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Olympics 2012

This week, I’m completing our second “Take Two,” a back-to-back series of blog entries between me and  Shannon, with my take on gamification in education as part of our Olympic theme.  To see the first entry, check out Take Two: It’s Not Just About Winning in the Olympics – Lessons for Higher Education.

This weekend, the city of London opened itself up to the world and kicked off the 2012 Olympic Games.  I’ve been glued to my TV ever since.  (I also came across this handy website that allows you to find out when each event is being shown on your local network: Olympic TV schedule – enjoy).  The Olympic Games are such an inspiring example of international unity, and hearing the stories of Olympians are sometimes even more amazing.  Their journeys are full of discipline, passion, and learning.  There are so many lessons that can be applied to higher education, but I want to focus on one that has been trending up lately: gamification in education, specifically using social media.  Let’s take a closer look.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the use of game design techniques, game thinking, and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.  If I had to translate that very formal definition into an educational framework, I’d say gamification is adding incentive or external motivation to promote action.

About gamification in education

Of course, since there has been a lot of hype about gamifying lately, there also comes some speculation, and some appropriate thoughts at that.  On the other hand, a recent whitepaper published by MIT called “Moving Learning Games Forward” makes a case for educational games and learning through play.  Below is an infographic that helps to highlight some major takeaways from the paper.  Some food for thought comes in the first quote mentioned: “Game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk-taking, attention to detail and problem-solving, all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school.”


A great visual summary of MIT’s whitepaper on gamification in education. Click the image to be taken to the original blog entry where I found this graphic.

About gamification on social media

In a recent study detailing why people follow brands, it was revealed that approximately 37% of people follow brands on Facebook for “Special Offers/Deals” and 43.5% have similar motivations for following a brand on Twitter.  Further, 70% of the respondents in the study reported that they have participated in a brand-sponsored contest or sweepstakes.  The motivation and evidence are there: people want to be engaged in “gaming” via social channels.

Examples of gamification in higher education

We’re all just getting started here, but there are some very interesting developments already taking place.  Here are a few:

  • Penn State developed an “Educational Gaming Commons” to bring games into teaching & learning.  Many examples there.
  • Educause’s paper, “7 Things You Should Know About Gamification,” discusses how Dartmouth used gaming to help students and archivists tag thousands of photos for researchers and offers another cautionary note about gamification
  • Seven of the Ivy+ alumni associations are currently engaged in the “Alumpics” where they’ll each post an alumni-related photo on their Facebook Pages.  The university with the most Likes on the picture will win the gold.

Personally, I think there’s potential to gamify with educational goals in mind when it’s done right, whether it’s promoting learning or growing an affinity to your university.  I, for one, will be experimenting with the idea more this year, and I think using social media is one fantastic way to do it.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts or examples of gamification in education in the Comments and let’s play!

By Kevin

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