Gamifying Your Course

We have a fair number of meetings with instructors who want to gamify their courses. Who can blame them – if you could get your students hooked on your subject like they are on whatever they’re playing on their phones during class, you’d be a fool if you didn’t at least explore the topic. However, what most people think of when they think of games – like badges, levels, points, or leaderboards – more often than not get in the way of learning, as opposed to encouraging it.

So, if what we normally think of as the fundamentals of the gamified class often times don’t help, what game elements actually do encourage learning? Let’s take a look, through some examples!

Element 1: allow participants to explore and experiment

The freedom that students explore and experiments games can increase their curiosity for the game and learn in a self-directed and unstructured capacity.

Game: Panopticon. This is prison simulator game using virtual reality technology. Players become the warden of a prison. In the game, player’s job is to make sure that prisoners do not escape during your shift. If players notice some rebelling dwellers, he/she can use whistle to prevent them from escaping.

game 01 game 02

Teaching Practice in the Classroom: Some real situations may not be directly observed. In a micro teaching session, for example, students can take turns to play a role as teachers to mentor struggling students. The simulation provides an opportunity to experiment an authentic situation.

Element 2: provide ongoing feedback and freedom to fail

Ongoing feedback creates a responsive learning environment via game elements. Learners have freedom to fail, which prompt them to practice to succeed. This element generally breaks course contents into stages and have the levels up to gradually achieve the goals.

Game: EconU. This is an online game for players to build a university while maintaining knowledge of various microeconomic concepts such as total revenue, cost, and scale, etc. Each factor in the game is dependent upon the others. When players spend some costs in some new initiatives, they may receive some information from their bank to report the balance in their account or from administrators to indicate the current status in the university. Such information can serve as continuous feedback to prompt players to consider and improve in order to avoid bankruptcy.

game 03

Teaching Practice in the Classroom: Different stages or milestones can assist students to monitor their learning status. Ongoing feedback in each stage helps students improve their performance, and students are allowed to fail in each stage. So students can ultimately achieve learning goals.

Element 3: bring social interaction among learners in games

Students can feel more closed to each other and have a social presence in this environment. In particular, students may collaborate with others to solve a problem.

Game: Flight Simulator. Players become the pilots and learn to fly a plane in a simulation. In addition to being a pilot, some players can serve as staffs in the airport tower. Players can have some social interaction by communicating to each other to ensure the safe flight.

game 04

Teaching Practice in the Classroom: A case (e.g., school bully) containing multiple problems can be properly used. Each student plays different roles such as principal, teacher, parents, and other administrators to discuss the problems and figure out solutions. This becomes a good way to lead to some social interaction and help students learn how to effectively communicate with other people in different roles.

Element 4: make your content connect to the story of game

If the learning contents are part of the game, the entire game can become a powerful learning tool, rather than simply a tool for fun or entertainment.

Game: Township. Players can build their dream towns in this online game. Also, players can run some business in the town. This is another simulation game better connect the theme of game (i.e., build a town) with learning contents (e.g., business, economics, marketing, financing).

game 05

Teaching Practice in the Classroom: Before you integrate games or game elements into your course, it is definitely important to think about the goal you expect your students to achieve. Some games may contain the “fun” element, but may not closely connect with learning contents. For example, Math blaster is the math computational game. Players serve as the astronauts to shoot the asteroids with numbers. However, the activity in the game, being an astronaut to shoot asteroids, does not mean the mastery of multiple math computation.

Math Blaster - Episode 1 (U)

These examples are in no way exhaustive, but showcase some of the ways that you can meaningfully gamify your class. If you’d like to talk more about how you have already gamified your course, or how to add game elements to your course, drop me a line (, and I’d be happy to talk further with you!

Posted in Instructional Design, Teaching

VoiceThread Workshops

Interested in using VoiceThread in your course? Not even sure what in the world VoiceThread is, or why it needs to be CamelCased?

Check out these great workshops happening this summer! You’ll love them, and then your students will love them and all will be well in the world.

If you’d like to talk about incorporating VoiceThread in your course, come by CETL, and we’d love to talk more about it.

Posted in Cool Tools

Online Classroom Spaces

I remember the first online course I took, as well as the first hybrid course I took. I was filled with anticipation as I logged on to those first classes. What was online and hybrid education? How did it work? How would it be different? How would the social component of education be addressed and translated into an online course? What would content look like in this space?

online_classroom_spacesOne of the first things I noticed about my new ‘classroom’ was that is was often as sparse as my classes that took place in physical spaces. Once you leave the K-12 world, the classroom is often more of a generic space, where teachers and faculty strive to move into a world of ideas that rely less on ambience, design or visual adornment. Of course, we all understand that the nature of faculty assignments to lecture halls and classrooms often makes them transients on their own campuses. And after all, wouldn’t it be sort of silly if we saw an instructor taping vocabulary words or images to a blackboard the way they did in elementary and secondary school? By way of tradition (and for other reasons), most post-secondary learning environments usually don’t contribute a great deal to the learning experience unless you work in a lab or studio environment.

This can and will change over the coming years.

Though it may seem a little like pie in the sky in academia or cost prohibitive in education, the New York Times Online has created some fine examples of combining text, images, video, animation, weather maps and commentary to pass on information in a unique way and create an online environment for a story. Look at the story called Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. Can you imagine applying this type of multimedia treatment to a central concept you are teaching? Or imagine E-textbooks that took this approach? Would it engage students? Imagine students going to your online class and thinking about it as an actual learning space and not just a repository for a syllabus and directions to texts and videos a student needs to watch. Imagine if they received a new set of VR (virtual reality) glasses that helped enhance certain things you had put in your course the week before class started. Possibly not so far-fetched, the New York Times is currently  sending paid subscribers exactly this item to view special video news stories they are putting online.

The real upside of using several of the LMS’s out there, is that it allows you to build a robust learning space or environment over time– an environment you may save and bring with you to your next class. Over the last few years I have worked with faculty who transformed potentially dry subjects like ‘research methods’ by building out colorful, image-rich pages with their favorite researchers and the research that inspired them to approach the subject with passion and with a literature instructor who created montages of images and paintings of the authors covered in class, as well as compiled collections of quotes about the books the class is reading by other famous writers. And then there was my programming professor, who loved his collection of common programming errors made by beginners and intermediate programmers and turned them into information pages in his class, as well as built a collection of original programs done by students for labs that he would post after we turned in our lab assignments, illustrating some imaginative ways we could approach assignments. These particular faculty embraced their online or hybrid course as learning spaces that could also inspire. as well as hold content for their classes. Something to consider the next time you start planning a new class or making changes to a current class.

Posted in #trending, Creativity, Innovative Learning Spaces, Organization

Cool Tools: Zaption

This week’s topic is the epitome of a cool tool. I’m talking other side of the pillow and cool kids’ table cool. This week’s tool is Zaption.


If you haven’t heard of Zaption that’s okay. It’s still a relatively new tool that we’ve been testing for about a year and a half here at GSU. Zaption hasn’t needed much time to become a favorite (let’s be honest it’s the favorite) tool among the instructional design team.


Okay, let’s breakdown what Zaption actualy does.




Zaption first and foremost is a video delivery tool. You can upload your own videos and deliver them inside of BrightSpace. BrightSpace already supports videos so this isn’t the cool part. Zaption also gives you the ability to play videos from Youtube, Vimieo, and a variety of other streaming services within BrightSpace.


Again, some of you may be thinking how this is better than embedding or linking out to these external video services. One of the advantages provided by Zaption is the ability to edit video.

Key Features

Add Video: With Zaption you can combine multiple videos from different locations (personal videos, youtube, etc.) into one video.

Trim: Ever find a great video but only need a small portion of it? Zaption lets you trim videos from external services so your students only see relevant content.



Once you’ve created the perfect video you can make it interactive be adding a number of different question types. If you have images or want to add a text overlay, then Zaption still has your back. Zaption will pause the video where ever you add a question until students answer it.

Key Features 

Custom Feedback: You can create feedback messages for each question and

Jump to: If a student answers a question incorrectly you can have Zaption jump back to the section of video that is related to the question.



Zaption provides detailed analytics at the student, question, and course level. This allows you to see who is watching your videos, how long they watch for, answers to questions, and plenty more.

Key Features 

Dashboard: Zaption provides an easy to use dashboard so you can quickly view analytics and drill down to the information that’s important to you.

Excel Export: If you want raw data you can easily export the analytics from Zaption as a .csv file and open it in Excel.



To get a hands on tour of Zaption come visit the CETL in Library South. To get access to Zaption send an email to and include the class you’d like to have Zaption activated for.

Posted in #trending

Letting Go: Gamification, Control, and User Perceptions of Design

Recently, I was reading some literature on gamification and came across an interesting  idea: Namely, that even if we create a gamified lesson or course we can’t force students to play and enjoy the end product as a game. Students could, instead, view your intricately designed experience as a means to an end or as a ridiculous drudge. Students might also use your gamified course in unexpected ways. For instance, what if some students add rules to your gamified course unbeknownst to you? What if your course becomes a game within a game? Does this matter outside of the official rules?

If we think about this in a larger sense end-users are going to use, remix, and subvert designed products in a million different ways. This happens to all of us on a daily basis. For instance, have you ever used a shoe as a hammer? Eaten leftovers from a restaurant? Faux-texted to avoid conversation? These are all examples of end-users (probably you!) using products in novel ways or in contexts alien to their origins.

This design subversion also includes both online and face to face formal learning experiences. For instance, if you’ve ever taught in a physical classroom you know that students use this space for a variety of activities outside of those officially designated by the university from socializing to grooming to sleeping. In essence, students have changed the rules of the game named classroom and continue to evolve these rules for better or worse.

Let’s briefly think about online course design now. How can we measure and control student perceptions of and, ultimately, use of our course designs given end-users’ penchant to upend official uses? In my opinion we can’t. Even if you set up the most linear, locked down, automated online course possible some students will find a way to circumvent your intentions. This subversion isn’t going to come in the form of students hacking into course files – instead, you might find yourself deluged with emails from students asking for extra time on quizzes or complaining that you don’t give enough feedback. In other words students are struggling to rewrite the rules of linearity,  structure, and depersonalization. What do you do here? I admit that this type of surreptitious perversion can be frustrating – but, in my case, I’m not sure that I’d really want it any other way. After all this struggle, this constant re-gamification by students demonstrates a certain type of strategic, creative approach to bounded experiences. And let me put a huge caveat here: I’m not saying that students are always (or even often) right in their thinking in “gaming” us but I think that they sometimes are. How can we use these little moments of brilliance to improve our designs?

So the next time that you feel a lesson or course slipping from your control ask yourself: Should you scramble to enforce the official rules or should you bend them a bit (or a lot!) to create a new game?

Posted in #trending

Online Teaching and the F2F Learning Experience

One of the first things that occurred when I became an online student, and later taught in an online environment, is that I initially began thinking about the online classroom as a ‘sort of’ simulation of the face-to-face classroom. I evaluated my first class as a student from that mindset, and then designed instruction with that mindset. How well did I recreate the experience of a classroom for my students? Did they learn as much as in a classroom? And as a student, did my course ‘feel’ like a classroom? Did I learn as much as other students taking this class on campus?

Standard-3-alt-2For many people first entering the online education world, it is a fairly normal way to start your journey with technology mediated learning. We start from what we know, because we all have been conditioned to expect certain things in learning situations. And really, it is a conditioning that started around the time we were five or six years old, and until recently, was a specific kind of experience executed in much the same way it  has been since the industrial revolution influenced the delivery of education. Additionally, computing and computers, for most of us, were merely inserted or added into learning situations, but did not mediate or completely construct learning environments, so being in a place where technology was now the door to the classroom, it didn’t immediately occur to many of us to dramatically rethink how learning will happen in a virtual space.

In my case, it took me several online classes before I started to realize that the opportunity of the online classroom was the ability to rethink how things were taught, and that it was exciting to throw out a few of the tedious, boring and pedantic old ways and to look at how technology afforded a teacher a chance to approach teaching and pedagogy in new ways. And that some of the traditional methods were not necessarily effective and that many elements of teaching were more strongly recommended because of tradition and not excellence in results. I realized force of habit had influenced my judgement about the value of traditional elements in education and what I thought was value for the student.

kids_and_technologyThe truth was, after a few online classes, I realized that I was emotionally invested in certain methods of information transmission, some of which were only partially effective. At least that’s what research indicated! Take discussions and peer learning: research has shown that discussion between peers is often a more powerful learning strategy than answering a teacher’s questions in class. With online learning, I realized I was free to dive into research-based practices like peer discussions and peer review of assignments, which I would have been concerned about in the face-to-face classroom. Can a teacher hold a class and act as merely a facilitator, without feeling there is a value-added component that is missing from their class, even if there is quite a bit of evidence to back up the alternative approach?

computer&booksThe truth is students respond well to all sorts of things we don’t regularly employ in teaching, but now can explore in these new, alternative environments. The research shows that peers, even peers who are error prone can be more powerful influences on our thinking than teachers who have the absolute ‘right’ answers to questions. With this in mind, it means that sometimes we are just wrong with our ‘right’ answers– and it also means that we have some new opportunities to explore and learn ourselves in this new technology driven world.

Posted in Teaching

Teaching: Navigating Surveillance and Visibility in the Online Classroom

Dig, if you will, the picture of an online public health professor checking out Zaption analytics. Or, let’s consider a distance learning accounting student who leaves a fantastic instructor review on one of the many online professor rating services. What do these very disparate scenarios have in common? Well, they both involve watching, tracking, and reporting behaviors related to the online classroom environment. From analytics to privacy to bullying and beyond, surveillance is a hot topic in higher education contexts. In this post I’d like to briefly tease the complicated realities of surveillance and visibility in online teaching rather than presenting a “Yay, privacy!” or “Boo, surveillance!” pose. 

Heart on Monitor

I first became interested in this topic several years ago when I was concurrently teaching my first online class and taking a qualitative research methods class. One day in my qualitative class my professor joked(?), “If you don’t do your readings I’ll know because Brightspace lets me see if you’ve clicked on a file”. From that day forward I was fascinated with the way that we as educators can watch and track what our students do in online environments as well as the ethical implications that go along with this ability. However, the story is much, much more complicated than a simple question of privacy concerns versus course improvement via analytics. Consider the following two questions for yourself:

  • How do students and professors both simultaneously engage in and resist the culture of watching and being watched? I think that we live in an equally scopophilic/scopophobic culture. In other words we are both drawn to and repelled by being watched and watching others (and ourselves). Is this not the case in your online classes as well? If so, what types of watching are you engaging in? Alternately, how are you also avoiding tracking your students? How are your students engaged in this same complex negotiation?  Moreover, is surveillance always disenfranchising or can it also be empowering? And, ultimately, why does any of this matter?
  • How can questions about surveillance inform your course design and delivery? Ok, so let’s say that you accept my premise that students and professors are enmeshed in a complex surveillant web. Additionally, you’ve also decided that this matters to your teaching philosophy or practice. Where do you go from here? I think that your next move is to consider the practical implications of your musings and integrate these into your teaching. For instance, when I was faced with these types of considerations as an instructor I made several changes to my course. First, I wanted to make the professor-to student-data gathering piece of the course more transparent. I achieved this by including a statement in my syllabus informing my students about what types of data I had available on them as well as how I was using it to improve the course experience. Second, I stopped giving out my cell phone number. Although many of my interactions with students via text were enriching I found it exhausting to be always on, always visible, always available. Thus, I cut off this form of self-surveillance related to my teaching. Third, I placed my students into semester-long support groups. These groups offered students several types of supportive surveillance that I would normally provide. In these small ways I achieved a certain democratization of watching and tracking while recognizing the impossibility/undesirability of slipping away from surveillance altogether.

If you’d like to learn more about the complexities of surveillance in higher education and in the wider culture check out the open source journal Surveillance and Society. This publication presents theoretical and empirical research from critical and postmodern perspectives. In addition, your friendly neighborhood CETL instructional designers can also help you think about these more philosophical parts of your design and teaching. I believe that you’ll find a lot of value in considering your stance on this hot topic and how it can effect your own experience in higher ed.

Image Attributions:

monitor heart by Vectors Market from the Noun Project

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Posted in #trending, Teaching

Multimodality: The Power of images, sound, media and environment

Multimodality is an inter-disciplinary approach that understands communication and representation to be more than about language.

Multimodality provides complex fine grained analysis to get at the details of texts and interactions in which meaning is understood as being realized in the iterative connection between the meaning potential of a material semiotic artefact/text, the meaning potential of the social/cultural environment it is encountered in, and the resources and knowledge that people bring to these. Speech and writing continue to be seen as significant but are seen as parts of a multimodal ensemble with an emphasis on situated action: the importance of context and the sign maker in shaping the resources available for meaning making and how these are selected and designed focus on people’s situated choice of resources rather than emphasizing the system of available resources.

Jewitt & Bezemer (2012)

One thing I regularly notice, having come from a visual arts background, is how often images, sound and environmental elements are overlooked in educational settings. And though things have started to change with the increased availability of resources, text and writing still often rule in school, even if the greater availability of digital imagery now makes it possible to add depth of understanding to all the things we teach and learn.

I was first struck by the outlook on images that educators still have these days, when in one of my graduate classes I had to exchange a ‘technology curriculum design’ with other teachers in one of my classes. One enthusiastic teacher had designed a great lesson for her elementary students about the BP Deepwater Horizon  oil spill that began in 2010. The lesson was, in my opinion extremely brave, exposing her students to positives and negatives you don’t always see at the elementary level. She didn’t water down the material because the students were young and I truly admired her approach, but in my mind there was something missing: where were images or video of the spill?


These days students (and adults) do not have to just rely on the written word or a remote video shot to understand or describe something deep below the surface of the water or in some far away corner of the world, but instead can SEE it in completely new ways we never had access to before. In 30 seconds all of us can do a Google search that adds to the depth of our understanding on just about any topic, still instructors don’t always search for these kinds of resources or require image inclusion by students turning in written research papers or projects.

So, perhaps the question for many people is, how do we think about, include or even support the inclusion of other modalities in education? One step in my process has been  to read some of the great work by the scholar, Dr. Carey Jewitt.

What is multimodality? by Professor Carey Jewitt and Dr Jeff Bezemer

Posted in Contented

Writing as Effective Communication in a Research and Technical Report

Blog Post 9- Figure 1

Figure 1. Original Site

“Writing Effective Research and Technical Reports” was my first project with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Working with Pam and Linda I updated their website and developed an eBook. The purpose of both is to help students produce research reports that are accessible to a wider audience to improve decision-making. The original website (see Figure 1) was made in a flash-based site and caused some accessibility problems in different browsers.

Pam, Linda, and I met every three weeks to discuss contents and layout in the new site (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. New Site

Figure 2. New Site

As we started recreating the website, we discussed several tools for easy content creation and management.

We decided to use WordPress which included multiple templates and plugins to build the new site because it is free and easy to manage each page in the dashboard (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Dashboard in WordPress

Figure 3. Dashboard in WordPress

While students can use the contents on the website, they can also download the eBook and save it into their mobile devices or tablets. Rather than using commercial-based tools, we decided to use iBooks Author which is a free tool to create an eBook. iBooks Author provides a variety of templates for users to adopt (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. List of iBook Author Templates

Figure 4. List of iBook Author Templates

Our eBook is in ePub format (ebook format) that allows us to read contents in most devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers, or e-reader.Users can also use Widget to insert different multimedia files into eBook. Widget in the iBooks Author includes picture gallery, media, HTML (see Figure 5). In addition to considering how to deliver the content, we thought about how to give the reader an experience similar to reading a physical book.

Now, the new site and the eBook are available for students to explore and download. Though initially developed for graduate research and analytics students, the site and eBook are appropriate for any students or professionals who want to create technically sophisticated, but plain English reports to increase the impact of research and technical reports.

Figure 5. Widget in iBook Author

Figure 5. Widget in iBook Author

Posted in #trending

Use of Open Educational Resources in an Introductory Statistics Course

Two weeks ago, I presented my dissertation study in the convention of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Washington DC. This is a rewarding experience for educators and practioners to network and know the trend in the field.


Here is the abstract of my study. Why did I conduct my study in introductory statistics courses? Introductory statistics/ quantitative research methodology is generally a required course for college and graduate students to take. I have seen multiple students in college or graduate school struggling in such courses. These students were anxious about exams, comprehension of abstract concepts, and how they can interpret academic reports or research findings and successfully apply research methodology into their own studies. Some students may attribute their statistics anxiety to their prior performance and experience in math courses. Accordingly, these students may postpone their time to take courses or consider statistics as calculation which brings boredom or no value to them.

In my study, I specifically focused on student motivation (e.g., interest, enjoyment, perceived value and usefulness), statistics anxiety, and their effects on the use of open educational resources (OERs). I not only measured student motivation for statistics, but also identified their statistics anxiety. OER provides a variety of resources that users can reuse or reproduce without worrying about copyright issue. I closely worked with instructors to search for OERs used in courses in consideration of the weekly topic and student motivation and anxiety toward statistics. Based on students’ concerns about abstract concepts in statistics, for example, we selected a regression simulation to delineate linear regression (e.g., slope, residual, statistics estimates). This simulation helped instructors easily explain some abstract concepts in a visual way. Users can also manually add dots in the left pane (see Figure 1)

Blog Post 8- Figure 1

Figure 1. Linear Regression

and understand how they form a linear regression line and calculate its residuals. In addition, some OERs may be customized by different purposes (e.g., instruction, enrichment, or remediation of prior knowledge). According to students’ feedback about the use of OER, they perceived that OER used in statistics courses can clarify their abstract concepts and improve their individual skills used in statistics learning. Also, the use of OER to explain some abstract concepts brings a positive learning environment for them. Through this study, I can specifically identify how OERs can be effectively customized in terms of student motivation and statistics anxiety to meet diverse needs in introductory statistics courses.

Posted in Teaching
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