Can Badges and Leaderboards make Low-Income Students Participate more in Campus life?

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

An article about how a “gamified” interface to campus life is supposed to help low-income students (can you tell I’m skeptical?).

Here’s what they do:

  • Give out points and badges for doing stuff.
  • Reward competing against their fellow students to earn more points (which they can trade for stuff at Starbucks & the bookstore).

Here are their goals:

to make sure low-income students — many of whom are the first in their families to go to college — are aware of the dozens of opportunities on campus.

Here are my problems with this approach:

  1. Superficial reward-driven gamification produces effects that don’t last.
  2. Monetizing engagement does not normally lead to genuine engagement.
  3. External motivators tend to be counter-productive.
  4. I’m pretty sure that low-income students already feel singled out. Do you really want to add to that?
  5. They are rewarding students for competing against each other when what they really should be doing is creating community.
  6. This emphasizes winning over caring.

Last year, the average student won less than $100 worth of coffee and bookstore items, and the top earner nearly $200.

Hmmmm. “Less than $100.00” I wonder how much less?

When the app officially debuted last fall after a pilot run in 2013, getting students to buy in wasn’t a problem, Mr. Huer says. About half of the Pell Grant population at Ball State eventually downloaded it. In fact, some students were too enthusiastic for the app’s original design. “There were a few students last year who went through every achievement in the first week,” Mr. Huer says.

I’d love to see some more detailed results. I don’t see 1/2 as a good number.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of gamification, but THIS kind is exactly the sort of thing Ian Bogost complains about as being bullshit, and he’s right.

How an App Helps Low-Income Students by Turning College Life Into a Game – Wired Campus – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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