Gamification Proof of Concept Experiment

Here, I will discuss a gamification experience I have already created and implemented for my 8th grade podcasting class.  In this class, students layer music and sound effects on top of some sort of spoken word - one project is a poem, another an informative news story, a written essay, etc.  They even produce two commercials for made-up products.  While the kids and I greatly enjoy the class, they suffer from many common 8th-grade afflictions - needing reminders to work, short-term thinking, working the minimum amount needed just to get the grade they want, etc.  Nothing bad - just your typical stuff that every teacher fights on some level.

I created a "corporate" structure layered on top of the existing class.  While the project descriptions, assignments, grades, and overall structure did not change, each student now creates their own "company" name and identity.  I then added two feedback systems to their performance that were completely unrelated to their grade - listeners and money.

Name

Company Name

Cash on Hand

Average Weekly Listeners

How to Payment

How To Listeners

Miles

Miles not Kilometers

2565

17666.66667

500

18000

Josh

Channeled Chima production

2270

16166.66667

500

15000

Anna

Bannanna Productions

2600

16333.33333

500

16500

George

George of the Jungle

700

16000

400

17000

Ayah

El Chic Podcasts

2210

18500

500

19000

Thomas

Country Boy Guide

2475

14166.66667

500

15000

Jacob

Jon Cena Podcasts

3150

17333.33333

400

17000

Emile

Emile's Meals Audio

1950

16000

500

15000

listeners - When a student uploads a podcast, I give it a grade, of course, but then I would assign them a number of "listeners."  This number was based completely on my opinion.  I told the kids: "You may complete the assignment to all the specifications, and according to the rubric, you still get an A.  However, if I don't find it interesting and fun to listen to, I will give you a smaller number of listeners - this is completely up to me."  I kept a google sheets spreadsheet showing their "average weekly listeners" displayed prominently during every class.  

Money - Each company's "cash on hand" was also displayed next to their name.  Here's how they earned money:  

They have to buy airtime for their ads on the next large project that was turned in.  For example, Student A agrees to pay Student B $700 to run A's advertisement on B's next project.  They come to me with their agreement, and I note it on the ledger spreadsheet.  I take $700 from A's account, and put it into B's account.

When B turns in his project (which includes A's commercial), he is awarded a certain number of listeners.  Student A is then given a certain amount of money based on the number of listeners that B reached)  I update the spreadsheet with the number of listeners that B has for that project, and the formulas now put $1300 into A's account.  

Their grades were still confidential, of course, but their listenership and the amount of money their company had were completely public - I kept the document on the projector for the entire class to see.  There were some really awesome effects that this system created:

The "Leaderboard" phenomenon

While the previous term's class had still posted their projects publicly and listened/commented on them through Google Classroom, now the students could see a real-time feedback system for their work and for the work of their peers through the ledger.  While its appearance wasn't very sexy, (it was just a spreadsheet) there was definitely strong interest in where people stood.  (8th graders are very keen on hierarchies, and I fully exploited that)

Economics and free market

Students who had the most listeners for the first few projects developed a reputation for creating good quality content.  This led advertisers to seek them out, and drove up the price of their airtime.  I saw these kind of exchanges frequently:

A: I'll pay you $650 to run my ad.

B: I got 19000 listeners last week - I'm the second highest in the class.  I want at LEAST $800

A:  How about $700?

C: Hey B, I'll pay you $750

A:  I'll pay $751!

D:  Hey E, what are you going to do your next project on?  If it's something interesting, I may want to buy your airtime.

E:  Women's rights and the Hijab.

D:  Cool.  Tell me about what you're going to say.

F:  Hey G, I just paid you $400, you better do a good job - I want more money!

They were absolutely hilarious to watch - with no coaching whatsoever, the students became very interested in each other's work, pressed each other to do well, (there was a great deal of self-interest) and played out business negotiations that were structured very similarly (if perhaps more haphazardly than) to those of advertisers and content creators.

Motivating

I don't think I told a single student to "get to work" this entire trimester.  The system needs some tweaking, of course, (I'll detail some problems below) but there was a drastic change in the motivational level of the students.  In two sections of this class, there was only one project from one student that was not turned in.  Previous terms saw 5 to 10 times that.

Limitations - there are still some things that need to be addressed or improved:

Cosmetics:

I displayed each "company's" metrics of listeners and cash on a google sheets that was on the projector each class.  The kids also had access to view it on their own.  The spreadsheet included many formulas that kept their totals updated when I entered new information.  It was effective, but it was a little boring to look at.  With more time and practice, I could make a page that updated when new data was entered, and make a much more visually appealing layout of information for the kids to see.

Switches

I intended for the "buying and selling" of airtime to fall naturally into free-market dynamics, and it did for the most part.  However, this being middle school, some of them bought and sold from people they were already friends with.  By itself, this isn't necessarily a bad thing - the actual business community also prefers to make deals with people they already trust.  However, a couple of times, students would simply trade their airtime between themselves for the same price.  While this only happened once or twice per project, it defeats the purpose of the game - I wanted a network of buying and selling, not individuals pairing off.  Halfway through the term, I made a new rule of "no exchanges."  However, this had the totally predictable effect of creating circular groups of three that exchanged their airtime between them.  Again, this happened rarely, but it's a loophole I need to find a way of closing without issuing periodic edicts banning sequentially larger groups of cycling purchases.

What do I do with the money?

It seems obvious, but I hadn't even thought about what kids could do with their money.  While the displayed number of dollars alone was a strong motivational tool, I think it could be even stronger if I have something the kids could buy with it.  I'll have to come up with something for this, too.

Overall, I am extremely happy with this system.  This particular class environment is a perfect habitat to layer gamification onto.  It has reduced my workload for that class, increased the quality of student work, and has made the kids much more engaged and interested both in their own, and in each other's, content and achievements.