Gamifying Educational Settings

Using a token economy to reward students for effort and engagement.

As a lecturer in a local Chinese Medicine degree course, one of the biggest problems I face is student engagement. There are just too many other things today’s tertiary student needs to focus on — work, family, life, and so on. Unfortunately, sometimes it feels that the models we are using to teach and deliver courses is the same when I was a student 20 years ago, before the internet was even a thing.

Every savvy student nowadays knows how to use Google to find the information they need for assessments. Trying to prevent students from freely accessing information — such as in an exam setting — seems almost pointless. As an educator, what I focus on teaching is how to use the information. As I demonstrate to my class, most Google searches in our field brings up a plethora of questionable sources. I make an effort to spend a great deal of time showing and explaining to my students — 1st year, often straight out of school — the difference between a quality reference and the opposite.

In our college, we’ve opted to pursue a ‘flipped’ model of education. The idea being that learning happens at home via an online portal, and the homework — traditionally used to consolidate learning — is done in the classroom. Gamification is a big part of the facilitation in the classroom, as we seek to use our physical presence to create the engagement into curiosity.

The problem is that it depends on the students having done the learning before the session, at home: watching a pre-recorded video or lecture, doing some reading, self-testing using online quizzes, that sort of thing. If they haven’t, then they can’t — and usually don’t — engage in the classroom.

Of course, we can track that as lecturers. Our online portal allows me to check each students engagement in my subject, to see how much time they are spending — or in some cases, not. And in some cases, it doesn’t matter what you offer them, or how you support them, they just don’t. There could be any number of reasons why: time usually, attention taken by work, family commitments, other subjects, other passions.

Some students openly state that engagement and attendance are not mandatory, and as long as they get a mark to pass the subject they are happy with that.

In my field (TCM) this is a concern. Grades are meant to indicate a capacity to have met set learning outcomes. These learning outcomes for each and every subject need to be approved by the CMBA in order for the course to be accredited, and graduates to be able to become registered TCM practitioners under the AHPRA banner, alongside medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and a range of other health/medical professions.

It is important a graduate is more than just competent, as they will — literally — have the lives of their clients in their hands.

So when I hear students say they are just looking for the pass to get their certificate, I am concerned for the safety of the public, the integrity of the profession, and also the integrity of our college, which is one of the best TCM undergrad courses in Australia.

Solution: tokens.

What if we gamified the online learning?

What if we could develop a way that online engagement (where the learning happens) was treated as ‘crypto-mining’. For every period of time spent engaged (actively watching lectures, quizzes, etc) in a subject then led to receipt of an amount of tokens, not to dissimilar to Bitcoin or perhaps even along the lines of Steem’s Smart Media Tokens.

As a form of cryptocurrency, these could be accumulated and then later exchanged for existing assets, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.

Perhaps even there could be bonuses gained depending on grades for the subject. Usually we have 3–4 assessment pieces, weighted differently. Perhaps the final grade leads to the reward of bonus tokens for completing the subject.

There would need to be an end-goal also. Perhaps at the completion of the degree these tokens could be ‘bought back’ by the college for a refund to tuition fees over the time. Or perhaps the student could simply exchange for fiat currency, trade for other cryptocurrencies, or even invested into further continuing professional education that our college could offer (postgraduate workshops and seminars offered). Perhaps tokens could also be rewarded for attending these as a graduate working within the profession.

Another possibility could be the development of partnerships, such as suppliers of Acupuncture needles or herbal medicine products, all of which are required to be purchased by a new graduate to begin their career. Of course, this would probably also require cryptocurrency being adopted wider in our community, so in the short term that’s probably not realistic.

The incentive is that the student’s effort and engagement throughout the course of the degree also lead to some tangible reward, beyond merely the qualification.

We have the tools and the technology

At this stage, the possibilities are endless; it just requires the time and energy to develop this in detail, and set up the systems.

Blockchain technology is ideal for housing these online learning systems, as they are secure and transparent. The decentralisation of computational power would be ideal for a multinational company such as ours, which owns and operates hundreds of universities and schools around the world, creating a blockchain eco-system.

Thus, accumulated tokens could also be used to help pay for courses at any of the other universities or colleges who are part of our organisation.

As it stands, the flipped model isn’t quite working as best as it could be across the board in our course. Mostly because students have come from the traditional, old school models — learn in the classroom, and then (maybe) go home and do your homework and study.

Using tokens, we could bring an edge of excitement and enthusiasm, and a sense that their learning is also part of a bigger investment picture into their career post-graduation.

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