Challenges and Quests and the Leaderboard, Oh My!

This week, I wrote a guest post for my professor’s blog, Confessions of a Bored Academic. I wanted to post the original post here as well for my regular readers – enjoy!

Coming into this fall semester, I was excited to hear that we would be trying something new in my Content Area Literacy course – the concept of gamification. Leigh, bursting with excitement, began sending us emails and teasers in July, hinting how things would be different and alluding to the fact that this course would be game-based in nature, branching out from our previous content courses. Similar to our last course, she based most of our information on a wiki page for us to peruse, which she emailed out over the summer. I would come to find out that reading through the wiki felt somewhat like a mini-adventure of twists and turns in its own rite – most of the time, the information was exactly what you expected – course schedule, guidelines, etc., but that there was an unexpected nugget every now and then. I remember clicking through the pages and happening across a sentence mid-paragraph that advised me to email Leigh before class to let me know I had discovered this bit of information. This particular instance hooked my interest and caught my attention, motivating me to comb more carefully through the pages.


Since our class has started, it has been interesting to see the paths people have chosen and the challenges people have taken on over the past few weeks. Everyone in our cohort chose to take on the “Navigator” path, allowing for more flexibility and freedom in terms of deadlines and assignments. Speaking as a full time teacher, I was thrilled this was an option as full time teaching is, well, full time. Taking the “Navigator” route allows for independence and personal pacing, as opposed to a strictly traditional route, which is more limiting and stringent with regards to due dates. Both paths allow for similar experiences – the further into the ‘game’ we’ve journeyed, the more I realize that it is what you make it.


For me personally, it has been a huge adjustment with school starting back, juggling my school responsibilities and grad school at the same time. I have truly appreciated the flexibility of the Navigator route and do not regret selecting this ‘path.’ I appreciate the wide variety of assignments, challenges, and quest options, and feel as though there is a great deal of variety and opportunity. Many of the texts and articles we have read thus far break the mold of any grad school class I have taken previously, and I enjoy getting to see a breadth of topics. Though I feel many of the specific texts may be more suited to a middle or secondary classroom, there are certainly practices and ideas I can take with me into my 3rd grade classroom as well.


If I reflect on the structure of the course, one of the things that I have a love/hate relationship with is the Leaderboard component. On the wiki, one of the pages shows a Leaderboard of points and levels, designating which person has achieved a certain number of points – experience points or achievement points, given for completing different tasks. Leigh asked us all at the beginning of the course to select an avatar to use as an anonymous code name to help conceal our identity. While the Leaderboard only lists avatar names, I struggle with the feeling of, well, complete inadequacy when checking the Leaderboard, criticizing myself for not having as many points as my peers. I certainly understand that it seems juvenile to complain about not begin a certain position on the Leaderboard, but I want to be transparent with my experience.

As the class has progressed, I’ve found that, with my personality, the Leaderboard has become more of a stressor than a motivator. For those reading along, you may be thinking the solution is to simply complete the challenges and/or quests to earn the points, thus assisting in reaching a higher position on the Leaderboard. While this makes perfect sense, and is indeed something I plan to do, the Navigator path I have chosen means that different people are moving at different paces. Essentially, though no one is moving at any one ‘wrong’ pace, it is difficult for me to feel as though I’m doing a good job when compared to others who are moving at a faster pace This particular feeling has led to a great deal of personal reflection as well, causing me to consider how I would handle this with my own students if I were to introduce a gaming element to my classroom.

Though I’ve reached my own conclusions about the Leaderboard conundrum, I’m interested to hear how you would use it – or any other forms of gamification – to motivate and encourage all of your students. Regardless of age – elementary, middle, or secondary – I’m curious as to what gamification would look like in your classroom and how you would plan to reach your students. If you have a minute, take time to share what your ideal solution to increasing student motivation for ALL students would be, with or without a Leaderboard.


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