Gamifying a Large, Introductory Course and Fostering Student Autonomy

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Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Mika LaVaque-Manty (Political Science and Philosophy) won the Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize in 2013 for his project, Gamifying a Large, Introductory Course and Fostering Student Autonomy.
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TIP Winner: Gamifying a Large Introductory Course and Fostering Student Autonomy
Political Studies, Mika LaVaque-Manty.jpg
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Social Sciences
Political Science and Philosophy
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Mika LaVaque-Manty
Mika LaVaque-Manty (Political Science and Philosophy)
“Gamification” is the application of structures, rules, and logics encountered in games to non-game contexts. Gamifying a course doesn’t consist of just converting conventional grades to points. Rather, the logic of rewards must be pervasively changed. Conventional reward systems “mark students down,” discouraging them from a crucial part of learning: failing and trying again. However, when students focus on “leveling up” and earning points, they are motivated to do more work and to take on new challenges. When students aren’t penalized for unsuccessful efforts, the only cost is their time.
The most important game element in a course is having multiple paths to achievement. Autonomy and problem solving are fostered when students must think about how to navigate the challenges posed by a menu of creative options for major assignments. Reflecting on their interests and strengths develops students’ metacognitive skills, and they become self-regulated learners. Choice and creativity also rev up students’ willingness to thoughtfully and enthusiastically engage with complex texts by authors who died centuries ago. Effectively, this turns a liability (the mismatch between students’ expectations and the content of an introductory political philosophy course) into a feature.

Student Comments

“[POLSCI 101] required me and my peers to not only take full responsibility [for] our final grades, but also turned the class into a game and interactive experiment.” 
“Students were enthusiastic and excited to contribute.... This was not a tedious endeavor for most students.”
“Students gained points for completing tasks and also gained badges or extra credit if they performed exceptionally well.”
“Choices about assignments...allowed the students to evaluate their strengths and how they learned best.”
Encouraged “to create unconventional projects about the texts,” students “were presenting card games and comic strips to explain political theory.”
“Students not only understood the presented materials, but were given the opportunity to actively engage in the concepts: a style of teaching that truly prepares students to be successful after college.”
Above photo:
Mika LaVaque-Manty (Political Science and Philosophy)