Gamifying Orientation (part 2)

We’ve looked at some of the reward aspects of gamification, but how can we apply this more effectively to orientation for both our pstudents and estudents?

Let’s start with the initial short-form induction for pstudents, as I’m gearing up towards delivering this again shortly. Last semester, my organisation decided to run a small treasure hunt as part of the induction day. Students were placed into teams, and had to run around the building looking for particular places. In each of those places, they would receive a stamp from a relevant staff member, and the first team back with all of their stamps was in line for a prize (in this case, some book vouchers). The idea behind this was to orient the students to the physical building, and that definitely worked… mostly. With our library closed for renovation, and the canteen closing during the period of the game, there were a few hairy moments, but the students all became a little more familiar with our facilities.
The downside happened when the students returned to claim their prize. The first couple of teams got back quicker than anticipated, and the staff member supposed to meet them had stepped out for a few moments. This led to confusion as to which team returned first. Also, due to the canteen closure, one of the two teams had failed to get the canteen stamp, while the other team had received it earlier prior to the closure. Ultimately this led to some arguments between the teams, which had to be smoothed over by our staff on their return. Not exactly the community-building exercise we had hoped.

The concept was solid, but the execution clearly needed some work. We learned to make sure everyone knew what was happening and how the activity was supposed to work, and also to confirm in advance that all of the expected resources (in this case, locations) would be available during the activity. I’m sure we’ll run it again, but learning from the mistakes that were made to improve the outcomes.

Another area we struggle with for our induction is with attendance. Our engagement team have worked sterlingly to try and encourage maximum attendance for induction, and have had some really good successes. Could we gamify the entire induction in order to improve that? One way might be to provide attendance badges for particular sessions, or maybe just an overall attendance badge for the day (“I completed my induction!”). If the badge was designed well enough, that might be something of a reward, but more effectively it could be used to allow students who attended to skip particular bits of the following semester (“You completed induction? OK, you must know how to log onto the VLE, so you can skip that bit of tomorrow’s activity and do this more interesting activity instead”). Combining the achievement (badge) with the prize (different activity) can provide double incentive, although you do need to provide some level of foreknowledge about the prizes (a prize isn’t an incentive if noone knows it exists until they earn it!).

The limitation here is always time – our short-form inductions don’t allow us much opportunity to really develop a sense of competition or fun. The long-form orientation, on the other hand, has plenty of scope for that to happen, for both pstudents and estudents.

Imagine, if you will, an orientation programme that brings together all of the various strands that make up the early part of the student journey. Learning how to study, how to research, how to reference. Understanding the various technical systems such as the VLE, Library databases, institution email, etc. Finding out about critical support services, like finance, accessibility and wellbeing. All of these strands wound neatly together around the academic delivery throughout the first semester. Never mind how much work that would take by staff, that’s a whole lot of areas for your students to try and cover while getting to grips with their new academic life. Some will, inevitably, ignore parts that don’t interest them. Others will ignore it all. Those that engage may or may not retain the information, dependent upon how engaging the activity is. But if its all FUN, and if it feeds directly out of, and back into their main taught module(s), then suddenly the engagement becomes of interest.

My group within the SBOSE module recently ran “The Reading Game”, an online activity that asks students to both answer questions on a particular topic and also pose questions on the same topic. Points are awarded for both answering and asking questions, and “karma” can be awarded by every player for a particularly well-written question. This approach mixes a lot of good gaming strategies with solid content delivery, giving different options for scoring, leaderboards etc. The same principles can be applied to our orientation – whether its working on an honour system (asking students to record their own results), a manual system (staff record student results) or automated (the system records student results), the ability to score different activities and culminate the scores can provide substantial motivation for the students. These “points” can be accrued across the whole range of orientation activities, and could be individual or group-based. Let’s face it, if it works for Hogwarts, why not for your institution? “10 points for Gryffindor”.

While points would be accrued in a fairly rule-focused way, further achievement badges could be provided manually for outstanding work/effort/interaction. Maybe not everyone gets these badges, or maybe everyone gets a chance. Some could be provided for completing particular sections of the orientation. Potentially, earning these badges could also unlock additional “prizes” such as an advanced orientation option for that particular strand, or extra help/instruction/hints within an activity in another strand.

Monetary prizes are a little harder to achieve for our estudents, other than through the form of iTunes/Amazon vouchers that could be emailed to the winners, but as we’ve previously seen, prizes can be much more than that. How about the first five people to complete activity X in strand A get first pick from the rest of the student body as to who joins their team for activity Y in strand B? Or the most innovative discussion topic during your “getting to know you” activity is rewarded with the choice of the first topic to be discussed within the first video classroom session within one of the academic modules? As well as being “prizes”, these are also further attempts to engage the students, which should help cement their interest and have them more actively take part.

Ultimately, some sort of final reward for completing the whole orientation process should be given – whether that’s as simple as a nice shiny badge on their VLE/OpenBadges profile, or whether its something more functional and directly attributable towards their on-going studies. (Suggestions? You know where the comments go!).

I strongly believe in the gamification of education, knowing full well that I’m a sucker myself for a well-delivered gaming experience. We live in a world of gamers, so let’s take advantage of the fact and make both learning and orientation much more fun!

Image Licensing

Featured image by Wikipedia user Klo licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0,



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