Are you in the process of carrying out an educational project related to gamification? Professor Armando Zepeda, an expert on the subject, clarifies the myths and realities surrounding the topic.

If the idea of implementing Gamification in class has passed through your mind, but for some reason, the plan has not been put into action, you can still do it! On October 9th, we broadcast the webinar “Gamification: from false to deep rhetoric,” in which professor Jorge Armando Zepeda clarified the myths and realities surrounding the subject.

The conversation was joined by 150 teachers from various parts of the world with the same interest in how to apply gamification to achieve better outcomes in learning. If you didn’t get a chance to follow the webinar, you can watch it here (the webinar is in Spanish).

There are many teachers who, like you, are in the process of carrying out an educational project related to Gamification. We chatted with Professor Zepeda, an expert on the subject, to help us dispel several doubts that arose during the webinar and whose answers you can see below.

Myths and realities of gamification

 1.    What is the difference between gamification, ludification, and game-based learning? (Dani, Colombia)

JAZ: Ludification is a very general term that translates into English as gameful learning. It is a set of strategies that includes gamification, playful design, and game-based learning. Game-based learning consists of taking an existing game or creating a game for an educational purpose; however, the full experience is in the play of a game. In gamification, the student’s participation in class, the way they become engaged in classroom activities, the distribution of all the activities and tasks among themselves, comprise the game. In other words, there is no game as such; rather, we make the students think there is a game.

 2.    Is adult gamification possible? Could you mention an example and the results obtained? (Cristina, El Salvador)

 JAZ: Yes, it’s possible. Gamification originated with a focus on business management. It came to education not directly with children, but rather it was formalized in higher education. The example I can give about how it works with adults is in a context outside of education to make it easier to understand. In a company like Samsung or Costco, they use a system of points for their employees; the faster they attend the cash registers, the more points their team earns. In the end, the winning team wins a bonus, like having one more day off in the year, for example. That’s how people get involved. We believe that a game means only children are interested; however, both children and adults like to play. There are different types of games, of course, but they do work. I work with teenagers, and I have also worked with adult gamification, and the adult players really become like children.

 “If we could combine the best of the traditional classroom, that is, a teacher with excellent rhetoric, maieutic techniques, and so on, with gamification strategies, I think we would provide a much higher educational potential.”

 3.    What is fundamental when thinking about a gamification scenario? (Silvana, Argentina)

JAZ: The first thing is to define an educational objective; that is, what I want my students to achieve or what I seek to incentivize in them. For example, that they participate more in class, turn in assignments promptly, are more punctual, etc. An initial gamification system would take these objectives and would seek to cause them to happen by providing the student feedback through gamification.

 4.    Does gamification as a methodology applied over time continue to motivate, or does it stop being novel? (Valentina Calbacho, Chile)

JAZ: A gamification rhetoric will have unstable effectiveness. In two weeks, some students will lose interest; however, when game elements are integrated, it tends to be more durable. Making “novelty” not wear off depends on how we organize our gamification. Video games, for example, that have players who follow the game for years, are successful usually because they integrate special events or random rewards or put other components that pull people back into the game; or they might make new stories with a new villain to defeat in a different campaign, and so on. A gamified system is not much different; by adding new game components, we would have more durable gamification.

5. What platforms do you recommend for a gamified class? (Yarley, Colombia)

JAZ:  There are straightforward tools to use in a gamified class, like ClassDojo, for example. It is a free tool for teachers and is designed to work with children, but I have colleagues who have used it with adults, and it works well. It has an easy-to-implement point management system. Much more complete and effective tools for gamification are Classcraft and Great Class, both in the English language. They are fully gamified platforms for learning and revolve around a pre-established narrative, quite rich and highly recommended.

“The idea is to reemphasize the importance of understanding the contents of the subject material by linking gamification not only to participation but also to several others, including collaboration, a high level of performance, creativity, and punctuality.”

6.    Is gamification in higher education better than “teacher-centered class methodology” by improving the motivation, commitment, and academic performance of students? (Valentina Calbacho, Chile)

JAZ: The concept of “teacher-centered class” is oriented more towards a traditional education. If we see it this way, gamification is more directed towards what is “the new school,” i.e., it offers alternatives to make the learning experience different. However, we can use the teacher-centered class methodology where the teacher is an expert in rhetoric, can maintain interest impressively in front of the class, and has a meaningful maieutic technique with the students. In that sense, I do not depreciate traditional education or the teacher-centered class methodology to be a poor tool, but rather rich. Poorly executed gamification is only a distraction that becomes an obstacle where the student focuses only on the gamification process and not on the class itself. If so, gamification would not be better. I consider that a good traditional classroom and gamification strategy are both precious, and I could not say that one is better than the other. if we could combine the best of the traditional classroom, that is, a teacher with excellent rhetoric, maieutic techniques, and so on, with gamification strategies, I think we would provide a much higher educational potential.

7.    How do we achieve that the system does not lead students to feel that they are there just to win the game and that their interest in real learning does not fall into the background? In my experience in implementing a points system in a subject with game elements to get students involved and having conditions for completion of the game, the students took a participatory attitude and got involved, but in the end, they didn’t want to do any activity if it didn’t include the points system. (Jimena Soler, Colombia)

JAZ: That’s why I place a lot of emphasis on the difference between rhetorical and deep gamification. Dependence on points is a normal symptom of gamification, while when applying deep gamification that is not necessarily the focus. I invite you to study other game components that generate intrinsic motivation of the student, giving him autonomy to make his own decisions, attaching value to the expertise of a topic, interactions with others, contributions, companionship, and so on. But, if the points system is the only thing that is generating a playful and engaging feeling, then it is inevitable that the student will only be interested in that, and that’s where I say that it becomes a distraction from learning. The idea is for the student to have to perform a vigorous mental exercise to earn those points. That is, re-emphasize the importance of understanding the subject matter. Another general recommendation is to tie gamification not only to participate but also to several others, such as collaboration, a high level of performance, creativity, and punctuality, for example.

8.    How does one apply gamification to promote reading? (Julian Sabolla, Bogota, Colombia)

JAZ: What I would do is to generate a narrative in which students using their reading skills could “save the world,” find secret keys, inferring metaphors, solving a riddle, and so on. Giving students feedback with a reading control panel in a points system would also be part of it. Make teams where each member is responsible for a fragment of reading, providing support and co-responsibility to be able to “advance.” Giving a sense of identity and re-affirming experience as something extra would have a lot of value and would probably be an appropriate way to begin gamification that encourages reading.

9.    Can a gamification exercise be applied as a final evaluation of a course? (Carlos Rivas, Mexico)

JAZ: Rather, the idea is to gamify a full course. There are cases, for example, of teachers who gamify their course in such a way that students get the grade, not points to earn rewards. Still, the grade comes through their performance in different achievements, and it is a fairly open system where students choose which achievements, and each achievement adds points to that grade in different ways. If the intention is only to gamify an exam, it would be a short and entertaining experience at the time, but it can be an excuse for the student to say, “It is that the exam was a game, and since I am not good at games, I did badly.” So, one has to be very careful about how to design it. If only one test is being gamified, it can be misinterpreted. If you want a simple tool to gamify one evaluation only, there is Kahoot and Socrative.

10.  How do you apply gamification in Pymes? (Kidver Garcia, Peru)

 JAZ: First of all, it’s important to understand why I want to apply gamification and what it is that I want to achieve. For example, that my employees are more productive than before, that they have more customers, that my customers are more loyal, etc. Rewarding both the amount of work and the quality of work, using events where everyone has a chance to excel and the one who is “winning” will not be the only one who can access certain rewards or incentives, and remembering that gamification always goes towards the use of reinforcers to drive conduct. These motivators are stimuli that have a positive effect so that certain behaviors are repeated without using punishments because, in that case, we can make a serious design error. Games that generate punishments can result in a negative predisposition to participate.

11. Is gamification applicable in an online scenario? (Aurora Alfaro, Mexico City)

 JAZ: Yes, it applies. There are learning platforms like the ones I’ve already mentioned designed for gamification and platforms like Blackboard, Schoology, or Canvas that already utilize the concept of medals and rewards. There is a rather interesting article about professors of architecture and urban planning in Brazil, who manage a reward system where some students resolve questions for other students within the forums, and those students who resolved the questions achieved levels of prestige, and the prestige, in this case, was a rhetorical gamification; it was not tied to anything else. Nevertheless, participation in the forums significantly increased as well as the punctuality in turning in assignments, and so on. So, we must choose what we want to promote within this online course and explain the student’s benefits.

12. What is your opinion regarding the use of virtual reality and gamification? (Alberto Herrera, Mexico)

JAZ: Virtual reality has an impressive potential for game-based learning because, by nature, game-based learning is done using simulators. Currently, simulators are used in the fields of medicine, chemistry, and physics quite effectively. I think that exploring this in-depth is worth doing because, in the long run, it saves resources. For example, last year, at the Reimagine Education event, one of the winning projects at the international level was specifically a virtual chemistry laboratory for high school where the schools no longer have to invest in chemicals and hazardous substances and other supplies; they simply buy this millionaire system, of course, because right now the technology is still expensive, but all the chemicals and reactions are programmed in virtual reality, so students can experience that without jeopardizing their health and without spending money on the various materials and supplies for laboratory use. So, this is a valuable experience that should be explored thoroughly. However, a case study was done specifically about guys who used the virtual lab and guys who didn’t use the virtual lab. The virtual lab took hours of safety simulations; normally, in traditional teaching, this is only covered in one lecture in a physical laboratory. It was seen that the students who had used the virtual resources were much more competent and careful. So, yes, it’s something exciting and worth delving into.

13. What are the main criticisms of gamification or negative aspects that we should avoid? (Alex Tobar, Colombia)

 JAZ: The dependence on points, that is, when students only act because of points, this is rhetorical gamification, which has to do with a poorly implemented design. The time required to invest in good planning and design is significant and sometimes also its management, so this is a factor against gamification. However, as experience is gained, this investment in time diminishes. As for the negative, the criticism that I have heard and with which I do not agree is that gamification “cheapens the educational process,” that it even makes it vulgar; that is the tone of contempt that some critics use. I believe that this disposition toward the subject comes from the perspective of very traditional and ingrained education. I do not criticize it, but neither do I share it.

14.  What is your appreciation of gamification from the use of Nintendo Labo video games as tools for classroom learning? (Jorge Silva, Ecuador)

JAZ: With a proper approach, you can “see” the educational possibilities of these tools. I consider them very rich inside of game-based learning. For example, games from the early 1990s, such as the Oregon Trail and SimCity, can serve to teach topics as diverse as the importance of the historical circumstances of an event or the consequences of city or public administration. Some players will implicitly learn all these topics; we can also use an experiential learning strategy with questions for reflection, which would be very valuable. Companies like Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox, have invested in different games for educational purposes; here, the important thing is how we, the teachers, re-signify a game. There are simple and quite entertaining games where there are four chefs, and each player controls a chef in the administration of a restaurant; we can ask reflective questions in the game about teamwork and communication, etc. Teachers in Korea use League of Legends (an Internet game) to reinforce teamwork, communication, and the importance of the different roles each student can have within a class or a job.

15.  What software can be used to design gamification strategies? (Liza Sepúlveda, Colombia)

JAZ: Almost everything is online, but for those of us who are not experts in Photoshop, there is a free internet page called “MagicCardMarket,” which does card game designs like Magic: The Gathering. There are also pages for designing electronic bulletin boards. PowerPoint is handy; people look down on it a lot, but I use it quite richly, and well, if they want a pre-designed experience on the pages, there are the already-recommended Greatclass, Classcraft, and ClassDojo, as long as the schools have access to the internet.

16.  What authors do you recommend reading to learn more about gamification so the learning communities can follow the topic? (Fernando Castel, Mexico)

JAZ: A book called Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards by Yu-kai Chou. Also, another book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Field book: Ideas into Practice by Karl M. Kapp. Check out a Facebook group that I manage called Ibero-American Educational Gamification. There, many teachers freely share resources, experiences, and case studies on gamification free-of-charge to all the public in Spanish. There is a blog called “Gamify your classroom” (you can search it on Google), which is quite complete. On YouTube, there is a channel called “Extra Credits;” it has interesting videos, and they describe gamification in a general way and how to use some components in the classroom.

If you have any other questions about Gamification, you can post them in the comments section below in this same article. You can also share your experiences using Gamification in the classroom so that we can all learn from your experiences.

I take this opportunity to share with you the materials that we have developed around this topic that may be of interest to you. Remember that the educational resources we produce at the Observatory of Educational Innovation are free, and you can share them with your colleagues.