Gamifying the Classroom, Part III: Gamification Tools

Greetings everyone, to this month’s TESOL games and learning blog. This month, we will wrap up our long look at gamification by highlighting tools for the classroom. Following is a list of tools to get you started—or to keep you going.

Classroom Tools

Classcraft
Classcraft is a web-based course management system that allows teachers to create custom quests students follow over the course of a class, week, or semester. These quests take on a role-playing element as students customize avatars that level up and earn achievements. Students can use an in-game reward system to further customize their avatars with unique armor and accessories.

ClassDojo
ClassDojo isn’t quite a gamification tool as much as an overall course management system that facilitates a teacher-created reward and badging system for students. It also has a system for instant feedback on students’ in-class performance that can reward students for their social as well as academic skills—all the standard gamification essentials.

Moodle
Moodle is a fantastic course management system with an established history in the language learning classroom. Its open-source design allows for an endless array of customization through the use of plug-ins. Currently, six gamification plug-ins are available for Moodle that can be used as a foundation for your own customized gamification scenario.

PlayBrighter
PlayBrighter is perhaps the most straightforward gamification tool on the list because it focuses on quest development, so consider it more of a quiz conversion tool, like Kahoot. Where it differs, though, is in an avatar creation system for students where they can use rewards and class points to accessorize their avatars.

Pen and Paper
Not all teaching contexts allow for a tech-heavy classroom, but gamifying your classroom is still possible. For example,

  • avatars can be hand designed,
  • rewards can be hidden in folded slips of paper, and
  • quests can be displayed on a chalkboard at the start of class.

A dive into the myriad blog posts about gamification quickly shows a reliance on gimmicks and technology, but what is critical is creativity and an eye for design. A pen and paper approach to gamification can highlight poor design decisions or areas of your gamified class that need more iteration—as any game designer knows, if something is not fun on paper, it’s not going to be fun digitally.

A Closing Note: Caveats

Searching the Internet for gamification tools can be a quest in its own right. The reason is simple: Most websites conflate games, game-based learning, and gamification, making finding information and tools more challenging. One top search result, “13 Amazing Gamification Education Tools” by Ed Tech Reviews, lists Minecraft and Virtonomics, neither of which are gamification tools. Both are games, and both could be used in game-based learning, but neither are gamification: The application of game mechanics and design to nongame contexts. Even Classcraft’s “Why Use Gamification in Education?” weaves between discussion of games and gamification, comixing the rationale for their use into one topic, although game-based learning’s research literature is far more robust.

Gamification is tricky business. Those who write about it often lack a clear idea of what it is and how it should be applied, and examples often feature poor designs that show its inherently behaviorist roots.

Experts in games and game-based learning often decry gamification and for valid reasons. As Graham Stanley notes in his 2014 talk “Gamification: Magic Bullet or Broken Sword?“, the increased student motivation gained through gamification can be short lived once students realize levels and badges are grades and points by another name.

In short, gamification may be destined for the heap of teaching fads that have come and gone over the years, but there is still an opportunity in it to flex your creative muscle and play around with moving beyond a classroom that is skill drill, test, and repeat. I hope these last few months have clarified, even slightly, the nebulous idea of gamification and whether it is right for your classroom. Please feel free to share your thoughts and any other gamification tools you like to use in the comments, below.

Until next month, play more games!

About Jeff Kuhn

Jeff Kuhn
Jeff Kuhn serves a split appointment at OHIO University, working for the Office of Instructional Innovation and in the Games Research and Immersive Design (Grid) Lab. He frequently delivers talks and keynote addresses on games and learning, game design, and the need for games literacy in educators. He is one of the founding moderators of the Electronic Village Online’s Minecraft MOOC, a community of practice for teachers learning to use Minecraft in the classroom. He has served on the TESOL CALL-IS steering committee, as the Gaming Special Interest Group chair for CALICO, and in the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Specialist program. His research interests include game-based learning, second language writing, and computer-assisted language learning.
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