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Posted March 11, 2013

Competitive approach to learning goes beyond fun and games

Two days after Temple University’s Department of Management Information Systems (MIS) introduced an online leader board as part of its requirement that students earn 1,000 points through internships and other activities in order to graduate, Assistant Professor Mart Doyle received a curious email.

At 1,475 points, MIS and finance major Joe Nespoli had blazed past the necessary mark and was first among seniors at his credit level. He had one question: How he could keep it that way.

In Steven L. Johnson’s “Social Media Innovation” course, students earn badges for exhibiting mastery of social media channels and other achievements.
In Steven L. Johnson’s “Social Media Innovation” course, students earn badges for exhibiting mastery of social media channels and other achievements.
In Steven L. Johnson’s “Social Media Innovation” course, students earn badges for exhibiting mastery of social media channels and other achievements.

At the Fox School of Business, where the MIS Department is based, gamification is thriving at the classroom, department and school levels. Across Temple, gamification and gaming efforts include a Games Interest Group of faculty and staff interested in research and curriculum development. And Temple Computer Services’ Instructional Support Center is exploring collaborations with faculty on piloting several initiatives on the instructional use of gaming.

“In the education setting, the final grade can seem so distant in relation to any individual activity in the class that having this opportunity for students to be recognized in front of their peers can be a very strong motivation along the way,” said Steven L. Johnson, an assistant professor of MIS who has gamified his “Social Media Innovation” course.

According to one widely used definition, gamification uses gaming elements, mechanics and frameworks in non-game contexts. In Johnson’s class, students embark on a “quest” for points through tasks such as commenting on blog posts, creating a Pinterest board or choosing a profile picture on Twitter. Students level up by amassing points and earn badges, some of them by surprise, to display on their virtual mantels.

“I like getting recognized,” said senior MIS major Megan Stephens, who took Johnson’s class. “It gets me to do higher-quality work and dedicate more time to something.”

To professors and administrators, deeper engagement among students — whether with class material or professional development — is the point, not “pointification,” where participants chase after meaningless outcomes. Johnson’s lesson: “You get whatever behavior you reinforce, reward and recognize.”

That’s why the MIS Department requires its majors to enhance their academic and professional development by creating and maintaining e-portfolios — their digital resumes — and collecting points through involvement with student organizations or internships. An internship alone counts for 600 of the 1,000-point graduation requirement.

“If you want to do it the easy way, do an internship,” Doyle said. “If you want to do it the hard way, there are many opportunities, but you have to hustle.”

At the school level, Fox’s Office of Undergraduate Enrollment manages a point-based Immersion program to reward students for attending networking and recruitment events, serving as a mentor or ambassador, or becoming an officer of a student organization. At the end of each year, top participants receive special perks. For freshmen, it’s a lunch with the dean.

Norm Roessler, a faculty member in Intellectual Heritage, asks his Mosaics students to work in groups to adapt weighty texts — such as Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands and Thomas More’s Utopia — into video games while staying true to the gaming genre and the source material. One outcome: students use zombies to address ideas of difference.

“Zombies are like the X-men,” Roessler said. “It’s a way to show or talk about difference without pointing the finger at race, class and gender.”

Jacynda Purnell, a junior theater major, and her Mosaics I group used zombies and other villains in its Borderlands adaption. The final boss: an animated version of Roessler. “We beat the game; we passed the class,” Purnell said.

Roessler is keener on the process of play than gamification. “It’s building the game, making the game up, creating the game – instead of just playing it,” he said.

Posted In: Staff & Faculty
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