Q&A 3: Which students might gamification hurt?

Last week I asked the students in this class some questions to see what their initial impression of the gamification of our classroom was. Here are their answers to the third question:

3. What type of student do you think might do worse in a class that has some gamification elements? Why do you think that is?

Students who would do worse are those who work less efficiently under pressures of any sort. Even though this system isn’t cutthroat, it still involves competition and some students would see this as stressful, hindering their productivity.. -a sophomore

The type of student I see doing bad it the student who doesn’t care. A type of student who wouldn’t try or anything, he would just try to pass the class. I think this because not many of the perks are great but then some of them are but they are hard to get. -a sophomore

I think that anyone who is not competitive and doesn’t care wont be affected by the game. If you don’t have a competitive nature you are just going to do the homework like any other class. -a senior

A student who is an “over-achiever” and always wants to be the best at everything would actually do worse with gamification. For that kind of student, getting an A is enough motivation to put forth lots of effort in a class. If gamification elements are added, this type of student might feel that they need to be the best in the game as well as in grades. This could possibly stress said student because they feel the need to put forth lots of effort for the game as well as putting forth lots of effort for just getting a good grade. -a senior

For a student who needs to be ace at everything this kind of stuff would be very detrimental to their performance. Seeing as they have a bit of them that needs to be the best at everything and if the leaderboards show anything it is that you have to really go above and beyond to get the best on everything. This could lead to them being overwhelmed and then shutting down all motivation completely. -a senior

People who just want a good grade, they might think that the game is getting in the way of an easy A. -a senior

People who are more into things like reading books about vampires and other non-straight stuff like that. mainly because they think differently than this kind of thing requires. -a junior

A person that doesn’t think video games are that great, in other words someone who never plays them because they may not understand or like the concept. It might not make them have a bad game but they may not do their best because of the concept. -a junior

Anything stand out to you from the quotes? You might note that I don’t have as many replies as I have students. I asked them to answer as many of the nine questions as they wanted, but they had to want to answer at least three.

Q&A 2: Which students will do better with gamification?

Last week I asked the students in this class some questions to see what their initial impression of the gamification of our classroom was. Here are their answers to the second question:

2. What type of student do you think might do better in a class that has some gamification elements? Why do you think that is?

Getting perks that actually can have a big effect in class would really motivate students who aren’t interested in grades. If they prize fun classroom environments and like manipulation of things, getting related perks would really motivate them to do well. -a senior

The type of student i think that would do better at this would be a person like XXXXX XXXXX just because he is very energetic. He would always try to do the best and go all try hard on it just so he could brag about it too. I think this because it makes you wanna try hard. -a sophomore

I think that students that are naturally more competitive such as athletes will try harder to win, along with people who just want to make fun of their friends for being better than them. -a sophomore

I think that anyone who has a competitive nature will do better because they want to be in first place. -a senior

I think a student who is not motivated by grades will do better in class with a gamification element. In all honesty, getting a good grade is the biggest motivator for actually doing well in a class aside from actually just wanting to learn something and not caring what grade you get. If a student had another form of motivation for doing well in class (the game), they would put more effort in. -a senior

The students that are motivated by grades will do the best with gamification. That is because they are already motivated by grades and I think that gamification will help push them to keep doing better. I also think that the people who are gamers will do better in this class with gamification because this is what they like to do, they like to game and now they can do that in school. -a senior

I would say that students who enjoy games and “leveling up” or people who like to see there hard work in numbers would do better with this system.  -a sophomore

The kids who play games are probably more likely to do better in a class with elements of the games. If someone had never played a game before, video games more specifically, this idea would seem fairly foreign to them. Where the kids who have been raised on “Level Ups” and “Perks” they know what these terms mean, and they know that it gives them a slight advantage. I think also kids that are not the best with grades, because they don’t need to be, or school is not interesting to them, this system could help. I am not saying it could be a full alternative but it could be a nice way for them to find some kind of motivation outside of an A or a B. -a senior

I think the type of students that might do better in class because of gamification are the ones that see grades as just a number or letter and no real reason behind them. They might see the game and think they are competing so they should try as well as they get perks or have reasons to try in class to get something out of the work. Another type would be the people who understand gamification and how it can help them in class with who to ask for help.  -a junior

I hadn’t actually thought of that. Other students can see who is at the top of the leaderboards or who has a high level and know who to ask for help when they are stuck. -a teacher

Students who wouldn’t care otherwise, it makes it so that a grade is not the only result of good work, and for some people (me included) grades don’t matter at all as long as I have a good time. -a senior

I think people who are more into the online gaming aspect will find this more interesting mainly because its more their language. -a senior

I think that the student who would do good with the gamification are those who really are passionate and love programming. Overall, you need a care for something in order to actually work for something. But there are those who simply understand and do it for no reason at all. -a junior

I believe it can be beneficial to most students, because then it doesn’t just make it another class during the day, it adds flavor to the class instead of the same old, same old but for a certain type it would have to be “gamers”. People who enjoy gaming in some of their free time.  -a senior

Does anything jump out at you? I’m open to asking follow up questions if anyone has one. There aren’t quite as many answers to this question as the last one. I asked 9 questions and told the students that they could answer as many as they wanted as long as they wanted to answer at least 3. Five students answered all 9 questions and seven students decided to answer questions two specifically.

Q&A 1: Initial overall impression

Last week I asked the students in this class some questions to see what their initial impression of the gamification of our classroom was. Here are their answers to the first question:

1. Is your overall initial impression of gamification in our class positive or negative and what makes you lean that way?

My initial reaction to gamification in class is positive.  I think at a surface level, it is a really smart way to give students that extra bit of motivation to excel past the average expectations.  Sometimes going above and beyond means nothing in school because no one acknowledges it or congratulates students for it.  Grades are hidden and no one knows for the most part who truly tries.  With this system, I’m encouraged to push myself to do better because it is rewarded with acknowledgement. -a sophomore

It sounds fun and i would love to do it, but I am not sure that I have time to do a lot of the things possible. The perks were really cool and I want just about ever single one of them. The leaderboards are a fun idea, but I really never pay attention to them  on games, so I will probably just glance at them a couple of times a month. The loot is the best part to me, I think that would really motivate me. -a junior

I really don’t think that gamification has a big impact on some people in class so it doesn’t lean negative or positive; but if I had to choice I would say it’s more positive because it makes the people who are really interested in it have something to look forward to after completing an assignment. It also tells you who in your class is doing better then you in an area and so you know that if you need help you could go up to them for help. I makes you also feel good because you get to show others that your understanding it and are doing well. In a negative way it could also be making the people who are at the bottom of the boards or not on the boards feel bad because they know their not doing as well as other, but it might give them a little more motivation to improve to be on the leaderboards. -a senior

I think it is a positive thing because i think it will help push people to do at better job so they can get perks. It is a good idea and overall I like the idea and think other teachers should do this. -a sophomore

I think it is a very positive thing. I believe that kids and adults work harder when they’re competing for something, wether it be kids on a football field or workers for a raise, you want to show that you are the best. -a senior

I think that it will be a very fun and new way to get excited for the programs we make. it will provide me with extra initiative to go above and beyond. -a sophomore

I would probably say that its positive. I personally feel like the leveling up, perks, and achievements will be fun, and might give me motivation to earn some of them. But I would say that I am more focused on the grade I get in the class. If the gamification stuff helps me get a better grade in the class, then I would be happy to compete in it. I still feel like the gamification will be fun, buts its probably not something I will go out of my way to do. -a junior

My first impression of this gamification is that i think it is positive because I am really excited to get some of the perks that will help me out in class but mostly I am excited to get the perks that will make be able to do things that i usually wouldn’t be able to do in class. Also I am also pretty excited about this because i want to be better then my friends and be able to do more things than my friends. -a junior

As someone who was pretty much raised on games like Final Fantasy, and Pokemon, I love this kind of stuff. I was a kind that liked to watch the numbers rise up simply because I knew that it meant I was getting stronger, and therefore I was better at the game. I think that this could work out great as well, at least for me personally. I find it to be a good incentive to keep up my act and insure that I am at least somewhere on the leaderboards, as well as also trying to sustain my grades. -a senior

I think that gamification will help a lot with keeping me interested in this class (not that im not interested already). -a senior

I believe that the gamification idea is a brilliant idea in some ways. I say some ways is because some people might not be interested in such things. But this is a great way to make people more involved in the class, some people also just enjoy video games which is why they may do that instead of homework which is why this can be a great idea because it can help those people who enjoy games. -a senior


Anything stand out to you from the quotes? You might note that I don’t have as many replies as I have students. I asked them to answer as many of the nine questions as they wanted, but they had to want to answer at least three.

Initial student perception of gamification

I wanted to capture some data about what the students thought about the idea of gamification before we really jumped into it with both feet. So after they had a chance to see six of the leaderboards, the perks and the level requirements I asked them these 9 questions:

  1. Is your overall initial impression of gamification in a class positive or negative and what makes you lean that way?
  2. What type of student do you think might do better in a class that has some gamification elements? Why do you think that is?
  3. What type of student do you think might do worse in a a class that has some gamification elements? Why do you think that is?
  4. What do you think of the fact that the gamification elements (leaderboards, levels, perks, achievements) are not part of your grade?
  5. What parts of the gamification of this class would you change? Why would you make that change?
  6. There are 58 possible “perks” that you can earn. Which type of perk appeals to you? Which ones do you think are useless (naturally, different people will feel differently about the perks, so I tried to include a wide variety).
  7. What do you think about leaderboards (and why do you think that)? Do they help motivate some students? Do you think they will help motivate you?
  8. What about the idea of “loot” as you progress up the levels? Is that motivational? I image this will depend on what kind (if any) loot we actually have. Maybe I should ask what type of loot you would find motivational?
  9. If there’s something you want to say about gamification, but I didn’t ask the right question, feel free to use this question to say anything that you want.

Students will be answering these questions this week and also responding to what their peers say as part of our regular online forum (most of this class takes place on Moodle; we’re just doing the gamification part here).  I’ll post some of their answers later in the week. Are there any questions that I forgot to ask? Specifically questions where there pre-gamification and post-gamification answers might be interesting.

New Leaderboards are Up.

There are a bunch of new leaderboards available now. The class just turned in their first program this week. Well, it wasn’t their first program, but it was the first one where I expected (1) a specification, (2) pseudo-code, (3) test cases, (4) source-code, (5) sample output and (6) their own evaluation of how they did by scoring their program with our rubric.

There are 13 line items on the rubric. So each line item could have its own leaderboard. There are additional leaderboards for bonus features implemented, overall score and some combination of rubric items that are more interesting when they are combined than when listed separately  (there are, for instance, two line items for comments).

Students can see where they stand on each of these, but I don’t consider all of them useful additions as leaderboards, so I don’t think many of them will be featured on the home page. I haven’t created individual pages for each of them yet either. I imagine there might be some that don’t ever get a page of their own.

I decided to add eXperience Points, Over Achievers and Courageous Commenters to the home page. It looks like there will be some students who make Level 1 after this weekend (if I can get their second program graded).

Ridiculous Typos

So, I went to the Tech Crawl today at the Haymarket in Lincoln. I wanted to see if there were any local companies that would be interested in encouraging local programming students by offering some “loot” for when the students level up. I left “loot” pretty nebulous. Swag is nice, but a chance to do an internship or something else creative is cool.

Anyway, I was putting together a little flyer to hand out along with some of the game documents and I had an embarrassing number of typos in it. Truly horrendous stuff: misspellings, missing words, subject-verb agreement problems. Wrote it up and printed it off without a single proofread.

The good news is that I had some really positive responses to what we are doing. The bad news is that they will be reading that terrible flyer.

If anyone who read that is also reading this. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.

Design Documents

Okay, so a good portion of the design documents for the game are done. I haven’t introduced them to the class yet, but I wanted to put them up on the off chance that someone might look at them and notice something that I’ve missed.

I realize that a fair amount of this won’t make sense without knowing how the actual class works, but that’s a post for another day. Click on the images for larger (PDF) versions.

Perk Tree
Perk Tree (like a skill tree)
Explanation of Perks
Perk Explanations
Level Requirements
Level Requirements
List of Achievements
List of Achievements

Motivation and Leaderboards

After a little more reading about leaderboards, particularly this article by Scott Nicholson, I’m beginning to worry that while they motivate the students in the upper part of the class, they tend to discourage students in the lower part of the class. Frankly, that was discouraging to read. In my experience, students in the upper half of the class don’t need much additional motivation to succeed. 80% of the reason I wanted to try some gamification techniques was to see about increasing the success rate for the rest of the class.

I do understand that there will be some students who are motivated by the leaderboards who might not have been as motivated otherwise. That is a good thing. I’m just worried about the students who are not at the top of the leaderboard being discouraged.

In an effort not to throw the baby out with the bath water, this is my plan. I want a new, meta leaderboard. Not one that aggregates all of the other leaderboards, but one that consolidates all of the change in position across the boards. My thinking is that the top of the board will be relatively static, but in the lower half there will be lots of room for people to exchange positions. I don’t have any data on that. It’s just a gut feeling.

I’m also wondering if I should include all of the change in position information (net change) or just the positive change. My initial thought was to do net change in positions, but if I’m really just trying to encourage everyone to try to do better, maybe positive movement is all that I need to record.

Of course, the real question is how hard is it going to be to get this data.

Leaderboards went over well

Step one in the gamification of my programming class is done. I introduced the class to this website yesterday. The leaderboards were a hit. I was worried that they would be met with apathy or, worse yet, students wondering why I was wasting my and their time on something like this. As it turns out, the comments were pretty favorable. Two that stuck in my mind were:

  • I can tell this is not going to be like the rest of my classes.
  • This is my new favorite class.

I decided to go with the leaderboards on the homepage displaying the top 5* on each board (25% of the class) with the pages for individual leaderboards showing the top 10 (50% of the class). Several students said that they appreciated being able to see where they stood on every leaderboard on their individual pages. In fact, they were asking about being able to see that before they knew it existed, so that was probably a good decision.

They were entirely indifferent to the fact that the individual pages are password protected so that only they can see all of their rankings. To a person they just didn’t care if other people could see that they were ranked in the lower half of the class. I think I’ll still leave them password protected and only show the top 50% on the leaderboards. Even if the students don’t care, I’m a little concerned that their parents and my administrators might.

* Just displaying the top 5 positions in the CSV file took a little modification to Shaun Scovil‘s excellent CSV to Sort Table wordpress plugin. He conveniently provided hooks and a little example helper plugin. There’s not much to it, but I’ll paste the code below in case anyone else finds it useful. Paste it into a text editor, change the page(s) that you want to display fewer rows on change the number of rows you want to display (header rows count), save it, zip it and upload it to your wordpress site.

 * Plugin Name: CSV to SortTable: Fewer Rows
 * Plugin URI: 
 * Description: Only display the first X rows on tables 
 *              created by CSV to SortTable plugin.
 * Version: 0.1
 * Author: lsommerer
 * Author URI: http://lloydandlauren.com
 * License: GPL2

 * CSV to SortTable: Fewer Rows
 * @param array $data
 * @return array
function csv_to_sorttable_fewer_rows( $data ) {
  if ( is_page( 'home' ) ) {
    $data = array_slice($data, 0, 6);
  return $data;
add_filter( 'csv_to_sorttable_data_array', 'csv_to_sorttable_fewer_rows' );


Actual Leaderboards are Live

Three leaderboards are live and the framework is in place to bring the others online when there is data for them. Right now we have leaders for:

  • People’s Choice Awards – Students try out the programs of their classmates and vote for the best. I’ve decided to award 3 points for first place, 2 point for second and 1 for third, just to spread the wealth a little bit.
  • Deep Thoughts – We do a weekly Question/Reply forum where students respond to a question from me and then discuss each others answers. For the initial few weeks I awarded point to interesting additions to the forums. But as an experiment, I enabled ratings for the forums to see if student ratings would also work. I don’t know if I will use the ratings to award points or as pointers to interesting replies that I might have missed.
  • Curious George – Points just for asking good questions.
  • On the Ball – Points for: “hold[ing] my head up high and say[ing] in a loud, steady voice” the correct answer to any question asked in class. I haven’t actually awarded any point for this yet.
  • Book Worm – There is a set of books that students can read for points. They don’t know about this yet.

There will be another set of leaderboards that I’ll add once we turn in our first “official” programs at the start of next week. They are based off of the points that students earn from the programming rubric.

The leaderboards only show the top 50% of the class (I’m a little worried about bruising fragile egos). But students also have access to their standings on all leaderboards via a password protected page for each student. I don’t know if they will think this is a good idea or overkill. I’ll ask them tomorrow.