By Dr. Jennifer Stone, Graduate Coordinator and Associate Professor of English
As an English professor, I’m always looking for new ways to make my content accessible and interesting to my students. I teach everything from first-year composition to specialized graduate seminars, and each of these teaching contexts presents me with the challenge of how to best introduce my students to new ideas and engage them in my courses.
Over the years, I’ve integrated games and gamification into my teaching repertoire in an attempt to keep my classes interesting and present content for a wide range of learning styles. Often, these are the activities that my students remember years later, even when they have forgotten many of the details of my specific courses.
Here are some examples of how I’ve integrated games and gamification into my teaching:
The WoW Experience: Playing World of Warcraft in a Graduate Seminar on Digital Literacies
My graduate courses take my students into new territories of research and theory. My seminar on Digital Literacies is especially challenging for students; they need to become familiar with an entirely new language for talking, writing, and investigating online interaction. To help them understand and start to be able to use this new language, I’ve created a series of common digital literacies experiences in the class. One of these experiences is the WoW experience.
For the WoW experience, I have my students create characters in World of Warcraft, which is the world’s most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG). The students need to figure out how to play to level 20, and then we do a session in class where they participate in a group dungeon run, which is a group activity where people need to work together to accomplish a task that no one could do individually.
Although some of my students are experienced gamers, many are not. This experience challenges them as learners to figure out how to participate in a new activity. They need to network with more experienced peers, consult online resources, and use trial and error to participate in the game. The experience, while difficult for many students, brings to life the rich theoretical concepts raised in class and gives us a common experience to ground our conversations about digital literacies.
The ENGL A111 Mini-game: Cultivating the “Habits of Mind” of Successful Online Students
I’ve taught ENGL A111 online for a number of years now, and I’ve observed that there are a number of “habits of mind” that differentiate successful students from unsuccessful students in that class. These include things like learning where things are located on the Blackboard site, participating beyond the bare minimum requirements, seeing themselves as part of a community of learners, checking Blackboard regularly for new content, and reflecting on their learning. I’ve turned these “habits of mind” into an achievements-based mini-game for the first unit of the class.
Several years ago in an AIeL workshop, Sarah Frick introduced me to badges and achievements, and I knew right away that I had to use it in my online teaching. In Blackboard, I designed a series of 9 badges and determined triggers for each badge. For example, to earn the Explorer badge, students need to click several buttons that are hidden throughout the course. This guides them to each of the major tabs in the course and orients them to the organization of our Blackboard site. To earn the Represent badge, they need to create a Blackboard profile and post an introduction on the discussion board, which supports their engagement with the online community of learners.
An unintended consequence of the mini-game is that I feel motivated to grade all of their assignments quickly so that their badges will be triggered as soon as possible. So the sense of engagement in the online course goes both ways, which supports student success, as well.
Many of my ENGL A111 students are new to online learning and new to college, so the mini-game helps them to develop habits of mind that they can carry through their education at UAA and beyond.