Learning my way through teaching part 3: Gamification

As a graduate student in the English program at California State University, Fullerton, I’m able to teach English 101 as a Teaching Associate. This becomes an option for all grad students once we complete at least one year of tutoring in the writing center while assisting in an English class. Each student must apply and interview, then the qualified are offered a class during the fall and spring semester. This blog series follows me through my first semester of teaching and each blog post features a specific topic or issue I came across as a new instructor. 

Before I was even hired to teach, I attended a Gamification Workshop put on by the CSUF Teaching Writing Club. The concept was something that intrigued me so I wasted no time signing up. The concept spoke to my own talents and I believe speaks directly to the majority of students these days. Who doesn’t enjoy incentives, competition, and teamwork? I certainly do!

Harry Potter for the win

After the workshop I was 100% sold; When I was hired to teach, I began constructing my course. My theme? Harry Potter!

So what did I include? An anonymous leaderboard, badges, XP levels (6000=D, 7000=C, etc.), and incentives for such things as good attendance. It wasn’t much more work than a regular point-based class, just inflated to a larger number in order to appeal to everyone.

Gamification results

As I write this, I have just returned from rewarding my class for near-perfect attendance. Seriously, one unexcused absence in four weeks – I am happy. The students knew about it too. The reward or “trophy” would be given if attendance was at 95% after week four. The trophy? Donuts and coffee! The cool thing was, the two weeks leading up to the cutoff date, everyone was working to keep people accountable for their attendance. The dynamic was wonderful. And, I believe it will set the standard for attendance from here on out. Will people miss, of course. But will they miss a lot? I am going to say no.

One thing I noticed, however, is that the Harry Potter theme didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Here is why: only four houses means larger groups, most everyone sorted into Hufflepuff so I have some dissatisfied people that don’t want to work in their houses, and the overall theme of the first book just didn’t extend throughout our course theme. So, next time I am going to use a format that allows for several small groups and an overarching theme: The Hunger Games! I cannot wait.

On a positive note, aside from the much-deserved Coffee and Donut trophy, my students are on top of the leaderboard scores. They constantly want to know where they stand, thus keeping me on my toes. Further, they have all visited the writing center, not only the two required times, but many have completed extra visits for 25XP each (max. 4 times). The points are great, but the writing center help is priceless.

In the end, I think that gamification helped create a collaborative environment in my class and I look forward to seeing who ends up in first place after finals week!

Next up: UGH. Plagiarism is the WORST

Dianna Blake

Dianna Blake

Dianna graduated from California State University, Fullerton with her Bachelor of Arts in English in May 2015 and is remaining at the university to complete her Master of Arts in English. Once she finishes her degree she plans on teaching college-level English and literature at a community college. As a mother of three while attending college, Dianna works to balance her school and family life but finds great joy in both. She most recently published her own book, College Success for Moms.