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Video Professor Cliff Lampe Talks About Gamification in Academia (Video) 123

Professor Lampe is using gamification in his 200-student lecture classes to make them more interesting. He says big-class lectures can often be as boring for the professor as they are for the students. A little bit of game-type action can spice things up and make classes more interesting. Near the end of the video he points out that gamification is becoming popular for employee training in private enterprise, so why not use the concept in universities and other educational institutions?

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.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Professor Cliff Lampe Talks About Gamification in Academia (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @05:22PM (#42246067)

    why not use the concept in universities and other educational institutions?

    Because flunking people who don't care about learning is preferable to pandering to them?

  • Fun (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @05:23PM (#42246083) Journal

    It's no longer fun once someone forces you to do it. Then it just becomes insulting. Doubly so if you already know what they're trying to convey and will be penalized for poor performance at the game despite mastery of the material.

  • Boring? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @05:37PM (#42246211)
    Honestly, if I'm paying $500 - $1000 *per lecture*, I'm going to sit and pay attention no matter how boring the material or the professor is. I realize that some professors or subjects are dull beyond comprehension, but you're actually *paying* to be there so sit up and listen. Get a good night's rest, read the material before coming to class, engage yourself in the discussion (or if there is no discussion, engage yourself in an internal discussion with questions).... no need to dress up like cartoon characters to make the class interesting like we're teaching 3rd graders with uncontrollable ADD. This is college. These are (ostensibly) adults. Give me a break.
  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @05:45PM (#42246275)
    Yes this. This time a thousand. This gamification concept is completely asinine. If you are going to a university but you can't be bothered enough to pay attention and actually engage yourself in your own education, even if the material is dull, then just save us all a lot of trouble and stay home. No one is forcing you to go to college.

    And to think of the complete arrogance, that you have this amazing opportunity, a once in a lifetime chance to educate yourself about the world, a chance that people around the world would kill to have, to be in your shoes, and you can't bring yourself to pay attention at a lecture because it's not WoW enough for you? If this is you, drop out immediately, and make room for someone who actually wants an education. Sickening.
  • by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @05:58PM (#42246405) Homepage

    I'm not sure if I agree. Part of a topic being engaging or not is having it be presented in a way that shows its importance. My favorite class in high school was a history class where the teacher used role-playing to show just why certain decisions were made. Even if it was done for the wrong reasons I think it could still have a positive effect. Even as someone who would pay attention anyway, having an entire class engaged presents far more perspectives than being the only interested student.

  • by Pentium100 ( 1240090 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @06:15PM (#42246571)

    Except that some parts of this are because of human psychology. I remember one professor saying that you need to lecture no more than 15 minutes at a time, then tell a joke or something otherwise everyone will fall asleep (or just will not learn anything, even though they tried to pay attention to what is being said). Yes, sometimes, the topic is so interesting you can listen for the 1.5 hours, but most of the time you will forget 99% of what was said after the first 15-30 minutes.

    As for

    If you are going to a university but you can't be bothered enough to pay attention and actually engage yourself in your own education, even if the material is dull, then just save us all a lot of trouble and stay home.

    this can be used to justify not having any lectures at all. Anyone sufficiently motivated should just read the relevant books and learn, the professors just needs to give the list of the books to read and then grade the exam/papers.

    Why are you opposed to things that make life easier? I mean if gamifying education leads to better educated people, why not do it? If using a wheelbarrow makes it easier/faster to transport snow/dirt/etc short distances, why not use it?

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @06:24PM (#42246639) Journal

    It's not just you. From The Simpsons season 3:

    Principle Skinner: Oh, licking envelopes can be fun! All you have to do is make a game of it.
    Bart: What kind of game?
    Principle Skinner: Well, for example, you could see how many you could lick in an hour, then try to break that record.
    Bart: Sounds like a pretty crappy game to me.
    Principle Skinner: Yes, well... Get started.

    If the Simpsons were making fun of your idea 20 years ago, you might not want to build a career on it.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @06:49PM (#42246883) Homepage Journal

    Compare a course where you would retain 30% of the content with a course where you would retain 70% of the same content: which would you choose?

    Everyone whining about "pandering to the unmotivated" is missing the point: the current class/lecture model started over a thousand years ago and is not optimized for learning. In this century we now know much more about the neurological underpinnings of how people learn, so it makes sense that we should try to optimize the process.

    College (or an online course, or work-related training) should be as effective as possible. Some lecturers have this figured out, but most don't.

    Stanford is considered a hard school not because the material is difficult, but because it's presented in a way that's hard to learn. Only the brightest and most motivated students can thrive in that situation, which helps to build the "best and brightest" reputation. The reputation comes not from quality of education, but difficulty of education.

    (Check out the online videos for Probabilistic Graphical Models [] by Dr. Daphne Koller at Stanford. Alternately, check out her book on the subject []. The book is largely unreadable, and the videos are dreadfully obtuse. Her class at Stanford is well known as a weeder.)

    One great aspect of the ongoing MOOC revolution is that everyone is competing on an open field. Instructors using more effective techniques will be perceived as better teachers while the "old-school, cannot change, it's always worked for me" crowd will be left in the dust.

    Gamification is a technique for more effective teaching.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2012 @07:28PM (#42247149)

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with this. As someone who attends a liberal arts college, I hear all the time about how awesome it is that we have good instructors who present the material clearly and unpretentiously.

    The truth of the matter is that my courses cover significantly less material that the courses taken by my friends at Stanford and MIT. It's no wonder that our instruction is "better" -- our instructors are spending the same amount of time on roughly half the content!

    Furthermore, this approach tends toward a very "applied" style in which "jargon" is avoided in favor of ideas. Practically, this often means that the more difficult problem sets are abandoned (it's all just jargon and escalation, right?) in favor of the easier problem sets. You may retain more information when this approach is used, but -- from personal experience -- you don't learn how to think more clearly and deeply (or even more quickly.) A more practical implication is that I don't understand conversations between people in my field (industry people OR researchers) because while I "understand" the "ideas", I don't have the necessary language to know what's being discussed.

    Now, I use MIT's Open Courseware courses in addition to going to lectures.

    Also, please note that this isn't "good school envy" or some form of angst/anger at my alma mater. I've enjoyed my undergraduate experience, and through independent studies I've had the opportunity to engage (on my own) with some very exciting subjects at a deep level. Unfortunately, I can't say my core coursework taught me much of anything.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday December 10, 2012 @08:49PM (#42247763)

    Why are you opposed to things that make life easier? I mean if gamifying education leads to better educated people, why not do it? If using a wheelbarrow makes it easier/faster to transport snow/dirt/etc short distances, why not use it?

    I've been thinking about this sort of question in the bigger picture. What set me down the path was the political observation that as a party republicans are anti-gay except for individuals like Cheney who have a gay child, the party is also pro-torture except for individuals who have actually been tortured like McCain. So I've been trying to figure out if there is a rule that explains such things instead of just trying to score political points.

    What I've come up with is this: People like to create their own "personal" rules for how members of society should behave - generally these rules are simple, even natural, to follow for the person who makes them up. Gay marriage is an easy one - straight people have no interest in getting gay married. It is a rule that is natural for them to follow so they have little understanding of what it is like to be on the other side of that rule. A more trivial example came from the husband of a good friend of mine - he forbid their pre-teen daughter from chewing gum. Not for any health reasons, simply because he thought people who chewed gum looked stupid. Of course he didn't like to chew gum himself so he saw no value in it and came up with this rule that didn't cost him anything.

    I see the same thing here - chances are the OP is someone for whom traditional educational methods worked pretty well. That makes it easy for him to endorse the current system - it worked for him, it should work for anyone. Anyone for whom it doesn't work must be defective, lazy, wants something for nothing, etc.

    Looking back over my life, I can see how I've made up a bunch of similar rules about both trivial and important things. Those rules haven't really helped me, they just gave me a reason to look down on other people who didn't deserve it. In some cases even to dismiss their humanity. In the long run all it did was make me miss opportunities that were right in front of me. So now I try to question my own assumptions about how people should act, and when they aren't directly hurting anyone I make a conscious effort to accept them rather than disparage them.

"If you can, help others. If you can't, at least don't hurt others." -- the Dalai Lama