Week 3 of the ‘Gamify or not gamify‘ a Moodle course experiment. This experiment is getting a lot of attention, a lot more than I thought it would, and many teachers have asked me how they can gamify their Moodle courses. For this week’s post I have created a screencast showing the steps I took to gamify my course. The video lasts just under 20 minutes and is best viewed full screen.

Please write a comment at the bottom of this post should you have any question, or spotted any errors. Don’t ask me why I say ‘basically’ all the time, I have no idea…

Week 2 of my ‘gamified vs. non-gamified‘ Moodle course and school has been closed since Wednesday 27th March due to the Easter break. Since there hasn’t been much activity on the course, and I have had a few requests asking me what modules I use in the course, this week I’ll focus on the course structure and how I ‘gamified’ it. 

You can read the post about week 1 here.

The course

Context

The course I have designed is nothing Earth-shattering, but it seems to work well in the given context (MYP Technology, 12 year olds). At the end of the 11 week unit of work (could be called ‘project’), students need to hand in two deliverables:

  • the product (usually a Scratch animation)
  • their documentation of the process (usually a 15-30 page word processed document)

In this unit of work students are to use technology to create a tutorial to teach others a dance choreography they have put together. The unit of work is not prescriptive in terms of technology used but I only provide extra scaffolding for Photoshop, Garageband, Google Docs, Word & Scratch, so most students tend to hand in a Scratch animation as their product.

Along the way students learn the basics of computer programming, photo and audio editing, as well as word processing. The nature of the MYP Technology framework is such that most of the marks are awarded for the documentation & process, rather than for the product itself, hence a lot of scaffolding is provided for the documentation.

My teaching groups are mixed in gender and ability. Some of my students have rather extensive experience using software such as Scratch, when others have never used it before. A mixture of blended learning and flipped classroom using Moodle works well in such a context, as students can work at their own pace (with minimum interim deadlines) and all abilities can be catered for.

Course structure

The course is split into 6 main parts

  • Introduction
  • Investigate
  • Plan
  • Create
  • Evaluate
  • Completed project

The four sections at the middle follow the Design Cycle as found in the MYP Technology framework.

Modules used

Labels

I use labels a lot, mainly to visually break down my course and allow students to navigate it more easily. I also use labels to inform students of their main deadlines. 

Using labels in Moodle

Videos > Kaltura

The vast majority of my students’ first language is not English, and some students find it difficult to really grasp the intricacies of the unit of work. I have created video lectures that students can watch at their leisure, either in or out of the lessons, along with a text version of the script, so that students can copy-paste it into Google translate should they so wish.

Example of a video lecture 

I have also created a few video tutorials that are specific to our context, and that students would not be able to find during their investigation (e.g. upload a Scratch animation to our course database). Students know where videos are available as the ► sign is shown in the resource title on the course page (see here for more signs you can use in resource titles). I often set those videos to be watched as homework, prior to the lesson.

Pages

I use pages mainly to display the level descriptors. The videos mentioned above are also embedded in pages, rather than using the ‘kalvid’ module in Moodle.

Files

I share a few documents in the course, such as an exemplar of a previous student’s work, a ‘help booklet’ that includes the unit question, level descriptors, etc. and working Scratch animation samples, ordered by level of difficulty.

 Files in Moodle

Glossaries

Some of the vocabulary in the MYP Technology framework can be a bit confusing (e.g. ‘design specification’, ‘design problem’, ‘design brief’, ‘designs’, etc.) so I have made available some definitions with examples in glossaries. Students are encouraged to add their own terms to the glossaries, as long as they are not already available in any of the glossaries. This is very useful to deal with subject specific vocabulary.

Lessons

I have put together a couple of very simple lessons, neither of which include questions. I like to use lessons to create ‘micro sites’ within my courses. I could have used the ‘book’ module instead but I like the flexibility that the lessons offer, should I decide to add more complex branching in the future.

Lesson in Moodle

Database

Students are encouraged to share their Scratch creations. I also encourage students to comment on each other’s work (e.g. what could be done to improve a particular part of the creation) and/or to remix it. Respect of intellectual property is a big part of this unit of work and this activity allows students to practice it first hand, as content creators & end-users.

Example of a database in Moodle

Checklists

As mentioned above, students are expected to write a rather lengthy document to keep track of their process, at every stage of the MYP Technology design cycle. This can be very demanding for some students and I provide them with a checklist for all of the four main parts of the design cycle.

Example of a checklist in Moodle

Turnitin

Turnitin helps me reinforce the ‘Academic Honesty Policy’ in place at my current school. It is always interesting to have whole-class discussions about ‘what constitutes a good originality score’ (students always ask me this).

Choice

Although students are not really marked on the technical complexity of their final product, I have put together a ‘star scale’ for students to self-assess the complexity of their Scratch creation (if they choose to make something else, then we have a chat together). The number of stars attained depends on the types of blocks used in their scripts. Once they have finished creating their product, students use the ‘choice’ activity to gauge where their creation stands on the ‘star scale’.

 

Example of a page in MoodleExample of a choice in Moodle

Workshop

Although the workshop activity is rather difficult to tame at first, it is a fantastic for self and peer-assessment. I break down the unit level descriptors into about 25 to 30 easy to mark criteria (e.g. ‘The design brief is mentioned in the document’ — Yes/No), usually with the students so that the language is easy to understand. I allocate 3 pieces of work to be marked for each student, plus their own. We have a class discussion about what makes useful comments, prior to the task. On average, it takes students between 90 minutes and 2 hours to complete this extremely useful task. Each student has had their work peer-marked 3 times, with comments on how to improve their work, in a language that they can easily understand.

Example of a workshop in Moodle

Assignment

I use the actual level descriptors for teacher marking and therefore need to have students upload their work in a regular Moodle assignment so that I can attach a rubric to it. I usually give students some time to improve their work after they have read the comments written by their peers in the workshop activity. Once they are happy with their work, they upload their final deliverables to this assignment for me to mark.

Certificate

Whether the course is gamified or not, every student is given a certificate once they have completed the course.

 

How I ‘gamified’ the course

There are a few very clever developers who have created plugins (1, 2) to gamify Moodle, one of which will make it to Moodle core in the very near future. However, when I started gamifying my courses there were no such plugins so I had to find a way to get it done with only Moodle core functionalities (warning, this only works in Moodle 2.0 and newer).

The whole idea behind my ‘gamified’ course is simple; I created some ‘badges’ (really they’re just labels with some clipart and a name) that students can ‘unlock’ when they complete specific activities (the labels are hidden until students have completed activities & resources). That’s about it! Read here for more details.

I usually would put together some Youtube video to show you how it’s done but I need to keep things quiet in the house, I wouldn’t want to wake the baby up! Until I manage to find some time to make the video, this simple walkthrough should be enough to get you started. 

  1. Enable conditional activities & completion tracking at Moodle site level. Settings > Site Administration > Advanced Features (you need to have administrator rights for this).
  2. Enable completion tracking at the course level. Settings > Course Administration > Edit Settings > Student progress.
  3. Each resource/activity can now be ‘aware’ of its completion status for each user, but you have to set it up for each resource/activity. When editing a resource/activity you now have two extra boxes called ‘Activity Completion’ and ‘Restrict Access’. Please visit this page for more information on the available options – most of the options are self-explanatory though.
  4. Select the resources/activities you want to keep track of. I personally don’t keep track of labels, because it doesn’t really fit the needs of the course. You also need to choose whether a resource/activity’s completion state is marked manually by the student, or if it needs marked complete when specific conditions are met. Note that it is fairly important that you get this right as soon as students have started completing activities you won’t be able to change the options without losing some data.
  5. Think about what badges you would like for your students to collect.
  6. Decide what conditions students will need to meet for individual badges to be ‘unlocked’ by students.
  7. Create your labels with your fancy clipart (I get mine from openclipart.org)
  8. You now need to restrict access for each or your badges (okay, labels). You can take a look here to see the conditions students need to meet to unlock badges on my course

If you want to add ‘Easter eggs‘ to your course, you will need to make use of orphaned activities. This is a little bit more involved and I’ll mention it in my Youtube video.

If you do decide to gamify your Moodle courses I’d be interested to hear from you, so please write a comment below or give us a shout @TeachWithMoodle on Twitter. For those who wonder, I haven’t woken the baby writing this post!

[pulledquote]I announced a few weeks back that I would try and quantify the increase in engagement I have noticed when gamifying my Moodle courses. I have just started teaching two similar groups, and one has been exposed to the regular course, and the other to a gamified version of it.[/pulledquote]

I will post my findings every week, and will draw a summary at the end of the experiment. This post retraces what has happened in the first week of the experiment.

 

Note: Don’t expect a huge study, this is an experiment involving 2 groups of just over 23 students, aged 12 to 13 years old, over an 11 week period. Please keep this in mind when reading my interpretation of the results, and I would recommend you to think twice before quoting it in an essay 😉

Methodology

  • Course was duplicated twice
  • One course per teaching group
  • One group is exposed to the gamified course, the other is exposed to the regular course
  • The resources/activities are exactly the same, are presented in the same order and are available at the same time on both courses
  • The look & feel of both courses is exactly the same
  • In short, both courses are the same but one course is gamified (i.e. students can collect badges when completing activities), and the other isn’t
Gamified courseRegular course
Gamified Moodle courseRegular Moodle course
Full size imageFull size image

Course on the left has badges for students to unlock, course on the right doesn’t

Context

The two teaching groups are relatively similar in terms of gender, age, and academic achievement distribution. I currently work at a non-selective/DSS secondary school in Hong Kong, where most of the 720 students’ first language is not English. All of the students concerned by this experiment have access to a computer at home, connected to high-speed Internet. The experiment is carried out on Form 1 students, which equate to Year 7 in the UK system, or 7th grade in the US system.

Group 1 – Gamified courseGroup 2 – Regular course

23 students (14 boys, 9 girls)

24 students (14 boys, 10 girls)

Findings from week 1 

I am trying to record as much information as possible and, although I have a pretty good idea of what I want to find out, the list of metrics I am analysing is growing organically.  Here are some questions I have asked myself so far, some with early answers.

Do some students cheat?

The age old question! In order to unlock badges, students need to complete activities and view resources. Some of those activities/resources are marked as complete automatically (e.g. when a student views a webpage, a tick is automatically placed next to that resource), or the student needs to mark it as complete themselves. Students can then cheat, ticking an activity as ‘complete’ even though they didn’t even open the activity/resource in question.

Answer: In the first week, 5 students from each group marked activities done, even though they had not even visited the said activities/resources. So yes, some students cheat, whether the course is gamified or not. 

TODO: I need to have a look at the length of time between each click. This leads to a question for the future –> do some students go on a ‘clicking spree’ to mark as many activities complete as possible?

Are some students forgetful?

If some students mark an activity as complete, even though they haven’t completed it, then the reverse must be true. I queried the logs to find out.

Answer:  in group 1, 18 students viewed at least 1 resource and did not mark it as complete. In group 2, 20 students viewed at least 1 resource and did not mark it as complete. This is a lot more than I thought, and again there seems to be little difference as to whether a course is gamified or not.

TODO: I clearly explained to my students that marking an activity as done implies that not only they have viewed it, but also understood it. I need to find out whether students did not mark it done as one of those criteria wasn’t met, or if they simply forgot to tick it as done.

Do students spend more time on the gamified course?

I love statistics so there will be a detailed analysis at the end of the 11 weeks, along with the whole data set in case you want to perform your own analysis. For now, here is a quick breakdown of what happened in week 1, using the ‘Course dedication‘ block.

Time spent on site (hh:mm)Group 1Group 2
Total54:33  44:15
Average02:1601:51
Median02:1301:54
Maximum05:2302:50
Minimum00:2800:00

Answer: as you can see, students who have been exposed to the gamified course have spent longer on the Moodle course than the students exposed to the regular course (+23% on average). It will be interesting to see how this evolves over time.

TODO: I want to have a better overview of what the students are actually doing on the site. Time to find a way to analyse the logs in a meaningful way. 

Do students click on more resources/activities on the gamified course?

In light of the previous answer, the answer to this one might sound obvious but I went to check anyway. I simply looked at the Moodle logs and counted the number of clicks in the course, minus my own and ensured the timeframe was correct.

Number of clicksGroup 1Group 2
Total1,7221,349
Average per student74.956.2
Median7456
Maximum149115
Minimum917

Answer: yes they do, quite a bit more in fact. On average, a student exposed to the gamified course performed 33% more clicks than their counterparts exposed to the regular course.

TODO: again, it would be quite interesting to see what students are doing, more in depth. Also, I’d like to see if this levels off over the next few weeks.  

There is probably a lot more to look at, so please write a comment below if there is anything you’d like to find out before this experiment is over, for example any specific data analysis. If you have any questions for my students, I am happy to ask. 

[pulledquote]Most of the Moodle courses I have seen are full of extremely useful and meaningful information/activities. It is not always practical to ensure whether students have interacted with an activity or viewed a resource, as it can be very time consuming to check Moodle logs. Come ‘conditional activities’. In this post, I discuss ways to use this great feature to increase students’ engagement in your courses.[/pulledquote]

What are conditional activities?

Since the introduction of Moodle 2, it has been possible for users to track which activities/resources they have completed. This means that resources/activities are ‘aware’ of their completion status for each course user. This completion status awareness allows a teacher to have activities/resources show up only when certain conditions have been met, for example Resource B will only be shown to users who have completed Activity A. There is a comprehensive explanation of how this feature works on the Moodle HQ website, this post is not a ‘how-to’ for conditional activities.

 

Gamify your Moodle courses – badges

Younger students seem to respond very well to this strategy. I have ‘gamified’ two of my middle-school courses and I have noticed a sharp increase in student engagement in both (i.e. they complete more activities, more often and to better standards). Moodle should soon benefit from an integration with OpenBadges, but until then here is what you could do.

  • The idea is to create a bunch of badges that students can ‘unlock’ by completing activities or viewing resources. 
  • My ‘badges’ are simple images inserted in labels that are completely hidden until specific conditions have been met (see figure 1). 
  • When students complete activities or view resources, those images will appear on their screen, giving them the impression that they have ‘unlocked’ it. 
  • A student will only see the badges that they have unlocked, thus Moodle course pages look different to all students.
  • There seems to be a bit of healthy competition happening between students as they compare the number of badges when they log on to Moodle in the classroom (see figures 2 and 3). 
  • Some badges are harder to get than others and those students who manage to unlock them tend to keep the tricks and locations to themselves. 
  • I will be conducting a study between 21st March and 7th July to measure the impact of gamifying a Moodle course; I will expose one group to the gamified course, and another group to the un-gamified version and compare. Visit in a few months time if you’re interested in the results. 
Figure 1
Teacher view – some possible badges and the conditions to ‘unlock’ them
Click to zoom in
 
Figure 2
Student view – Each student only sees the badges they have ‘unlocked’
This student has collected 2 badges
 
Figure 3
Student view – Note that students do not see the conditions to unlock badges. This can be changed in the settings
This student has collected 4 badges
 
 

Tips & tricks

 

School reward system

If your school rewards effort through house points, or other, you could link your ‘badges’ mentioned above with the actual school reward system. For example, with my 11 year old students 2 badges = 1 house point.

 

Orphaned activities

This actually started out as a bug in Moodle, but now has become a feature. It is possible to have resources/activities hidden from students but still accessible through the URL. Consider the following example:

  • You create a course with 10 sections and you have activities/resources in every section.
  • You want the activities/resources in section 10 to be accessible by URL but invisible on the course page.
  • Cut down your course to 9 sections, but you do not remove the activities/resources in section 10.
  • The activities/resources in section 10 become invisible to students, but can still be accessed through the URL, as they are not hidden as such.
  • This means that you can now add ‘Easter eggs’ to your course by linking directly to the orphaned activities.
Example of an ‘Easter egg’
  • I want my students to spot 10 subject specific words in my course and click on each to read the definitions.
  • Those 10 words can be anywhere in the course e.g. webpage, quiz question, lesson, etc.
  • Each word is linked to a popup webpage, where the definition for that word is available.
  • The webpages are in the section that is invisible to students e.g. orphaned activities
  • When a student finds a word and clicks on it, the linked webpage opens in a popup.
  • That webpage automatically gets marked as ‘completed’ and remains invisible on the course page.
  • When a student has found and seen all words, he/she unlocks the ‘Vocabulary’ badge.
 

‘Must not be marked complete’

This is slightly difficult to get your head around but the idea is simple,

  • Setup activities/resources
  • They will show up as default e.g. a student new to your course will see it on their course page
  • Some activities will ‘disappear’ when a user has completed specific activities. 

Example

  • Course with 4 activities, A, B, C and D.
  • Activity A (easy activity) – Set to be marked complete if viewed & to show only if Activity B is not marked complete.
  • Activity B  (difficult activity) – Set to be marked complete if viewed & to show only if Activity A is not marked complete.
  • Activity C  (easy activity) – Set to only show if Activity A is marked complete.
  • Activity D (difficult activity) – Set to only show if Activity B is marked complete.
  • If a student clicks on Activity A, then Activity B will ‘disappear’ from their course and Activity C will become available.
  • If a student clicks on Activity B, then Activity A will ‘disappear’ from their course and Activity D will become available.
  • This is great to gamify your courses, or to differentiate your courses.

 

Conditional sections

Since Moodle 2.3, it has been possible to make entire sections of a course appear when certain conditions have been met. This can greatly reduce your workload as you won’t have to go and set the conditional status of each activity/resource.

 

Please share your creative uses of conditional activities to increase students engagement in your Moodle course by writing a comment.