Implementing Game Dynamics in Moodle

28 Dec

Laure Charleux, Assistant Professor of Geography at UMinnesota-Duluth, was frustrated. She’d flipped all but one of her courses, Statistics for Geographic Information Systems. The content for that course, she thought, would be too difficult to flip. The course goals were for students to learn a series of methods, and to learn when and how to apply them.

She loved the statistics topic, but the students, who had internalized an “I suck at math” hated it, and these attitudes impacted student evaluations regarding learning. Students’ comments conveyed that Dr. Charleux “knows her stuff”, as well as learners’ sense that they “didn’t learn a thing.” The overall message: there was too much theory and not enough application.

Then came the inspiration: a post on gamifying a Moodle-based course in the “I Teach with Moodle” blog. This 11 week series takes readers through one instructor’s experience in gamifying a regularly-taught technology course. Dr. Charleux, a self-described nerd, had to try the approach the series set out.

And so the Statistics for Geographic Information Systems course was completely redesigned.

first quest

Dr. Charleux didn’t try to fit old content into a new paradigm. Instead, she focused on creating interesting projects as the foundation for the new, gamified course. Students in the new design learn less theory (as little as possible!) as a precursor to application, and instead focus on realistic projects with the goal of being initiated into the praxis (practical reasoning) of statistical analysis of spatial data.

The seven minute video tour – which we’ve linked to just below – provides an introduction to the new course, and its three main components: quests, elements of wisdom, and raids:

Each quest (video 1:14) integrates of a series of maps, with a new map appearing as a student completes a quest.   A quest, in turn, is divided into several tasks, each of which must be completed satisfactorily before before a student can move on to the next task.   The elements of wisdom (video 3:00) embed the theoretical knowledge students must draw on in order to complete quests, often in the form of a lesson; for example, on addresses the disaggregation of spatial data. Student can work with each element as many times as needed in working to earn a passing grade. New elements of wisdom appear after each one is completed. Finally, the raids (video 4:40), which are set up as small group projects designed to engage teacher-assigned groups in the review quest materials.

Charleux has designed the course Moodle home page to embed the “rules of the game” – aka the syllabus – and medal-earning activities that contribute to the students’ grades. Students can earn medals in three ways: By contributing to the “Loot Chest” (video 6:00), a database of relevant resources, tools, and images. By being “helping hands” (video 6:32) and having a classmate recognize this (by fills out a form. By taking the opportunity to “shape Nirvana” (video 7:04) – aka, the final exam – in suggesting questions for the final exam.

What were the lessons learned and outcomes of the first iteration of the gamified course?

  • Some students put off participation, then became part of a final rush to complete the quests. This suggested that the quest levels needed due dates.
  • Across this asynchronous course, there was nearly perfect attendance.
  • The raids didn’t fit in well with the asynchronous nature of the class. A final quest for students who have completed the preparatory quests may work better.
  • Student-created final exam questions proved to be more difficult that the questions offered in the non-gamified final.
  • With the more difficult questions, final exam grades in the gamified course jumped from 55% to 84%.
  • The medal system – though complicated – worked well.
  • Instructor evaluations jumped from an earlier average of to 4.0 to 5.1 for the gamified course.
  • Students found they “almost like stats.”

The slides from this presentation are available here, at http://z.umn.edu/charleux.

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