gamification for good?

Module 10 looked at gamification for good. First we looked at Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken. What she touches on are: inherent relatedness – being part f something that is bigger than ones self, rewards for doing good, how the game creates behavior change and habit formation and helping people get over the “hump.”

  • 10.2 Social good applications

Social good applications were shared, first in the category of Health and Wellness. Zamzee provide players with a accelerator device and focuses on obesity among low income youth.  This is also relate to SuperBetter (Jane McGonigal’s Company).

In the field of Energy and Environment, OPower example was used that focuses on energy usage behavior change. Recycle Bank example was also shared.In the field of Education, which is of particular interest to me, the Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon was shared.  In his class he uses quests, challenges, achievements, and narratives.  The course also looked at credentialing functions like Mozilla’s open badge framework.

In the field of Government, we looked at how gamification helps governments interact with citizens and engages in customer service.  They can also use gamification to promote policies and the benefits it has for the citizenry.

  • 10.3 Social good techniques
  • 10.4 Behavior change
  • 10.5 Susan Hunt Stevens interview

Optional Materials

11] Critiques and Risks

There are many legitimate limitations, concerns, and dangers from gamification. Some of them can be avoided through thoughtful design, but others must be considered directly in any implementation.

  • 11.1 Pointsification
  • 11.2 Exploitationware

The more tangible the reward the greater likelihood that people will cheat. Intrinsic rewards and motivators are better. Digital and social media have brought transparency to things and behaviors that were not possible before.

Module 11 looked at some of the criticisms of gamification.  Names are powerful and maybe “gamification” is not the best word to describe this practice of inserting game elements and game design into non-game contexts.  In addition, not all gamification is done well.  Bad gamification is bad.  Behaviorist approaches to gamification is subject to the limits and dangers of a rewards based system. For example, the idea of exploitationware was mentioned and Disneyland and the electronic whip. Ian Bogost coined the term, exploitationware. In addition, gamification proposes (in some cases) to replace real incentives with fictional ones.Lastly, on this point, gamification can kill.  The Bay Bridge example of charging different tolls during peak and non peak hours led to cheating. What makes a game a game is that the players have to voluntarily agree to abide by the rules of the game and well designed games include social elements that tend to reduce cheating. In other words, game design must build in structures that do not destroy the game and create systems that help the game.

  • 11.3 Gaming the game
  • 11.4 Legal issues
  • 11.5 Regulatory issues

Optional Materials

12] Beyond the Basics

The final unit details gamification-related techniques that go beyond those covered throughout the course, and concludes with a look toward the future.

  • 12.1 Going beyond the basics
  • 12.2 Inducement prizes
  • 12.3 Virtual economies
  • 12.4 Collective action

Habit Formation means when you do something automatically (Fogg Behavior Model). Behavior = motivation, abilities, triggers (at the same time). What is the activation threshold? There is a motivation and ability trade off and one must think about trigger timing, trigger types, the spark, the facilitator, and the signal

  • Engagement loops -> motivation
  • Progression loops -> percieved ability
  • Good games trigger effectively
  • 12.5 The future of gamification
  • 12.6 Course review and wrap-up

Optional Materials

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