Education Practices

How to jazz up your summer with gamification

To this day, I maintain games are the highest form of culture. They are hugely misrepresented, and have this association with greasy 30 year-old wizards living in their parents’ basement. Mountain Dew and Doritos barely sustain their life.

I may have exaggerated a little. My point stands. Organisations – especially educational institutions should strongly consider gamifying their functions.

In this post, I’ll walk you through gamification, its role in education, and where it can improve with a specific example. At the end, we'll use that specific example to jazz up your remaining holidays.

The Starbucks App uses points and rewards very effectively. Do they always work?
If you think this is just about scoring and prizes, think again, and more carefully

An easy gamification definition: the art of applying all the fun and engaging elements found in games to real-world functions.

Your education can be a game. Throughout the game semester, you “grind” for "knowledge skills", then fight a boss called “Finals” at the end. Depending on your score from 0% to 100%, you achieve the rank of A, B, C, D, E, or F. The top scorers in the "leaderboards" get the exclusive "Scholarship" reward and "Honors" status.

You might have a side quest “Essay” or "Project", and a group quest “Presentation”. These effect your final score as well.

For many of us, that education game is not fun. Tracking progress is hard. The difficulty progression throughout the game semester is broken. You give up grinding far before the endgame Finals. There are grading errors (read: bugs). Your "Presentation" party has mixed amounts of motivation.

Too often in education, the motivation design is poor. Therefore, so are the outcomes. This is the key reason why people drop out of poorly-designed games, online courses, and companies with cutthroat competition.

Only 18% of Hong Kong high schoolers will move on to receive a bachelor's degree. Imagine their educational environment.
Most of current education is like a company with cutthroat competition

"Extrinsic Motivations" is a tool that make measuring improvements easy. Performance-based scholarships, teaching to the test, and ranking on a curve are excellent examples. There are obvious positive outcomes in the form of higher scores. Here's a tricky challenge: think of why prioritizing higher scores over all other outcomes is a bad idea.

Another easy tool is "Black-Hat Gamification", or motivation through deterrence. Examples include having only individual evaluations, and having an high passing requirement. In this environment, students do not trust each other (medicine students at my Uni don't share notes), constantly fear losing, and backstabbing is common.

Both tools (especially scholarships) are excellent for the short-run. At the start of the game semester, you are highly motivated to grind for knowledge skills. In the long-run, for many of us, it's a different story. Did you ever have a subject you were interested in, but completely hated by the end of the semester?

You generally won't gain money or fame climbing a mountain. So, why does it give us such great satisfaction?
Education should use a gamification framework to improve their motivation design

If you are human, you will understand money, perks and status only do so much. However, unlike video games, you can't always ragequit your education (unless you're a Harvard ragequitter with a billion-dollar idea). Educational institutions would be far more successful if they gamified their experience the right way.

What most of current education lacks – especially for people who ragequit – is more "Intrinsic Motivation" and "White Hat Gamification".

My go-to suggestion is the case study method. The concept is so awesome it deserves its own post in the future. For now, I give a brief overview in the context of gamification, and a neat little "exercise" at the end so you can immediately start using it

It's often confused with the case method invented in Harvard Law School around 1870. It's a student-professor Q&A (Socratic Method) about why things are the way they are. For law school, those "things" are called court decisions. In a biology class, those "things" would be natural phenomenon. Case method is a great teaching technique, but it's harder to incorporate "White-Hat" and "Intrinsic" gamification ideas.

The case study method has more group activity options. It asks how things could potentially be. Solutions are open-ended, and there are many ways to arrive at these solutions. A law school could ask how to advise a man of colour how to survive a judicial process in the 1950s. A biology class could ask about how to conduct a controlled study on possible medical benefits of marijuana. Seemingly "non-creative" courses like law and science all of a sudden become sensational debates.

Doing case studies is a wholesome gamification experience. Besides the benefits from active learning, they stimulate creativity and the power of feedback. Other students can be the "judges" of the case study, making education "social" in more meaningful ways. Finally, there's a higher sense of purpose. Putting theories into real-life situations help learners commit more, and dedicate more to their education. These all contribute to motivation through encouragement and "Intrinsic Motivation".

If you're interested, I made a template on Google Slides.
Today, our case study is called "Your Remaining Holidays"

In my school's Case Competition Club, we roleplay as consultants that solve business problems such as maximising profits, expanding market share, and responding to competition. Our team always begins with the slide you see above. The "business" and our "consulting firm" agree immediately at the start because we:
    1. Acknowledge their end-objective, so everything moving forward contributes to this objective
    2. Highlight the biggest challenges that are between them and their objective
    3. Give a solution to each of these challenges, therefore fulfilling their objective

I've re-appropriated the question of maximising profits to maximising amount of time spent on self-development. I've identified the three most common challenges Uni students face during vacation season, and address each one with a solution.

If you are a procrastinator like me, and go all-in with a regimented military-style to-the-minute schedule, you will die. I started with an easier solution. Basically, a checklist. Each check needs around 25 minutes to complete. Quickly my checklist became a demotivating ~70 boxes long. So I gamified it by dividing the total number of boxes by the days of summer I have left, and call the result "daily quota". I reward myself every time I exceeded the daily quota.

If you're lacking direction on what to actually do, try allocating some of your time to "creative" events. Think visual arts, music, dancing, and writing. Plus, the magic happens outside your comfort zone.Try doing something adventurous. Preferably difficult. I combined my "creative" and "magic" events as blogging. Today I run (whatever that means).

Your objective will be different from mine. It might be about finding balance, seeking adventure, starting a business, or pursuing a passion. Your school might even have already started. In any case, I strongly encourage you to take the first step of strategically positioning yourself for success.

If I have made you sufficiently excited, here's the template again 🙂

This post was heavily inspired by Yu-kai Chou's Octalysis Gamification Framework. His website is a great place to start, and comes with a free Udemy Course on Gamification (~3 hours of video content, less if you double the speed).

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