Aug 08 2016

Gamification Champions Create Big Wins on Campus

Students reap benefits when IT helps faculty navigate tech-based teaching tools.

In organizational change theory, “champions” are individuals who push an organization past its comfort zone into new, rewarding territory. These are the people with a knack for gently bringing along the doubters and the naysayers, accomplishing this feat with diplomacy, positivity and skillful problem-solving. Faced with the challenge, “We don’t know how,” champions say, “We’ll figure it out.”

An opportunity exists for college IT champions to help educators embrace gamification. Proponents of gamification, which initially flourished in K–12, say it offers just as many benefits for college students. Well-designed games boost engagement, hone critical thinking skills by requiring students to plan and strategize, and clarify abstract concepts that may be hard to grasp through reading and lecture alone. For students in online courses, gaming provides opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and friendly competition.

Despite these promising outcomes, faculty who are new to gamification may be hesitant to jump in — wondering, for example, where to start from a technology perspective and how to ensure games deliver educational benefit alongside entertainment. Therein lies an opportunity for IT professionals to identify potential academic partners and join forces to become on-campus champions.

A Winning Partnership

North Carolina State University tried this to great success. Edwin Lindsay, a teaching assistant professor in NCSU’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, observed that students in his Introduction to Sport Management course lacked realistic expectations of future career paths. They set ambitious goals – head football coach or athletic director – but didn’t plan for the entry-level jobs they’d likely land first.

In response, Lindsay partnered with NCSU’s Distance Education & Learning Technology Applications (DELTA) to develop a gamification module. Lindsay and Stephen Bader, a business and technology applications specialist, developed a Moodle plug-in that lets students pursue one of 10 career paths by winning points within 14 skill sets. By playing, students identify skills they need to develop and related courses they can take to enhance those skills.

According to Lindsay, the game exposed students to both entry-level positions and career paths they hadn’t even considered. It also improved class participation and midterm scores.

Although it wasn’t Lindsay’s intention to be a gamification champion, he inadvertently became one. His partnership with DELTA was such a success, it inspired gamification courses in NCSU’s horticulture department, and others are following suit. At other colleges, the gamification champion might be an IT professional eager to introduce new technologies to the campus community, or perhaps a faculty member who wants to expand his or her pedagogical repertoire, but lacks the tech know-how.

Champions Push Projects Forward

Wherever champions reside, they bring value by inspiring, educating and encouraging colleagues to embrace the unfamiliar. Champions help organizations thrive by understanding and sharing a vision: How have other institutions successfully brought gamification to the classroom? What benefits can it offer students in a specific discipline? How can a faculty/IT partnership pay off outside the classroom?

Champions are expert facilitators. When colleagues are hesitant to embrace new technology, champions help them navigate unfamiliar territory. Champions address their concerns, while ensuring that those issues don’t stall progress. Finally, champions have great follow-through. After a faculty member or a department rolls out gamification, champions help stakeholders extract lessons learned and help refine the process to make it even smoother the next time.

Most likely, someone on your campus is interested in gamification and is simply waiting for the right champion to come along.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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