Gamification of UTD

This is a follow up to my earlier post “Gamification in Education“.

My first semester at UTD I wrote a paper that was to create a new idea based on combining two existing ones. I was new to the Arts and Technology program hoping to do real estate based simulators but I had a strong interest in education as well. My wife and I had often talked about starting a hybrid Montessori school after seeing the TED Talk on Hole in the Wall education.

I concurrently took the first offering of the Coursera Gamification MOOC offered by the University of Pennsylvania business school professor Kevin Werbach. I decided that the university experience could be gamified as well. In fact, I wasn’t the first to think of that but my implementation was significantly different.

Here’s the paper if you’re interested in reading it (pdf,  13 pages, 216 KB).

121113 Burns – Gamification of UTD

Mockup Layout for Quests
Complete Quests!

In a subsequent class I attempted to build out some of the infrastructure that could have supported the implementation. I used BuddyPress for WordPress. I then hired a contractor in India to create a plugin for me to complete the functionality.

I wrote out the specs and detailed exactly what I wanted to do. Turns out I made a big mistake hiring the cheapest bid. His English wasn’t all that great and he wasn’t able to do what he said he would after all.

So I learned a good lesson about outsourcing. Here was one of my mockups on the left (completing a quest that required attendance at a cultural event).

Another friend in the class agreed to do some concept art for the game. I worked with her to make quest-like versions of our school mascot, Temoc (Comet backwards). The composite of those follow below.

I think this is still a valid idea. Hopefully someone will pick it up someday.

Temoc Concept Art
Credits: Joyce Hong

Gamification in Education

Here’s a comment I just posted on the Coursera website inside the Gamification course forum:

I tried to read as many of the gamification in education posts I could find before posting this. There seems to be a good amount of interest in the subject but not much practical application yet.

So far the best higher education gamification effort seems to be from a joint program between RIT and Microsoft https://play.rit.edu/. According to their site they will be allowing other universities to use their platform after mid-2013. It’s not clear from that site exactly what all the mechanics of it are.

We also have The Multi-Player Classroom by Lee Sheldon that features a couple of gamified university courses.

From this Extra Credits video on Gamifying Education http://youtu.be/MuDLw1zIc94, it seems that the most important element to changing the educational paradigm is to count up like a game instead of down when it comes to grading. Personally, I don’t see much difference in calling them grade points versus experience points.

It also seems that most of the literature out there on gamification in education is more about games introduced into a traditional curriculum and approach than something truly gamified like Khan Academy.

What I’m interested in hearing from others is how to gamify the university experience over and above an individual course. What could a fully implemented experience be like? What elements would there be? Without knowing all the particulars of the RIT model, what would a crowdsourced solution from this forum look like?


Every student has a smart phone to engage the experience with (if not, then their ID and a station in the computer lab). When they begin to apply for admissions, they get a progress bar to welcome them in the application process. They may have a check-in or not and have the opportunity to share with friends. They may see a current running total of applications to their program, the overall completion rate and overall acceptance rate.

Once they’re accepted, they get a badge. They can recommend friends for acceptance. If their friends are accepted, they both get badges. When they go to orientation or visit their advisor they get a badge. When they’ve selected their major, they get a technology tree to follow their coursework. Other students who they have friended will be able to see their progress and decide to take courses together or not.

Completed courses are assigned skills. Multiple courses in the same subject increase their level. If they help other students, they receive some sort of currency to be used within the system – perhaps a tuition discount or something. When they visit university sponsored events and check-in, they get progress toward badges. When they visit cultural locations near the university, they get credit. When they participate in or attend sporting events, they get credit. When they participate in social clubs they get credit. Volunteering in the community could get credit. As they accumulate hours and advance in levels, there are more rewards.

If I remember correctly, I think it was mentioned in the Multi-Player Classroom that one day students will be able to “Like” other students’ comments in class. Students would start each class with a fixed amount of conversation currency. A student would spend currency to make a comment and other students’ liking would replenish their currency. That way the obnoxious talkers would run out and everyone else would get a chance to talk. Top contributors could earn badges. I heard of one class that introduced a Twitter feed into the class so even those in the back row could register their comments. We also have Unishared which I just read about here today. That’s supposed to be an open sourced collaborative note taking platform.

There’s a forum where student projects, work and videos would be featured. One of the most important features of a university is the ability to interact with peers in an academic context. For the most part that only happens in group projects within courses. If everyone had profiles where you could see their interests, projects, etc. then students could seek each other out for networking or collaboration. Of course they would have privacy settings like Facebook (public, university system only, friends only or private).

We’re moving toward more courses that are ripe for the introduction of simulators and serious games. Doing well in these could get you more points. Developing one would be a lot of points.

A system resource like this could poll students for new programs or course ideas. Only one university in the US now has a course on gamification and it’s way sold out. Any university with its finger on the pulse of culture and innovation will offer one too. A gamified system would facilitate knowing about that kind of demand. A system like this would also help with reviews and accountability for teaching staff. The world is moving too fast for tenure anymore.

Another thought I’ve had is that any professor that can be replaced by video should be. If they’re just going to lecture, then put it on YouTube or wherever and make it private if they must. Reserve class time for discussion and collaboration.

From a brainstorming point of view (we can decide what wouldn’t work later), what else could a gamified university experience look like?