Cliff Lampe: Hello. My name is Cliff Lampe. I am an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan. And what I do is, I teach classes including an undergraduate program. We have a program in informatics, which is kind of the use of information to accomplish a variety of tasks that’s, sort of, related to big data and things like that. And I am currently teaching a class called Introduction Information, which is our big 200-person undergraduate-seminar intro into the specialization.
Robert Rozeboom: And what is special about this class you are teaching?
Cliff Lampe: I’m not sure it’s special, but what we’ve done is we have gamified the class. And this is a trend in higher education that’s been quite a big deal lately, and there have been lot of people thinking about the pros and cons of gamification in the classroom.
I mean, gamification I think is one of those terms that has the danger of making you, kind of, automatically gag. It seems like a marketing term for what nerds have done for a long time, but it’s worth thinking about like, how can we use principles of games to change the structure and conduct of a university class. Because the structure of a university class really makes no sense, whatsoever. It’s based off this kind of like 19th century agrarian model, if not from this medieval Oxford model.
So, we know that it doesn’t really support a lot of learning objectives. We know that having kids sit and be lectured at for three hours a week isn’t particularly effective. So, from an individual professor’s point, there is that too much you can do to change that. And gamification offers at least a couple of levers to be able to play around with that structure somewhat.
Robert Rozeboom: So, how does that work specifically in your class, like what do you do?
Cliff Lampe: Well, so there’s a lot of people who think about – so what I do is, early in the semester I thought about like what are the actual principles of games that could be useful in a class like this. And some of it’s what I think of as whitewashing with gamification. You know, in your syllabus and in the class you have a little bit of time where you just use D&D-like language, right. Like luckily I have been playing D&D since I could roll dice, and know quite a bit about the game. So you build in some talk about wizards and dragons and blah, blah, blah.
I think the more compelling stuff from a teaching perspective is building in choice. I think a key aspect that ties games together is the ability to kind of choose your path through the game, and so we’ve tried to do that through making more flexible assignments, through having achievements and leveling of assignments. So you can like write for instance reports, but you have to level off to be able to write certain types of reports, you can just skip doing entire types of assignments. Like if you don’t like taking tests, you can just skip those tests and do artistic things instead. So, building in that choice is a huge element of the game stuff.
The other is, of course, rapid feedback. Most games provide you really rapid feedback and most college classes don’t provide you very rapid feedback. So we have mechanisms built in where we can give you rapid feedback.
And then also for the games that I enjoy at least, there is a lot of group process, so all the students participate in guilds and they do guild quests, and recently we had LARP Day. For those of you who are not quite nerdy enough to know, LARP is Live Action Role Play.
Robert Rozeboom: I’m pretty sure everyone knows.
Cliff Lampe: Everyone knows that.
Robert Rozeboom: At Slashdot they do.
Cliff Lampe: So just in case some of you accidently came to Slashdot and don't know what LARPing is. And so the kids and I all dressed up in my TAs, all dressed up in outfits, not necessarily LARP related, it was give them a break, some of these guys were sociology students, so I let them pick their Halloween costumes too. And we kind of did a cosplay kind of thing and we had LARP-style games through the class, where they had to stand up and challenge each other, and there was a week of games that the guilds participated in and competed against each other in, so
Robert Rozeboom: So how do the kids respond to that -- or I guess students?
Cliff Lampe: Yeah, the young adults, the students have mixed reactions. I think all of them like breaking the typical model of a large lecture course, right. I think everybody is for anything that kind of breaks up being talked at for three hours a week. Some of them have I think a little further to go in terms of really embracing the nerdy gamified aspects of the course. So, like especially – and it’s somewhat by major. The computer science students have no problem, hardly, but the sociology students who also participate in the Greek fraternal system and things like that, they play games. They were raised in modern society, so they play games, and they watch movies, so they get it. It’s just not as close to their heart as it is for some other students.
Robert Rozeboom: So, what’s the response from the university?
Cliff Lampe: Yeah, it’s actually been really positive. I was a little worried since I’m new at the university that they would be like, “What the hell?” but the vice president for communications for the university was really positive and participated in LARP Day.
Robert Rozeboom: Oh, really.
Cliff Lampe: The social media director..
Robert Rozeboom: What did he dress as?
Cliff Lampe: She did not dress up.
Robert Rozeboom: Oh, she.
Cliff Lampe: Yeah, but she did judge one of the LARP competitions. Yeah, we tried to get her to, we actually sent her some options. We could send her for like a warrior princess or something, but it turns out, you can't do that, you know, with executives at a major university.
Robert Rozeboom: No Xena cosplay for your boss?
Cliff Lampe: No, no, nothing like that, but we had like the social media director from my college and the social media director for the university participate as well. So the university has actually been pretty supportive and the syllabus for the course has a lot of, kind of, gamified language in it and really pointed out. And they’ve really been kind of showing that model around of ways of trying to innovate within kind of this really rigid structure of university classes.
Robert Rozeboom: So, this is the second year you've done that or?
Cliff Lampe: I’ve tried something similar back when I was at Michigan State University, but that was more whitewashing, right. Just calling assignments “quests” and just calling grades “XP” isn’t enough, I think, to make it a really compelling experience. So the sharing went much deeper by having the flexible assignments and the choices about what to do and the stronger kind of guild participation elements and things like that.
The problem with doing all those things is that it’s really hard work for the TAs, especially giving rapid feedback and having such a wide array of assignments, creates kind of a much more complex structure. And so we have one TA whose whole job it is just to make sure everything's working right. We call her the grades master and she just goes through and just makes sure everything is, kind of, like all right, people get what's going on, they have their assignments, they know like what their quests they’re participating in. And we made the young adults go through and do a quest log at the beginning of the semester to pick, kind of, which thing they might be likely to participate in, and we let them drop a set of quests if it wasn’t working out for them and things like that, so they had some more choice there too.
Robert Rozeboom: So if you haven't done it that many times, you probably don’t have a lot of data, but how effective do you think it is so far?
Cliff Lampe: It’s been really effective in a couple of ways. I mean as a professor one of the only feedback mechanisms I usually get is the teacher evaluations at the end of the course. And usually when I do gamified stuff in class, the students like it because it’s a little more playful, so that evaluation goes up. But pedagogically, how much does that actually affect their learning, it's hard to say. It's really hard to measure that in any circumstance, right, for any type of class of course. But I do hear back from the students years after the first time I gamified a course that they really remember that experience and because they remember the experience, they remember the course content better than they do other classes they've taken years after they've taken that course. So, if I can kind of add a little even shock value into their experience of a course, that seems to help retention of the material in the course, which serves the pedagogical value. But it's really hard to measure those outcomes.
Robert Rozeboom: So what made you decide to do this?
Cliff Lampe: I think the main thing was these large classes can actually be as boring for professors as they are for students in a lot of ways. I don’t know if I’m betraying university secrets by saying that, but you get up and you do your song and dance for an hour-and-a-half and then you get rolled back into your closet in your tweed vest and your pipe until you are pulled out again next week. It's not a very satisfying experience.
And so I thought with this one, it might have more interaction with students, more ability to, kind of, see what types of output they could create in more interesting ways. That part has worked out. So, in the past I’ve done a lot of like exams and reports. This time they've done two achievements that are very different. One is achievements of the explorer where they actually have to go out and do a bunch of cool stuff, including one of them is what we call colonize social media, and they go out and they participate. And they’re doing these really cool things including like stuff with Instagram and stuff with Pinterest and they’re really going out and working with Reddit and on one guy is doing Slashdot and a bunch of the students are really kind of pushing the boundaries of participating in online activities through this course. And many of them have said, it's like what are their best assignments all year, just because it's persistent, it takes place over a long period of time, plus it feels more relevant to what they actually do during the course of a day.
And then another set of quests we do is related to artistic talent. So a lot of students, for instance, created information visualizations and information graphics instead of making a report. So, it turns in a one-page thing which is an information graphic. But they were so much more compelling and so much more interesting than 90% of the student papers I've ever read, which are themselves 90% bullshit. So, you know, I've got 10% of 10% interesting stuff from student papers than that. I think it’s a better experience for both the student and for me as a professor.
Robert Rozeboom: So, gamification is sort of the word du jour in business right now and everything. But I think that there's no doubt that tricking people in some way to stay on your webpage or to make, like, Xerox uses gamification in their management training to make it more fun. I think that stuff is probably going to be here to stay even though the word is sold out now. Do you think that – as you said earlier that education can – I've said there are some horribly long and boring classes, do you think that
Cliff Lampe: I’ve given some horribly long and boring classes.
Robert Rozeboom: Do you think that will actually catch on because
Cliff Lampe: I mean like anything in university, this is going to be slow. I think business will adopt it much more quickly than universities will. I mean, for God’s sake, we still are based off an agrarian calendar so that our students can go home and work on the farms during the summer, right? Structural change is slow in the university system. But I think it will be inevitable just because at the end of the day, universities are a service organization like many others. And we have to be responsive to some extent to changes in how our students experience life. And they are experiencing, even if we don't call it gamification, they’re experiencing kind of these elements of gamified systems so much more on a daily basis in all sorts of organizations that it's going to become necessary for universities to play ball.
So, you hear about kind of these elements of gamification occurring like in health insurance companies, so that people will lead more healthy lifestyles or in workplaces. And we've had these elements for a long time, right? Incentive systems, bonuses, rewards for merit, all of these things are the same basic elements that are in gamification. But now, I think actually, calling them gamification, even though it sounds like kind of crappy marketing slang, actually adds a level of integration to how we think about these things. That does allow us to kind of play with incentives and motivations a little bit more.
So, I think it will be slow coming into the universities, but hopefully, people will adopt it more because has been a really positive experience in terms of me interacting with the students and them feeling like they have control over their learning outcomes. And when they feel like they have control over their learning outcomes, they’re much more invested in what they learn and how they approach it.
Robert Rozeboom: Anything else you want to add?
Cliff Lampe: For The Horde!
Robert Rozeboom: Horde! All right.