Gamifying orientation (part 1)

I’m a giant nerd and a life-long gamer – whether its computer/console/mobile games, board games, playground games or even role-playing games (I’m talking Dungeons and Dragons, you filthy-minded lot!), I just love a good game, and I’m passing that love onto my daughters (I challenge any of you to try and beat either of them at Love Letter or Ticket to Ride…). We are currently witnessing a golden age of gaming. Digital gaming has never been more popular, especially with the rise of smartphone game apps. Did you know that in 2012, 28 million people would harvest crops in Farmville every day? (EdTech, 2012) New and innovative board games are continually being designed – long gone are the days of Monopoly and Cluedo as the mainstay of the board game industry. Ever since the release of Settlers of Catan, we’ve witnessed a new rise of modern board games. And of course we’ve seen the 40-year rise of the role-playing game, from Gary Gygax’s original Dungeons & Dragons through all manner of interesting and unusual game, including tie-ins for practically every modern popular tv or film series (there have been at least four separate versions of a Star Wars role-playing game alone!).

I mentioned I’m a giant nerd, right?!

Why are games so popular now? We’ve always had games of one sort or another, but today’s younger generations in particular have grown up with so many ways to play, to create, to entertain themselves, its no big surprise that the idea of gaming has grown, adapted and infiltrated all walks of life. Gamers are no longer just teenage boys, but can be any age, any gender, any profession, anyone. In 2014, a study by the IAB, reported by the Guardian newspaper, showed that there are now more female gamers than male (Stuart, 2014). So it’s little wonder that education is now starting to take notice of this trend, and try and apply the same logic that attracts players to games in order to attract students to their content.

Gamification and game-based learning have become areas of substantial interest in the education sector, with different approaches being considered to try and apply gaming ideas to the classroom. At the core of this is the ability to reward students for aspects of their learning in some way, allowing them to compete either against one another or just against their own performance to encourage engagement. Dr Ian Glover categorises this reward aspect into three distinct categories – Leaderboards, Prizes and Achievements in his article on Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners (Glover, 2013).

All of these ideas can be applied within the orientation process, of course.

Looking at the shorter-term induction process, prizes can be given to the student or team that complete certain induction activities first/best/most efficiently/most innovatively, or simply upon completion of those activities. While prizes often have a monetary value (how many Amazon or iTunes vouchers have Universities invested in over the years as an incentive?!), these can also be as simple as giving the students access to additional content or further activity. This works well in the short-term induction, as it gives a quick way to reward the students, but can also apply as part of the longer term orientation, perhaps using a system such as learning pathways.

Leaderboards are more likely to be used within the extended orientation – however a leaderboard is generated, for whatever activity, it requires time for the students to all take part and receive some form of score or rating that can be compared with their peers. This can be a good approach for both individuals and for teams, but it does develop a sense of direct competition, which may turn off some students. This also requires some form of tracking in order to either manually or automatically calculate the scores of everyone involved. This can be potentially quite time-consuming and open to error if handled manually, while normally requiring some form of specialist or custom-built system for automated calculation.

Achievements have become a mainstay in recent computer gaming – outside the basic core of the game (complete the story, beat the big bad, become the ultimate warrior etc), an achievement system can vastly improve the replayability of the game. Coming back again, and again, to try and collect all of the badges/characters/secondary currency/equipment/etc can mean players are still finding ways to be entertained by a game that might otherwise lose its appeal after one or two play-throughs.
Why does this hold appeal? Well, the level of competition is still there – you want to show off that you completed all the goals to attain that particular in-game mount or special card back or user portrait (those of you in the know will realise from these examples that I’m particularly a Blizzard gaming geek!).

That is the key element when it comes to education – the ability to display the achievements. Most commonly this is done through a system of badges, such as the Mozilla Open Badges system, that can be embedded within most VLEs as well as within blogs and other systems. Its all very well to achieve something, but what’s the point if you can’t brag about it? Its all very well to brag about it within your class, but what’s the point if you can’t brag about it to the outside world?
Providing a student with a badge, or similar achievement display, when they complete certain key activities, topics or modules can encourage both that student to strive for the next, and also his colleagues who see something that they can covet.
Too many badges can be a bad thing, however – use them too often and they lose their “specialness”. But balanced correctly they can be a strong motivator.

Next time we will look at some ideas on how we might apply these approaches more directly to the induction and orientation process.


Daly, J. 2012. Where Does Gamification Fit in Higher Education? [#Infographic] [Online]. Available:

Stuart, K. 2014. UK gamers: more women play games than men, report finds.

Glover, I. 2013. Play As You Learn:
Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners. Available:


Featured Image © Copyright James Bowe and licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 2.0


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