Doing vs Listening and Watching
As much as possible, students should spend their time learning by doing rather than listening to lectures, reading textbooks, and watching others. Sometimes teaching via lecture, assigned reading, or video is appropriate, but it is far too easy to simply choose a textbook and then follow that chapter by chapter. We need to focus on what students can do – beyond writing exams – to demonstrate their mastery of the subject matter. Assignments (quests) should focus on what students can do to demonstrate mastery of the material rather than simply being able to repeat what they’ve been told.
In my approach I give them a variety of things they can do – some big, some small. Many of the small things are actually things they will need to do to complete the bigger things. This way they have an opportunity to build up their knowledge and skill while earning points.
Because this is a gamified design, I decided to use game terms for the quests, although, I do not insist that they ‘play along’ either. If they want to call them assignments, that’s fine – I still know what they’re talking about. This is an important aspect of my gamified design: I will not insist that they adopt the game lingo or pretense. There are courses where overlaying some sort of narrative might make sense (an English class, for example), but it is not a necessary component. The ‘trappings’ of games (language, narrative, adoption of characters, etc.) can be a lot of fun, but if you don’t have everyone in the class on board with it, there’s a really good chance that all you will do is swap one group of disengaged learners for a different group of disengaged learners. I don’t see that as progress.
On the other hand, I have found that attaching new terminology to old learning tasks can sometimes be freeing – it allows me and my students to look at it in a new light. I end up getting more interesting submissions than I would if I stuck to the usual terminology.
Back to big and small tasks: here are a few examples. In each case, I will give the usual meaning (in games) and then the way that I use it in my classes.
Usual Meaning: Complete the objective in the given amount of time.
The way I use it in my classes: These are quests that will have a natural expiry date, such as posting an Introduction to the Discussion Group.
Usual Meaning: Convince an NPC of a certain position, using dialog.
The way I use it in my classes: Write a reflection to an article/video/etc.
Write a position paper on some topic. These are typically worth 25 XP (=2.5%)
Usual Meaning: Find a person, place or thing.
The way I use it in my classes: This will usually be a request to find out more information on a topic or concept and to prepare something that can be shared with the class. e.g. Share a link; answer a question. These days I usually use a Google Doc for this – all my students have access to it, and I can easily bring it up in class so we can all talk about what we have found.
Usual Meaning: In order to complete the mission something needs to be crafted by the player (or developed by some kind of craftskill).
The way I use it in my classes: The nature of the ‘craft’ will vary depending on the course being taught. It should be something that is an appropriate ‘craft’ for the topic of the course. For example, creating an avatar might be an appropriate craft in an online course, a drawing might be appropriate in an art class, and a program might be appropriate in a computer programming class. To determine what kinds of things could be crafts in your course, ask yourself what your learners can make.
Test of Lore Quest
Usual Meaning: Listen to an NPC and answer the questions correctly.
The way I use it in my classes: I can still have quizzes. Sometimes they are useful as learning tools – especially when students get more than one try. My goal with these is so students can test their own knowledge, and to give them an idea of what I think they should know. Since the tests can’t damage their chances of getting whatever grade they are trying for, the stress of the test is greatly reduced. I set these up as online quizzes so once they are created, they take very little of my time.
Just to keep things organized: these are Reigeluth’s 8 core ideas for a new post-industrial paradigm of instruction:
- Learning-focused vs. sorting focused.
- Learner-centered vs. teacher-centered instruction.
- Learning by doing vs. teacher presenting.
- Attainment-based vs. time-based progress.
- Customized vs. standardized instruction.
- Criterion-referenced vs. norm-referenced testing.
- Collaborative vs. individual.
- Enjoyable vs. unpleasant. 
- C. M. Reigeluth, “Instructional Theory and Technology for the New Paradigm of Education,” Revista de Educación a Distancia, vol. 11, Sept. 30 2012 2012.