Feb 09 2016

Colleges Find Gamification Success Through Sports Influence

North Carolina State University shares how to leverage gamification in course development and set students on the right career path.

When students enter college as freshmen, they often have a sense of the job they’d like to end up in eventually. They don’t always have an idea of the path it takes to get there.

Edwin Lindsay, a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management at North Carolina State University, says his students tend to eye high-prestige, high-paying jobs such as athletic director or head football coach.

Recognizing students could use a better sense of the entry-level positions they would more realistically start a career in, Lindsay sought some advice from NC State’s Distance Education & Learning Technology Applications (DELTA). Lindsay teamed up with Stephen Bader, business and technology applications specialist for DELTA, to integrate gamification into Lindsay’s Introduction to Sport Management course.


The number of job opportunities explored by students who took NC State’s gamified Introduction to Sports Management course

SOURCE: North Carolina State University, “Developing Gamification within Moodle,” December 2015

In the end, the team developed a gamification module that runs as a Moodle plug-in to challenge students to amass points within 14 skill sets they need to develop along one of 10 different career paths. Careers range from sports media to sports tourism, as well as head coach or general manager of a professional sports team. NC State offers the course for three credits, both online and as a traditional course.

“The goal was to expose students to the many different entry-level jobs that are available to them, but do it in the form of a game,” Lindsay says. “Doing the course as a game engages the students and opens them up to other jobs, such as facilities manager or working in sports media, jobs like producer, cameraman or people who write content.”

Based on the results of the game, students gain greater insights into their strengths and weaknesses, along with the courses they’ll need to reach their goals. Some may realize they need to improve financial accounting skills or learn more about budgeting for a sports team. Others may realize they’ll need to take some writing or journalism courses if they want to work in sports media.

Students who participate in the module have shown marked improvement, Lindsay says, and scores on midterms have increased on average by seven points. Overall, the quality of those students’ responses has also improved, he says. Based on their experiences at NC State, Lindsay and Bader offer five best practices for IT teams and course developers looking to experiment with gamification at their own institutions.

Lindsay and Bader have high hopes for future gamification at NC State. Professors in the horticulture department have already launched gamified courses, and other departments have expressed interest.

“One of our main goals is to create an environment where students are not afraid to fail,” Lindsay says. “In the game context, it’s OK if they try a topic over again or simply choose to move on to something different. We want students to learn more about their personalities so they can select the careers that are right for them.”

1. Have a clear set of goals and objectives.

NC State knew it had to start small, but its goal all along was to share the gamification module with other departments and expand on the program once the proof-of-concept course was tested.

2. Partner with the faculty and technology staff.

Every college has course experts and technology staff, but do they have the patience and expertise to take difficult course material and turn it into an effective game? Lindsay gives a great deal of credit to DELTA for making the project a success. He says they had a very keen sense of how to keep the students engaged while learning.

3. Choose a flexible learning management system.

NC State uses Moodle, an open-source learning management system that Lindsay says allows for consistent feedback and gives instructors numerous options to engage students.

4. Build in ample planning time.

When they started, Lindsay and Bader planned to just build one unit, but as they got into the details, building a game for the entire course made sense. Lindsay says it took about a year to decide what they wanted, plus another year before they were convinced that the game was fun and engaging enough.

5. Think of creative funding mechanisms.

Lindsay received a grant to get started and a strong partnership with DELTA, the university’s distance learning organization. Partner with the appropriate technology group and also solicit support from the administration and department heads. For example, while there may not be funding available for a full faculty line, the department head may consider flextime for the faculty member on the project or allocate funding for an additional teaching assistant.

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