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Having “Fun” Without Technology?

Image of a multiplication game praising child on job well done with animated creature

Multiplication app uses game elements of points, immediate feedback and badges/trophies to improve student performance

Today while getting my requisite coffee, there was a cluster of moms.  I know they were moms because they were discussing their young kids, as moms often do with one another.  One woman was struggling to encourage her kids to have fun without technology (no, we aren’t going to go into this topic- this is a tech blog after all).  Another woman said that her younger child wanted a phone like their older sibling (even though the younger kid didn’t understand that the older sibling’s phone didn’t have a phone plan).

Yet another mom said that her kid did better with his multiplication on the iPad (over writing them out)…. wait for it… because he earned points and could earn badges.  Bet she has no idea what Gamification is, but she sees that it works… she identified its benefit.  You can’t seek out a better testimonial than a parent seeing positive results when all they want is for their child to succeed.  Let’s make learning fun, let’s make work fun… because when designed well, there are positive benefits. has provided a good list of multiplication apps.  Know a better app not on this list?  Drop us a line and let us know!

7-step Customer Gamification Cookbook

Interesting blog post (this is me saying you should read it). Really ties into a couple of basic principles. 1. who, what, when, where, why and 2. Activity Loops: Engagement loops (motivation, action, feedback) or Progression loops (onboarding, challenge, rest- repeat a few times with increasing challenge slowly leading up to a boss fight). Badges are good example of an engagement loop. 3rd principle this post ties into is go social. People want to share what they do with their time. It connects us.

Game Notes

You are doing good business now. The idea behind gamification is that you want your business to be even better. This means utilizing the best of your current practice to motivate existing customers to recognize your brand, participate, and spend more.

A well designed customer gamification program identifies and enables power social media users to become social media brand ambassadors. Using the best practices in the industry, gamification can be turned to a powerful social customer acquisition and activation mechanism.

1. Define the gamification target. Your target determines everything. Understanding the habits of your target will make or break your gamification program.

2. Measure statistics about target. How often does your average customer engage now? What are the statistics divided by type of activity, divided by customer age, location, device usage, product usage?

3. Build gamification achievements based on statistics. Abstract how measurable statistics change over time throughout the customer lifecycle…

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How to Beat the Game- Motivation in Education

boy walking with carrot dangling from a stick via a hat contraptionMotivating students to achieve, learn, retain.  It’s what instructors and instructional designers want.  The question continues to be how to do it best, your newest buzz word- what’s “best practice”?  Gamification is another buzz word being throw around in various sectors from corporate business to education, with claims to increase interaction, sales or engagement by supposed triple number percentages.  Gamification is the process of applying game elements to ordinary activities to affect a desired change. A best practice, possibly. Get ready for a news flash: education is already gamified.

But, Education Is (Poorly) Gamified

Is education is already gamified? Some say yes it is, yet poorly. We say poorly because students aren’t effectively engaged and compete poorly on a global scale.  Let’s address some game design elements currently used in education:

  • Course objectives are goals for attainment.
  • Students earn points for completing tasks (assignments=quests).
  • Students collaborate in groups (guilds).
  • Students get feedback through grades.
  • Students level up based on points, moving from C-> B -> A. Students level up through grade years as well.
  • Grades K-12 have honor rolls while universities have the Dean’s List in the way of leader boards.
  • The ultimate badge/certification is a diploma.

The imperative is to address these game elements, as well as others, in order to make them more effective towards the course objectives. Game design is everywhere, as Elizabeth Sampat argues.  Gamification is one tool for learning in education, not a solution or magic formula.  It depends on the design, the mechanics.  Good Design = Good Gaming.

Get Practice in Game Design

Before you begin to apply game elements to your lessons, you may want to get into the “trenches” first. Playing well-designed games is a great way to start to get experience in gamification and game design.  Find games that have a “stickiness” factor- the addictive qualities or that desire to make you want to keep playing.  Ask yourself why you keep playing?  What makes you think about the game when you are not playing? What game elements are used and what continues to motivate you?  What frustrates you, though not enough to make you want to give up? These are the elements you should captivate and employ to increase collaboration and engagement in your courses.

Check out 16 principles of good game design by James Gee for more details how to apply game elements to education.  My favorite is “pleasantly frustrated,” whereas I continue for the past 249+ days to try to beat level 147 in Candy Crush with the sound turned off (because it is annoying), without contributing any money to it’s company, King.

Examples of Applying Game Elements to Education


Applying game elements to education is especially effective when you teach the players how to build their own game.  This Edutopia article describes how students create their own boss level assignment to overcome. The phrase “boss level” refers to the culminating challenge in a video game where players use all the skills they have to solve the problem. Students apply what they have learned during the semester to create a challenging task, a Rube Goldberg machine (a machine designed to accomplish a simple task in a complex way, usually through chain reaction)- transitioning the learner to leader.  This approach provides prime opportunity for a student-centered learning environment.


Professor Lampe from University of Michigan teaching informatics shares how he gamified his class lectures here through- *gasp* a video. Prof. Lampe has received testimonies from his former students noting they have a better recollection of the class experience and the course content compared to others classes.  Study is still ongoing to quantify the result of the gamification of his course.


Steven Johnson from Temple University introduced The Quest to his MIS3538 Social Media Innovation course.  He used self-paced learning and self-selected activities that progressively got more difficulty providing feedback through points, badges, ranking through a leader board and recognition for leveling up.  Read more about it.

Hopefully this has your brain gears churning away of how to apply gamification principles to engage students.  Don’t forget to leave us a comment especially if you think Candy Crush’s music is weird or if you have used gamification in your course. Until next time, keep on gaming!

Top 3 “Fun” Fitness Apps to Keep You Fit for the Zombie Invasion

Congratulations, by clicking on this post you’ve burned approximately 1.42 calories!  Not many love exercising- it is what it is.  Most of us don’t have super active jobs anymore so we need to exercise in order to maintain our health and fitness, or improve it.  I won’t harp on the exponentially rising obesity rates in the United States, because we ain’t got time for that. Games are a great way to motivate us to get on the exercise ball!  The combination of video games and exercise, termed as “exergaming” has steadily been on the rise since Nintendo Wii’s inception. Let’s move on, or just start moving!

3. Nexercise

Here’s a basic gamified approach to exercise that awards badges, points and also uses leader boards (BPL).  You can also win rewards: swag, ie free stuff and discounts to merchandise/services.  Share your results easily with friends to add to the  competition game element.  What’s so great about this app?  If you are competitive and a high achiever, this app will get your started on your fitness journey.  However, there is no storyline in Nexercise and no direct engagement while you are exercising.  This app is more akin to a activity monitor with perks!

2. Fit Freeway

Screenshot of Fit Freeway app during play

Lose weight and get fit playing video games. Really! The key is finding exercise you enjoy – that’s Fit Freeway.

This app will get you racing to use the elliptical or stationary bike!  Fit Freeway is an old-style arcade car racing game.  Available for iOS devices, it uses the iPhone/iPad accelerometer to track your activity while you use the front facing camera to steer your speeding car.  Seeing as you need to hold the phone in front of your face for this app to work properly, you’re going to lose some intensity while running/jogging.  However, the faster or more intense your activity- the faster your car goes!

What’s great about this app?  This is fun and sometimes that is all you need.  The fun factor provides a distraction from gym boredom of staring at the wall or the TV.  However, a review stated the vibration detection to determine the car’s acceleration wasn’t spot on.  Fit Freeway might be left in the dust compared to the next top “fun” fitness app listed below.

1. Zombie Run

Zombie Run 2 logo

Get Fit. Escape Zombies. Become a Hero.

Download either Zombie Run ($3.99) available for iOS or Android.  Zombies are big now, much like most of our waistlines. The premise is you are not undead, but the undead are chasing after you.  While you run, you pick up ammunition and medical supplies that you need for your home base.  You create your own music playlist and in between song tracks voice recordings or radio announcements are made updating you to your storyline.  After your run/jog, you use supplies to build up your home base.

What’s great about this app?  Run or die. The future of humans is depending on you; it’s a race for survival.  It’s a severe thought, but a motivating one if you role play in this situation.  In addition, this game has a creation component that allows you to create a virtual living environment as you are responsible of the success and viability of the home base/township.  Psychologically speaking, this type of activity gives an user a sense of control and accomplishment.  This game has 33 free missions (more if you pay for them) to allow you to level up as you play. In addition, this app easily allows you to share your workout logs with others via social media, like Facebook and Twitter.  Stay alive and go get your game on!

Badges, Points, and Leaderboards: the new black?

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” -William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Welcome back players! As we discussed in the previous blog post, each player plays their game of choice for different reasons and game designers develop qualities to the games to make them addictive.  Designers want you to play the game and when you are not playing the game, they want you to think about playing the game so that you return to playing the game as soon as possible.  They use different game elements to make it so.

Basic Game Feedback Types

  • Blue and gold badge in shape of shield with image of person typing on keyboard and picture of dialog bubble

    The Socialite Badge is given to learners who are able to post in a discussion forum, attach a file and reply to a discussion post. This badge was designed by S. V. King for Florida International University’s ENT4113 taught by Professor Kaihan Krippendorff.

    POINTS: You play pinball and you try to get your personal best high score.  You continue to play the game based on points feedback.  You’re the pinball king (or queen)!

  • LEADERBOARD: Oh no!  You’re not in #1 place anymore, player ZED has bumped you.  Time to get playing to regain your bragging rights!  This is related to points, of course.
  • BADGES: We’re going to talk a lot about badges later (they are the new black).  So let’s say you set up your account in a game and linked your Facebook account, so they awarded you a badge.  You’re like “Cool, that was easy!  What other badges can I get and what do I need to do?”  Badges are related to activities or tasks.  You look at the badges, see the activity requirements and start badge collecting like a rockin’ badger would.  You want them all.  Who doesn’t want bling on their trophy shelf?  It’s a sign of success and accomplishment.

Scaffolding in Games

So how do you get from looking at a game, to playing, and then to becoming engaged.  There’s a lot that goes into game design.  From a player’s perspective once you start playing a game, the game’s scaffolding helps to “hook you” into the game.  You could read this very academic paper on “The Scaffolding Mechanism in Serious Games,” but it might be simpler for me to break down what scaffolding is and how it is used through an excellent example of a never-ending game: Farmville.

Image of woman avatar with six plots for crops in Farmville game

Screenshot of Farmville starting crop plots

When we begin playing Farmville, we are given a set of simple directives: 1) Grow crops, 2) Raise animals and 3) Play with friends in a box with a button that says “Let’s Play” so we know what we will be doing.  It covers the middle of the screen so instinctively we know ( or most people know) to click on “Let’s play” to get started.  We are represented by an avatar in the middle of the screen with 3 plots of dirt- some with crops already growing and some ready to harvest.  A bouncing yellow arrow points to a button on the toolbar.  This let’s us know in the tutorial what we should do next.  Once we click on the appropriate button, a tool tip/message appears telling what’s next.  Things we need to click upon are highlighted or have arrows pointing to them, introducing one feature at a time.

As we complete different functions within the tutorial, we are rewarded with gifts to use within the game, points and within a short amount of time, we level up.  Game designers make leveling up easy at the beginning as we are learning,  so that we feel successful early in the game.  We have a good feeling associated with the game, we’re encouraged to go on and maybe that dopamine kicks in. Once they take us through the basic functions of the game, the tutorial is usually completed.  This is scaffolding- the gentle guidance through short term tasks to complete a larger or more complex activity.  Other games use storytelling narrative to develop their scaffolding structure.  Can you have a game without scaffolding?  Of course, but good scaffolding improves game play- the overall experience of playing the game.

Remember in using gamification, we want to apply these game elements to other activities.  Drop me a comment if you can think of other activities besides games where scaffolding takes place.  Until next time, go get your game on!  Don’t forget to check us out on Facebook at: .