How to Effectively Use Gamification in Education with Moodle

Gamification has several definitions, but a simple one would be: it is to apply game elements (items, rules, goals, rewards…) to non game contexts in order to improve the outcomes, engagement and diversion of the participants.

Seeming a buzzword nowadays, as it is indeed, it has been widely used in several fields for many years, and, for sure, you’ve been a target of it anytime during your life, or, even more, you’ve used it unconsciously. For example, rewards given to children in exchange of good grades; points earned at the gas station; collectible yogurt glasses; or badges earned in forums.

Being a general philosophy, it can be tricky to get the use of it in Education. On the one hand, the educational world and its actors differ from others. There are plenty of emerging and growing technological systems, that not always let gamification fit in. Teachers lack handbooks to clearly know how to start up the process, and many of them don’t have a technological profile. And, finally, gamification has multiple stages to be considered (analysis, design, implementation, measurement and readjustment).

Another interesting focus point is where to locate it inside the educational field, a way complex structure. The answer is straightforward: gamification is a framework that can be used anywhere and in any level of complexity. It can be directly applied to contents, to the pedagogical framework (usually constructivism), or even to other complementary frameworks (Edward Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, Harvard University’s Visible Thinking Project, etc), or teaching strategies (PBL, flipped classrooms, etc).

That is really powerful, because you don’t have to choose among frameworks. You can create your own blended solution from an eclectic perspective, always on behalf of your teaching practice and your students. For example, if the multiple intelligences theory classifies students according to their abilities, gamification describes how those students behave as players inside a game.  If the educational curriculum tells what contents to teach, gamification explains how to make them attractive. If constructivism helps in how to teach, gamification instructs you how to make the process engaging. And if other techniques improve the whole picture, gamification, definitively, reinforces it.

Among the advantages of applying gamification in Education we find that: it engages students and teachers; the achievements come quickly; excellent students get a high profile; and diversion and competitiveness are promoted. But there are some aspects you have to put an eye on: gamification has to be applied like a whole approach if it will be effective; players have to play voluntarily; there are ways to cheat; it can lose power with time; and it has to be applied in the right proportion.

After reading the coming lines you’ll know how to gamify a course and implement it using Moodle. At the end of the article you’ll find a link to a real example based on a LOTR (lord of the rings) style theme. Most of the gamification mechanics are used in it, so try to identify them.

GAMIFICATION ELEMENTS

Knowing the elements involved in a gamified system is key, for they have to be smartly interwoven in a coherent tapestry. For example, once decided which dynamics to be applied, the corresponding mechanics will have to be chosen, and the tools to implement them as well, always in a cascading current. That’s the reason why you should use diagrams and tables to write down your elements’ dependencies; you’ll find them of great value when designing and when readjusting your own system.

It’s understandable that many gamified solutions don’t include all the elements to be described soon. It’s up to the gamifier to decide what to use and what not, but bear in mind that outcomes could be radically affected in a negative way if you went directly to use components without any prior design and planification, as it happens with systems only using the PBL triad (points, badges and leaderboard).

Players:

According to which expert you read from you can find distinct types of players, but for the sake of simplicity the most common ones are:

  1.     Socializers: they love social interaction and teamwork.
  2.     Free spirits: they need their own pace and make their own decisions.
  3.     Achievers: collecting things and excelling, those are their main goals.
  4.     Philanthropists: helping others for the sake of the whole system is a must for them.
  5.     Mere players: the common specimen, just playing for fun.
  6.     And disruptors: the ones wanting to blow everything up.

The interesting point about players is not to get lost in a new classification of students (we also have the multiple intelligences framework for so), but to know which mechanics to apply, and which type of player works better for every specific mechanic. In fact, a player type tells us how that player behaves. For example, socializers love forums and chats, free spirits freedom of choice, and achievers collectible items.

A good player based strategy would be: analyse your students and classify them; and, use each type’s preferred mechanics. But if you won’t be feeling comfortable with player types, just be sure you include most of the mechanics in order to ensure you’ll reach out the whole spectrum. In classroom, mere players are the most abundant ones. Followed by socializers, free spirits and achievers. And in a lesser degree, philanthropists and disruptors.

Disruptors deserve a special mention, being extremely easy for them to ruin up your system. Then, instead of fearing them, you need to let them express their disruptional nature somehow, without putting in risk the rest of the elements. For example, if your gamified solution will be about starting a start-up company, a disruptor could be the bad guy trying to shut it down.

To know more about players, features and related mechanics:

  1.      https://badgeville.com/wiki/Personality_Types
  2.      http://www.gamified.uk/user-types/
  3.      http://www.epicwinblog.net/2013/05/gamification-player-types-meet-players-i.html
  4.      http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-study/user-types-gamified-systems/

Goals:

In Education there are different goals depending on what point you’re observing from:

  1.      The overall goals: knowledge acquisition, and inclusion in society.
  2.      Curriculum goals: specific concepts and attitudes for each subject.
  3.      Other goals: mostly transversal or not explicitly mentioned.

The educational curriculum is full of objectives, organized in matrices. Depending on your country you’ll find them in different formats. Take advantage of it to have a clear big picture, and spice it up with your own experience as a teacher.

Goals are very important. They mark the beginning of the cascade previously mentioned, that is, to achieve a goal you’ll apply some dynamics supported by some mechanics implemented by some components. A bad decided goal will create a useless cascade and a waste of time and effort.

Remember you can create a classification of goals (tree or matrix like), and assign different importance levels to them. Perhaps for you teamwork is much more important than showing a high digital literacy.

Boundaries:

It could seem there’s no use in setting up limits, but they can come in handy if you don’t want to get lost in a limitless land. Goals and boundaries are closely interconnected. They’re the yes and noes.

In school those frontiers are well established:

  1.      Human: the inherent limits of students and teachers, according to the stage they’re in, their abilities...
  2.      Technical: student and teacher knowledge about computers, the Internet, Moodle...
  3.      Time: lesson preparation, terms, school year.
  4.      Subject: direct and indirect contents.
  5.      Pedagogical: the followed current (i.e, constructivism), didactic strategies, teaching style.
  6.      Technological: communication and device structure.

Story (main theme) & aesthetics:

Even though this is considered a mechanic per se, it has to be separately mentioned if we’ll understand motivators and fun elements later.

Experts say whatever gamification solution is condemned to fail if its not supported by a good story. Think of tales. You can tell your children not to trust unknown people, but it’s much more effective to wrap that lesson inside a Little Red Hood tale, where children can experience, recreate and taste the real drama found in it. Why is that so? Because when you are told a story you have to create it inside of your mind; no matter how many details you’re given, each person will build their personal inner recreation.

There are more techniques based on storytelling. If you check mnemonic techniques, you’ll find they use story based strategies to remember long chains of apparently non related concepts. In fact, the story is the glue which sticks everything together in a meaningful context.

Stories used in gamification must vary depending on the stage you are teaching in. If you’ll be working for primary: epic stories, cartoon related ones, fantasy and so will work effectively. But as students get older and older the story style will need to be adjusted. It’s easy: just listen to your students; know them; their tastes; what they watch on TV; etc. In secondary they experience a change in their personalities due to puberty, being transformed from children to adults. That could be the reason why films about obscure transformations are so effective (just remember the so popular vampire and mutant movies). For even older ones you might like to make your gamified story be closer to reality, as building up a start-up company, or being a renowned hacker trying to break a technology company.

Stories should also be adjusted to subjects, somehow. Think of a geek’s adventure for ICT. A historical event to teach history. A zombie pandemia to teach biology. Even an intrusion in the CERN lab to teach physics, an alchemist learning chemistry, or a human invested in God’s power to create a world and learn about ethics. But, for some cases, mixing styles could be even more effective. Be imaginative.

When speaking about stories, there’s a bunch of types to be taken into account: narrative (novel like), challenge, brotherhood, research, self expression. And to make a tale structure you can find plenty of information beyond the beginning, middle and end simple chart, reading several experts’ works, as:

  1.      Vladimir Propp (https://eu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Propp).
  2.      Georgis Polits (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirty-Six_Dramatic_Situations).
  3.      Tobia (http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/tobias_plots.htm).
  4.      Or Christopher Booker (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Basic_Plots), among many others.

Creating an engaging story for your lessons will obviously demand more effort from your side, but it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it opens up a new exciting way of teaching.

Aesthetics:

Very closely linked to the story, aesthetics plays a big role. It is about colors, graphics, fonts, sounds, videos, etc. It reinforces the story and should be chosen carefully and coherently. For example, if you’ll be using a Greek scenario to teach Maths, then scrolls, temples, gods, ancient paintings and the like would be appropriate, but a galaxy related one, with shuttles, lasers and so could be felt weird. Similarly, if every icon is going to be yellowish (with that scroll hue), a different colored one wouldn’t fit in the set.

The aesthetics also includes:

  1.      Dimensions of your story: length, amount of items, limits...
  2.      Perspective: 1st/2nd/3rd person.
  3.      Scenario: futuristic, historical, epic, real...
  4.      Dashboard (control panel).
  5.      Storyboard (flow of actions): this is a comic like structure you can use to define the control flow. If you are a more STEM like teacher, you can use a graph like diagram with nodes and arrows.
  6.      Iconography and fonts.
  7.      Palette: choosing colors is easy than ever with the help of many sites. Once chosen the main color the rest of the palette if generated automatically.
  8.      FX (special effects).

Motivators and elements of fun:

When we are driven to do something, we call that force a motivator. The intrinsic ones are those not imposed from the outside, and they are the most powerful ones. It’s just doing because you want to do it, not because someone else tells you so.

The list of the most important motivators are: power, love, social relationships, status and curiosity. But there are more. From the positive ones, as epic sense, honor, idealism, development, tranquility, independence, ownership, order, acceptance and family; to others not so positive, as scarcity, loss or vengeance. When designing your story try to include as many of them as possible in the plot, even though most of them can be found in nearly every tale.

To implement the motivators there are several actions considered funny, like: invading, spacial reasoning, destroying, constructing, creating, chasing, forecasting, exchanging, surviving, challenges, collecting, matching, discovering, exhibiting, ruling, enjoying beauty, gathering knowledge, and organizing teams.

Thus, you can conceptualize the motivators like the general drivers, and the funny things as the specific actions to achieve them. If you choose the motivator social status, you can work it out through the actions: invading, ruling, and organizing teams.

Dynamics:

These are general rules to apply to your system. For example, rewards instead of punishments. Teamwork instead of individual work. Active participation instead of the passive one.

Dynamics come from goals and motivators. For example, if one of your goals is to improve teamwork, then the social status motivator could be appropriate. Sometimes motivators, dynamics and mechanics just merge. For the previous example, you’ll work it through a social interaction dynamic. Then, you’ll find equivalent mechanics like forums and chats, and components which, in practice, are the same. Just keep yourself flexible and don’t try to be very strict trying to put each element in its place.

Mechanics and components:

There is a vast list of mechanics to choose from, so once you’ve decided the dynamics it is quite straightforward to decide which mechanics to include, considering that:

  1.      In general, they are classified in groups: challenges, chance, contest, competition, cooperation, acquisition, feedback, rewards, turns, and transactions.
  2.      You can choose to use certain groups according to the players’ types. For example, achievers will definitely like mechanics of achievement, while socializers will prefer social mechanics. Some mechanic groupings are: social, achievement, trading, or contest related, to mention some.
  3.      If you want to make it plain and simple, just choose at least one mechanic from each group. Anyway, all mechanics are enjoyable and valuable in some degree, so you’ll end up using most of them.

The mechanics list coming now can be implemented using whatever system you choose. For this case, Moodle will be mentioned as the LMS in use:

  1.      Some of them will have a direct component (plugin) to be implemented.
  2.      Others will need a combination of components.
  3.      And, it could happen some mechanics not to be implementable in any way, or need too much work to be put in practice.

Let’s start with mechanics having a direct component in Moodle.

 

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1 Theme:

This mechanic is closely linked to the story and aesthetics, and it is very powerful, letting you infuse your gamified system with the appropriate atmosphere: helping the story, incrementing its attractiveness, and promoting other features, as it also helps in: controlling how information is released, and in setting up the boundaries. In other words, the theme is the mask, the interface, the facade the players will be seeing while playing.

Be careful to create an integrated and fissure free theme. A backdoor (for example, an inconvenient option forgotten in a drop-down menu) could ruin the story, leaking out delicate information at the wrong time. Many themes doesn’t just change the colors of the standard one, they do add plenty of new functionality and elements. Fortunately, Moodle’s configuration options are so extent you shouldn’t have any troubles fine graining your course. For the sake of control, erase every block showing extra information (as you’ll see later on, you’ll be using orphaned activities to implement some mechanics).

Themes are very common tools in the existing LMS’s, and they are normally implemented in the form of templates or just themes, and they can usually be adjusted to your own needs. Installing a theme in Moodle is straightforward and automatic through the admin console (https://moodle.org/plugins/browse.php?list=category&id=3).

But there are many more tools you can apply through scripts, widgets and the like (Badgeville, Playfulshark, Funifier…). For so, use the HTML option of the editor, where you can directly paste code. Labels are great to make that code’s effect be felt in the section layout. Or you can add an html block (pane) inside the course, insert your code and set it up to appear during specific conditions (you will be asked when that block should appear).

Embedding your own javascript code in Moodle can make a difference:

  1.      Showing a character (http://spritely.net/).
  2.      Creating a storm of snow (http://goo.gl/9EvVLL) and all sort of effects.
  3.      Making hidden items appear randomly.
  4.      Controlling time.
  5.      Nearly anything (http://paperjs.org/tutorials/animation/creating-animations/).

But bear in mind your code will be something outside of the Moodle system’s state (it won’t be saving information to the database), so if you want your lines to remember what’s been happening during the player interaction, then you’ll have to use cookies or save its state somehow (http://www.w3schools.com/html/html5_webstorage.asp). For example, you would like to make a character appear once to make an announcement, but it would be annoying to see it every time you navigate.

2 PBL:

The acronym stands for Points-Badges-Leaderboard. These are the most classical, most used and the oldest ones. Their functioning boils down to “do something, earn something”, creating a ranking inside a leaderboard.

Earning stuff is a recognition of a job well done, and it gives you status and incentivize others to achieve the same level. Moreover, sites like OpenBadges (http://openbadges.org/about/) lets you transcend your achievements from a personal LMS to a wide open showroom. Designing your badges is very easy too: https://www.openbadges.me/

The problem comes when you collect dozens of badges and tons of points, as they can eventually lose their meaning. That’s why it is so important to be specific about how they will be earned and interchanged for other goods. That is what it’s called thevirtual economy, and it has an incredible transcendence, establishing a bridge between virtuality and reality, i.e, how those points, ranking and badges will be converted to grades. Students are usually happy with playing, but they always ask: how many grade points is this badge worth?

The main difference to be found between points and badges is that the first are easily earned, maybe just by interacting with the system, while the second are granted for accomplishing more complex tasks or for attaining a certain level of excellence. Because of that, points are more appropriate to ensure interaction with the system, as visualizing stuff, browsing or taking part. This mechanic could lead players to vainly interact with the system to simply earn points.

Points put you somewhere inside a ranking, but there are even more uses other than entering a leaderboard: unblocking things, granting goods, leveling up, transforming into something, joining a group...

On the other hand, leaderboards are as interesting as dangerous. They create a sense of challenge to push people to compete for a better ranking, but: lazy gamers will give up, seeing themselves deep down in the list, without any chance to catch the first positions; and, gamers enrolling late will have the same problem. There are several solutions for leaderboards:

  1.      Earning points should be easy in the beginning, but harder and harder as players go up in the ranking.
  2.      Using partial leaderboards, so players only see what’s around their position.

Moodle has a plugin called Level Up (https://moodle.org/plugins/view.php?id=1036) which automates the point/leaderboard mechanics, and Badges are actually integrated in the latest versions (https://docs.moodle.org/29/en/Badges).

3 Avatars:

One of the interesting things when you join a game is that you can be someone else, like a superhero, an animal or whatever that fits best with the game aesthetics. In an LMS the avatar is held by a profile, and it can mean more than just an image:

  1.      A complete profile of the user, with references to external profiles, blogs, likes and dislikes and so on. Thanks to this, a low profiled student could be better known by the rest and gain some social recognition.
  2.      A personalized character working as an alter ego that helps students join the game.

Filling up your profile information and designing an avatar can take a bit long, that’s why you should consider granting rewards. Many sites will give you a profile badge, and others will show a progress bar like widget (https://www.linkedin.com/). Moodle lets you configure special general badges for this task.

There are some global avatar systems with the create-once-use-always philosophy, like https://en.gravatar.com/ You can also try the Moodle plugin to sign in with external accounts (Facebook, Google Plus…): https://moodle.org/plugins/view/auth_googleoauth2

Avatars can also be used for social recognition, or for teaming. Let’s suppose you want to reward a student and make him have a high profile. You could send him a badge picture they could insert in their avatar (http://goo.gl/GdGy1H).

In any case, keep an eye on your students’ creations, in case some could be offensive.

Creating an avatar is much easier if you use any of the free sites you can find in the Internet. Check these:

  1.      http://www.buildyourwildself.com/
  2.      http://doppelme.com/
  3.      http://www.faceyourmanga.com/
  4.      http://planetcreation.co.uk/createpic/

4 Certificates:

This mechanic is similar to the PBL. They are a kind of reward, but in this case a certificate involves more power, having a real value in life:

  1.       Granted at the end of the course by a recognized institution.
  2.      With real social and career value.
  3.       Recognizes effective educational instruction.

You can use an ad hoc plugin to automatically grant them after completing a course: https://moodle.org/plugins/view/mod_certificate

5 Competitions:

This is an interesting and powerful mechanic with a direct Moodle component called workshops (https://docs.moodle.org/29/en/Workshop_module), where a peer-to-peer review dynamic is used, i.e, students must grade their mates.

P2p evaluation imposes a great responsibility and a high sense of justice to players. They should grade the rest fairly, and not for their own sake. But in the same way, challenge and critical thinking are promoted.

Inside a gamified structure, a competition should meet the story’s features. It could be a battle, a dialectic encounter, a game show. Disguise it accordingly.

When dealing with workshop you’ll notice names are shown when evaluators are assigned. That can definitively be a problem for your mechanic. For small groups (blended courses inside the classroom) personal relationships can affect the true meaning of competitions (friends favoring friends). To solve it, names can be hidden changing the workshop permissions, and don’t forget to tell your students not to sign their works to ensure complete anonymity.

6 Social meeting points:

Forums and chats are classic examples and quite common tools in every LMS. These resources are very powerful as they:

  1.       Ensure social interaction and teamwork.
  2.      Can reveal powerful players, who could later work as ambassadors.
  3.       Sustain team learning (Vygotsky’s social learning, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lev_Vygotsky).

But they also need to be watched and dynamized appropriately. Players can get bored rapidly, and a bad set up forum can be a pain in the long run. Besides, being a place to interchange information your story could get damaged due to leaking. Moodle has forums, chats and wikis for social interaction, and forums can be set up so players grade others’ messages as well.

To empower your course, you should consider using other systems, like Minecraft, OpenSim or Second Life, much more attractive for the eye and definitely more engaging. Social networks, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ among many, are well-known, but be careful with privacy, and check if your LMS provides some sort of integration with them. Second Life and OpenSim can be integrated with Moodle thanks to Sloodle (https://www.sloodle.org/).

Once again, remember to decorate them according to your story and aesthetics, transforming a forum into an intergalactic assembly, a prophet's’ corner, or an AI system.

7 Time

This is a simple and powerful mechanic included in all aspects of our lives in the form of due date, making your students mobilize themselves and feel positive tension if time is managed smartly. But time can be as engaging as negative: it could create a sense of lose; bad timing could ruin it all; it could block the story; a lazy student could give up yet even before starting.

One more time, remember time doesn’t have to be a dull due date. Your story will model it, and it could have the looks of planet cycles, sea tides, moon states and the like, not to mention sand clocks or ancient devices to measure time. Countdown clocks, put on a visible spot, give a clearer vision to players. The Moodle calendar is another good agenda to help players not forget about their dues.

Time could definitively set a stop in your storyline. Think about a task not accomplished blocking the next step (if you’ve designed a linear storyboard). Grace periods or even not taking time into account are some solutions to the problem. Instead of restraining the path just adapt grades, something like: final grade = work’s grade - days late * k (decide what value to give k according to how late a student could submit a work).

8 Feedback

This word involves plenty of things:

  1.       Information: related to data about the course, i.e, completion status, progress bars, maps… This one creates a sense of progression and location, which is of paramount importance for students. Besides, it is bidirectional, as you can take advantage of it to poll players about their opinion.
  2.      Action-reaction: it is about consequences. You do something, you obtain something in return, being it positive or negative. This feedback brings to mind Pavlov's classical conditioning.
  3.       Interaction: the last one, and closely related to games. This gives sensory response of what happens when interacting with an element. Being more technically complex you will need to include javascript and so to make your screen elements be able to respond to user actions.

Components for feedback:

  1. Progress bars, course completion and check-lists: an important thing for students is to let them decide about how to organize their time, something they can only do by knowing what their situation is at every moment. For some cases, this could be a problem for slow paced students. You have at least one plugin for each of the components mentioned inside Moodle.
  2. Signposts: these are like those maps placed at strategic points at malls.
  3. Polls: check your system’s difficulty, engagement, participation, satisfaction… by asking its participants.
  4. Maps: really common in games, they report about your geoposition in the game. To implement maps in Moodle, think of photograms. Create several maps and put them on top of sections (inside labels) to let students know where they are. If you’d like a map to be dynamically changed in the same section, program them with the restrict access option to let them show in the way tasks are accomplished.
  5. Tutorials: these are knowledge pills released when needed. If you use a wizard (a sort of an assistant) to communicate them you’ll add more value and closeness to your story. Tutorials guide the player along the adventure, and thanks to them long and boring manuals can be avoided. They can also be used to explain the use of Moodle’s components. They can be implemented in many ways: labels, books, lessons, or web-pages.

9 Brotherhoods:

This great mechanic gets advantage of the family motivator. If we observe aggregations of people like:

  1.      Groups: a bunch of people.
  2.      Teams: a coordinated group with specific goals.
  3.      Then, brotherhoods are a family and honor infused team.

People are usually ready to renounce to personal aspects just to join groups. It is a natural alienation process to feel accepted in a social structure. That is more accentuated during puberty, when personality is developing. Besides, when joining a group, according to the group dynamics theory, its participants usually adopt some roles and there are power fights. Moreover, adjacent groups could have the tendency to fight each other. These natural processes can be used for the sake of your plans.

In Moodle, for example, you can create groups as a teacher, but there’s also a plugin (Group Choice, https://moodle.org/plugins/view.php?id=132) to let your students join a specific one by themselves. You could even let them organize the group assigning roles inside of it, or you could keep an eye on the leaderboard and grant ambassador status to the best players. This can be done creating an ambassador role and granting permissions above the ordinary ones granted to a student by default (https://docs.moodle.org/29/en/Creating_custom_roles).

Moodle lets you activate elements depending on the group you are assigned too, giving you a great power to create distinct adventure paths. Or you could create separate forums for each group, so they can plot comfortably. The possibilities are vast.

So far we’ve analyzed mechanics with direct components in Moodle. The rest to be seen don’t have any, but we’ll learn how to implement them through a combination of several tools provided by the LMS.

10 Keys, power-ups, abilities:

Keys are devices to unlock passages. Power-ups are the natural evolution of a player. And abilities are special features a player learns to do. Although they seem different, they are quite the same.

For example, let’s suppose there’s a blockage in a path. The player needs to go from point A to point B. A key could do the trick to unblock the path, but you could also design your game so a powered-up player could smash the block, or moreover, the player could learn a new ability to pass over the block. It all depends on what the block is for you: a door, a rock, a matrix of lasers…

Moodle includes some features, like restrict access and activity completion, which let you activate an item once some conditions have been met. You can create a chain of labels, assignments, forums and the like, and you can set them up so that they are hid until the previous step is completed (https://docs.moodle.org/29/en/Conditional_activities_settings).

These mechanics create a sense of progression and empowerment, and give students some sort of freedom and a chance to make their own decisions. But, as you can see, you are the one creating an illusion inside the story.

11 Console and inventory:

Consoles are control panes, full of indicators (LEDs, screens, speakers) and activators (buttons, levers). And an inventory is a bag stuffed with items collected during the quest. Both are complementary, and the inventory is normally shown in the console. As you’ve already realized these two are feedback elements, but they don’t have any direct component to be used, so you’ll have to combine labels and restrict access to do the trick. Let’s see how to collect and use a key:

Picking the key:
  1.   Let’s suppose you want your players to find a key they’ll later use to open a door.
  2.   The inventory will be located in the upper section of your course (the ever present one). The key will already be there as a hidden label with the image of a key.
  3.   You’ll place the same label (a duplicated one) along the course.
  4.   When the moment arrives the player will see the key, and the checkbox to mark it as completed using activity completion (meaning they’ve picked it up).
  5.   When ticking the checkbox the label will be marked as completed, and the label on the console (checking the activity completion condition) will show itself.
  6.   Now the item will be on the console (inventory) ready to be used.
  7.   If you want to fine grain the process you can even hide the key you’ve picked.

Using the key:

  1.   When the player gets to the door two labels will be appropriately placed: an open one and a closed one.
  2.   Both labels will check if the key has already been picked, and depending on that one door or another will be showed. For so, once more you’ll use restrict access and activity completion.
  3.   The following activities will check if the open door is active.
  4.    If you want the key to be removed from the console once used configure the label so that its appearance depends both on whether it was picked and the door was opened (a combination of conditions).

The possibilities are more than just using keys:

  1.      Instead of a linear story create a tree of paths for the story, depending on the items collected, the player status, etc.
  2.      Grant rewards depending on grades, participation, leaderboard status.
  3.      Let students join groups based on their current status of development.

12 Virtual money and market:

Bear in mind that trading your virtual items for real stuff is really important for your students. That is, they’ll be ready to play the game as long as they can interchange their achievements for grades. It happens the same for adults as well, wanting their effort to be translated into a certificate they’ll use in real life.

Thus, it’s very important to know well which valuable items you’ll be using, their virtual value and their real one, and how the trading process will take place. That economy board should be explained to students so they can administer their finances.

Moodle doesn’t provide anything like that, but you can follow two strategies:

  1.       Use a mixed approach (half automated, half manual): grant badges and translate them to grades manually.
  2.      Use a pure one:
    1.    Create an economy item (a treasure label) pointing to an orphaned lesson/exam.
    2.    When accomplished the lesson a grade will be obtained.
    3.    All grades will be collected in the gradebook automatically.

13 Rewards, random rewards, gifts, special items, lottery:

All these elements are linked in some manner: you are given something in exchange of something, usually an accomplishment. Anyway, subtle differences are found:

  1.      Rewards: you win something.
  2.      Random rewards: you win something because you are at the right place and time.
  3.      Gifts: you are given something for free, maybe to encourage players to keep on.
  4.      Special items: a kind of a special reward with a special use, usually given to excellent players.
  5.      Lottery: a random gift based on chance.

On the one hand, rewards create a sense of attainment and are also part of the virtual economy. You can use them to attract players to specific spots as well. If you feel like some areas of your LMS aren’t as crowded as they should, you could spread some rewards (easter egg style) to make people move there (let them know about the game).

On the other hand, gifts are tools to equilibrate the game. A player needs stuff to keep running, so you can grant items every other day, for example. Let’s not forget random rewards, which are tools to keep players for as long as possible inside the LMS. They never know when those rewards are going to appear, so they really need to keep walking around.

If you want your rewards to have some value in Moodle, you can link them to activities that can be graded. That way they’ll appear in the gradebook. A good way to do so is the use of orphaned activities. Hide an exam/question inside an invisible section, and link it through a label with a treasure chest. If the reward’s use is going to be another one (not a grade), just follow the same strategy you did with power-ups.

Random rewards would need a bit more work with javascript. Create a script that returns a link to a lesson based on some random calculation, and place it inside a label.

14 Special events

This is a short period offer/bargain offered to players to attract them to the system. Lots of games use it: “for the next 3 days scoring will be doubled”, or “the paths will be unlocked”, or even “you’ll level up if you sign in”, and the like.

These events have to be clearly announced (for example, a banner with a countdown clock) at homepage. It attracts players, and helps the delayed ones, but it could also disequilibrate the system.

To implement such mechanic in Moodle create a label with the announcement banner. Program it so it appears at a certain time. When the label is shown other items will be shown too. Wrap up these events in the form magic crops, stock market opportunities, system breakdown and so on. The story must rule, again and again.

15 Grades:

A mixture of rewards, feedback and progression would be the definition of a grade. You can take the best features of such a mixture and use them for grades (that’s why it’s been put here, instead of in the previous section of direct components). In spite of which grade system you are using (numbers or letters), remember you should adjust it to your gamified solution and change the names accordingly. For example, an A+ could be “the golden warrior level” (or even “the company CEO”), and a D could go like “the learning peasant” (think in positive, and don’t make low grades sound like “the evil shadow” or so).

Grades are the bridge between virtual economy and the real one. If you get a 10 in your LMS you’ll have a 10 in your real gradebook. That’s why it’s so important to use them as a trade coin for the rest of the virtual market items (for example, a silver badge will be worth 2 grade points).

16 Choice:

Another powerful mechanic which gives students the option of choice and decision:

  1.       Tasks: take test 1 or test 2.
  2.      Maps: go along the green path or the red one.
  3.       Groups: join the hackers team or the virtual guardians faction.
  4.      Items: pick them up or not.

According to the decisions made, different storyboard lines could be followed. For so, your storyboard design should take the form of a graph (with nodes and lines) to know where you are stepping out from, and where you are stepping into depending of what choice you made. The more complex your graph, the more complex its implementation inside your LMS, but the more interesting and engaging for your students.

Sometimes you don’t just want to get lost in the mess, and even though a path was severed in two, they could be rejoined later in the same one, making it easier for your design.

Choices can also be made depending on your players current status. For an excellent one, you might show extra assignments, or hide the easy ones to show others, more complex. This strategy would definitively equilibrate your system. Anyway, be careful with dead-ends and too difficult paths.

Once again, use Moodle’s restrict access option to put in practice the choice mechanic.

17 Equipment and power-up:

These two are quite similar, and they give the player an extra of something, being strength, life, speed, stamina or whatever. To have a clear picture of what equipment is think of Iron Man; and a Pokemon evolution could picture better a power-up, not to forget Hulk, a transient power-up. Equipment and the inventory are related somehow.

In a Moodle platform you can play your students:

  1.       Assign easier tasks to powered up players. Thus, the player is not strengthened, but their environment is softened. For they the power-up sensation is assured.
  2.      Unlock paths depending on the equipment. Very similar to a key, but remember you are creating a fictitious illusion, and a bionic exoskeleton could be felt the same.
  3.       Reallocate the players inside the teams according to their power levels.

Restrict access, inventory and choice are mechanics to be combined to create power-ups.

18 Free lunch and parties:

These are about fun. Parties are just that: parties. Break the daily routine and delight your students with something different. Instead of the normal assignments you can post an interesting film or game.

Free lunches are about sharing your own items with others. This virtual give-away should be handled manually, but to make things easier:

  1.       Let a top student unblock something to the rest of the players.
  2.      Let the player with most points save someone, giving away some of their points.
  3.       And for disruptors, let them do some evil.

19 Ambassadors:

They are the best players. They:

  1.       Take part most of the time.
  2.      Help others.
  3.       Dynamize the system.
  4.      Are natural leaders.
  5.       Are eager to be in charge and help you.

Identify them as quickly as possible, and make them help you manage the system. Grant them special powers and distinctive avatars, and include them inside the ambassador groups. Forums are a good place to identify them.

Consider offering the position at the beginning of the course, or instead of granting it in one step you could create several stages, like: promising star, passionated helper, and ambassador. Keep a continuous communication flow with them, and encourage them frequently.

Moodle lets you create new roles and grant them permissions (as letting the ambassador administer a forum).

20 Quests and epic challenges:

Missions composed of several steps are considered quests. Those steps can be assignments or mechanics, or a mixture, being linear or tree-like:

  1.       Watch a video, write an essay, submit it and comment your impressions in a forum.
  2.      Earn points in a forum, join a team (Groups Choice), take a path.
  3.       Pass a test (Exam), obtain a weapon (inventory), confront others in a battle (Workshop).

An advantage of quests is that players work with multiple things holistically in a tiny adventure like structure. You can include many quests along your course, and try always to make them attainable.

When you are thinking about a big quest then you are thinking about an epic challenge. These ones require more time, effort and preparation, and they could be more apt for advanced students. An epic challenge could be required to achieve a certificate.

21 Sandbox:

In order to create a safe beginning for your adventure you can create a first stage, controlled and secure, where your players can taste your course, try things, fail safely and know the rules of the game.

Design a very easy first section in your Moodle course. Include a pinch of this and that, combining many of the mechanics mentioned, so your students can try them for the first time without much fear.

THE PROCESS

Continued on the next page...


Now that you know all the elements involved you might feel a bit overwhelmed not knowing where to start from. Let’s see briefly the steps involved and two real examples, one epic for young students (primary), and another one, more real, for older students:

1 Know your students (players):

You can base that knowledge on stereotypes, psychological theories, polls, or on your own experience as a teacher. Classifying them might be harsh, so, instead of that, only identify the disruptors, the ones who will be causing more disturbance.

  1.       Epic: very young students, of about 10-year-old, full of illusion, consumers of cartoons and addicts to video games.
  2.      Real: older students, 18-20, interested in real aspects of life and earning money, decide what path to choose (university or wok), looking forward to defining their personalities and socialize.

2 Choose your goals:

  1.       Epic: learning how to work with an LMS, teamwork, information searching, responsibility.
  2.      Real: curating contents, gaining expertise, be prepared for the real world.

3 Design a story and its aesthetics:

In spite of what story you choose there are some common resources to use:

  1.      Colors: design your palette with the help of http://paletton.com/
  2.      Icons: there are tons of places to get them from, as http://game-icons.net/
  3.      Fonts: https://www.google.com/fonts
  4.      Storyboard (flow): CmapsTool is great to create graphs http://cmap.ihmc.us/
  1.      Epic: a LOTR style story, full of dragons, potions and the like.
  2.      Real: a hackers adventure, trying to start a new start-up company. Matrix style.

4 Motivators:

  1.      Epic: relationships (constructing, exchanging, challenges, ruling, discovering).
  2.      Real: power (invading, creating, forecasting, collecting, gathering).

5 General dynamics:

Presentation:
  1.       Create an attractive and engaging one. The first contact must be impacting.
  2.      Make your players feel they are the center and protagonists of the story. They really need to feel it as theirs.
  3.       Start with a sandbox mechanic, and increase the difficulty based on the results you’ll be measuring constantly. To know more about how to present your course’s contents read my article “Neuromoodle” (http://edtechreview.in/author/39):
    1.        Onboarding: first stage of the adventure, where elements and the plot are presented. The basis of your contents should be put here too, describing what’s your course about, a background and the expected outcomes.
    2.      Scaffolding: add new elements and increase the difficulty progressively.
    3.    Paths to mastery: combine everything up and add extra knowledge. Students should be excelling at this point.
  4.      Present the elements of the story only when needed. That way you’ll preserve mystery, and you’ll have extra time to go on setting up your LMS in case you are short of time.
  5.       Teamwork should have more weight than working alone.
Rewards:
  1. Create an action-reward dynamic. Grant rewards more easily in the beginning, but make earning them more and more difficult as the story develops, something like AR-AAR-AAAR.
  2. Give gifts in a regular basis .
Players:
  1. Use the choice mechanic. Players need to feel they are in charge. The more freedom, the more engaged they’ll be. And, of course let them know where they are. You wouldn’t like too much freedom to spoil them.
  2. Keep an eye on students joining late or giving up too early.
  3. Base your interactions in positive messages. But don’t forget negative motivators.
Limits:
  1.      Make clear the rules and the consequences of not sticking to them.
  2.      Present the space to the players (completely or in parts, depending on the effect you seek).
  3.      Take into account your students’ diversity and capabilities.
  4.      Make the beginnings and endings of each stage very clear, and set a final quest for each one.

6 Mechanics/components:

Most of them will be used, but in different degrees.

  1. Epic: points and leaderboard, avatars, feedback, brotherhoods, power-ups, rewards, special events, tutorials, choice, quests, sandbox.
  2. Real: points and leaderboard, avatars, competitions, forums, time, feedback, virtual economy, rewards, tutorials, grades, choice, ambassadors, quests, epic quests, sandbox.

For example, you wouldn’t like to stress young students so earning points and leveling-up should be easier in the epic one. Feedback is a key point as well, and plenty of it should be given.

7 Implementation:

A picture’s worth a thousand words. Check this simple example based on an epic adventure LOTR-style. Realize the sandbox mechanic to guide the player during the first contact, and try to identify the rest: https://goo.gl/TwsbJn

After you’ve seen the example, you can examine how it is seen as a course administrator: https://goo.gl/pqdsg2

About the Author
Author: Andoni SanzWebsite: http://www.andonisanz.com
I'm a Computer Scientist working as a STEM Teacher and an Educational Technologist. Google Certified Educator and Moodle expert, I'm immersed in a non-stop research on technology applied to education, combined with the latest pedagogy trends, as blended learning or gamification. Also working on Gamecodization: teaching how to code through game development.

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