1. Choices. In games, there is often an element of choice. What character do you want to play? What quests do you want to undertake? What are the different paths to completion? When gamifying a course, consider adding options for students to choose, such as different assignments, course topics, or group roles. Importantly, choice is a key principle of inclusive teaching practices.
2. Achievements. Achievements can be a powerful motivating factor. Like in games, achievements do not need to be given out only at the end of a course. In fact, formative achievements can energize students throughout the course. Consider including playful names for the achievements, such as “The Adventure Begins” when students complete their first assignment, or “Time for Some R&R” if students turn in something early, or even some unexpected achievements such as “Whoops! Forgot to Turn on the Oven!” if students accidentally submit incomplete assignments.
3. Currency. From Mario to Bioshock, many games offer some sort of in-game currency that can be used on upgrades, additional support, or fun items. In your course, you can give students a certain number of starting tokens or have them earn tokens after completing certain tasks or quests. The students can spend the tokens on redo assignments, hints on a project, letters of recommendation, or even an informational interview with you.
4. Language. To make the gamification truly immersive, consider changing academic language to gamified language. For example, instead of “projects”, have “adventures”. Instead of a “syllabus”, have a “handbook”. Replace “exams” with “boss battles” or “quests”. You don’t have “students” – you have “players”! Are you an “instructor” or a “dungeon master”?