Learning from games

First a short recap, in case you haven’t read my previous posts: we are awarding the students in our #chikul13 course with badges in the same way achievements are awarded on Xbox360, Playstation3 and Steam. Our first results do indicate certain facets of this gamification are appreciated by our students and have a positive impact on their work. Badges in learning are quite new but maybe we can learn something from the years of experience all of you have with achievements, be it in games.

I remember not everyone was excited when Microsoft decided to introduce achievements 8 years ago. The overal Gamerscore, a total sum of all achievement points, would become the main focus for some. While it did boost sales, it didn’t always reward good game design, just easy achievements. Soon Sony would follow, as would PC games and even Apple with its Game Center. Achievements aren’t going anywhere soon it seems…

So I look at you, game developers, journalists and gamers. What do you think of achievements today. Please do post your comments and while you’re at it, could you answer a couple of the following questions?

  1. Do you check your own achievements?
  2. Do you compare your achievements with friends?
  3. Does knowing your friends’ achievements change the way you play your game?
  4. Do achievements cause you to play more/explore more than you would without them?
  5. Would you still play all the games you play today without the achievements?
  6. Do you check achievements on other devices? (mobile, websites,…)
  7. [for the designers] When designing achievements, what is it you want to achieve? (Replay, exploration, sales,…)

Happy Easter!

Open Badges & Motivation

Last time I mentioned how the students’ online presence helps both the students and the teachers keep track of their progress. By having them use Twitter, blogs and comments to report on their progress, we create an open system that helps awareness of the class activity for both teachers and students.

Thanks to Jose Luis Santos‘ trackers, we have detailed statistics on every student, showing us the amount of blog posts, tweets, comments but also the interaction between students and people outside the course. Indirectly, we can get an estimation of the quality of e.g. a blog post through the amount of comments it has received from others. We can also quickly discover inactive students.

Apart from just raising awareness, we also want to promote activity, quality and results. We try to do this through gamifying the progress of the course. This gamification concept comes from videogames where certain milestones and actions are rewarded and shared publicly with all your friends. These rewards are more commonly known as achievements.

In the learning environment we have set up, we can visualize the progress of our students through graphs and raw data through applications such as StepUp! (Jose Luis Santos) and the Activity Stream (Gonzalo Parra) but we can also limit this visualisation to the important milestones and actions reached during the course. And for this, we use badges (following the Open Badges standards).


Badges give the students an immediate overview of their achievements and allow them to compare these accomplishments to their peers. Through a personal badge dashboard (see image) they know at a glance the state of the class’s progression. It quickly becomes clear which achievements are easy to get, what the student is lagging behind on compared to the rest of the class and what work remains. This information should again raise awareness.

But there is also an immediate feedback which would otherwise be difficult to give outside of class. When a student shows a lot of activity on e.g Twitter, a badge is instantly awarded. Other badges are given after a 2-week period: No activity is not acceptable so a negative badge is awarded; a lot of comments on your blog post means it has provoked a lot of discussion and can be assumed qualitative, which deserves a positive badge. Deliverables are also awarded with badges. A good evaluation on their developed prototypes also deserves a badge.

With this feedback through rewards we hope to achieve a change in bad (inactive) behaviour, promote positive behaviour like activity and quality, and improve awareness in and outside of class. We also hope the dashboard will help the students reflect on their activities. By being aware of their peers’ progress and being rewarded (or not), they can conclude whether or not they are on the right track.

The exact effect on motivation, awareness and self-reflection is still under evaluation. But while we wait for further results, feel free to head over to Navi, the badge dashboard used for #chikul13 and share with us your thoughts!

“Big things have small beginnings ..”

– David, Prometheus –

A new blog, a new job! 10 years after graduating from KU Leuven, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to head back to university and work as a doctoral researcher for Prof. Erik Duval at the Human-Computer Interaction Group at KU Leuven.

It’s quite a different world from what I’m used to. I’d like to say things are more vague but that’s just another wording for “having lots of freedom”. You have plenty. And that means your creativity plays a very important role. It takes some getting used to and for now I (think I) am coping just fine… I have a vague idea (there it is again, vague) of what I’ll be doing… For now at least ;)

Working as doctoral researcher means I have a PhD to finish within the next few years. The subject of this PhD is Learning Analytics & Dashboards. One way to explain it would be:

We try to figure out what the important traces are that learners leave behind, how we can visualize those and how we can create reflection, awareness and collaboration tools to improve their learning. [Duval]

In short, we want to improve the learning process. And while money rewards and candy do work, bribing is not our main focus ;)

That’s still vague (again!) for an outsider but let my overactive imagination explain what I would like to see in the following 10 years: Augmented Students ..

Through the use of devices such as ambient displays, table tops, mobile and wearable devices, enhancing the students’ learning process by creating a context-aware, always-on digital presence that enables easy collaboration, total awareness of their peers’ progress and instant feedback on their learning activities resulting in constant self-reflection.

Sounds a bit sci-fi? You probably guessed the source of my inspiration then ;) But technology is advancing so fast and with devices such as Google Glass and Leap Motion ideas like these aren’t too far fetched. But we have to start small. And I’ll get more into detail on our current research in a later post.

Apart from a PhD student, I’m also a teacher assistant for a user interface course called CHI (yes, it’s totally related to the #chikul13 updates on my Twitter). We have 26 students (mostly engineering students in their 4th year) who are currently developing a recommendation app. I’ll be sure to post the links to their blogs, as they are really worth checking out and we do hope to see some external input on their work.

So here we are. Taking part in an attempt to revolutionise the way we, our kids and grandkids will learn.. This sure is going to be an interesting ride. I hope you’ll tag along!