Gamifying higher education: launching a new blog series

Like many biblical scholars, I earn my living by teaching at a university. In the rank, tenure, and promotion process at Pepperdine, teaching officially weighs twice as much as scholarship. Teaching, therefore, forms a big part of my public-facing identity. However, I don’t just see teaching as a professional requirement or a hat I wear at work. When I introduce myself to new acquaintances and they ask me what I “do,” I am more likely to reply “I teach Bible at Pepperdine University” than “I study the Bible for a living.” “Teacher,” therefore, forms a big part of my self-concept as well.

Gaming also defines a good bit of both my self-understanding and my public-facing identity. A friend introduced me to Avalon Hill bookshelf games (Panzer Blitz), Steve Jackson microgames (Ogre and Chitin), and Dungeons & Dragons (including Judges Guild’s City-State of the Invincible Overlord) in fifth grade (1977–78). I even have some consulting, writing, and editing credits in the game industry, and I have a whole other blog dedicated to gaming. Sometimes, I’ve even had the chance to bring my biblical scholarship to bear on game design, as when I consulted with TriKing Games on introducing the Israelite culture into their Anachronism card game and when I published a couple of articles related to Testament, a biblical-era fantasy role-playing setting (d20 system) by Green Ronin Games.

Most recently, my “teacher” and “gamer” identities have converged around the topic of gamification in higher education. In case you haven’t encountered gamification yet, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s 7 Things You Should Know About newsletter for August 2011 used the widely-accepted definition, “Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior.” Nick Pelling claims to have coined the word “gamification” in 2002, defining it as “applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast” and primarily seeking to make electronic devices fun to use. Only in the last three years or so has the word gained currency with its current meaning, and I have not yet found any published sources prior to 2011 that use the term “gamification” in connection with higher education. Nonetheless, I has already begun gamifying my Religion 101 course as early as the fall semester of 2009, and I made public presentations about these initiatives at conferences in the spring (BibleTech) and summer (Sakai Conference) of 2010. The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2013 Education Edition identifies gamification as one of two major trends with a time-to-adoption horizon of two to three years from publication.

A couple of weeks ago, I appeared on a panel discussing the NMC Horizon Report. This panel took place as part of Pepperdine’s annual faculty conference, which brings together faculty from all five of Pepperdine’s schools. One of the report’s authors, Larry Johnson, also appeared on the panel. Gamification is pretty much always on my mind when I design courses and assignments these days, but appearing on the panel made me want to investigate gamification in a more disciplined way.

Thus the genesis (I had to get Genesis in here somehow) of this post and the series it launches. In the coming weeks, probably stretching into months, I plan to read as much as I can find of the published literature on gamification and blog about the experience. I will also share some of the practical lessons I’ve learned from gamifying my own Religion 101 course. If you’re interested in higher education trends, I hope you’ll follow along and join in the discussion.


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  1. Pingback: Learning Is Fun; Games Are Educational » Peter Kirby

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