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Gamification Techniques: Turning an International Terror Plot Into a Classroom Game

Fred Aebli (Penn State University, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 2:45pm
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Blended Program/Degree
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Oceanic 1
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 3

This talk will present gamification techniques applied to a team based course project which resulted in greater student engagement.

Extended Abstract

Creating an engaging learning environment for our students is one our greatest challenges as educators. Whether you are teaching an online course, a hybrid course, or a resident course, getting students to follow through with their course commitments can be a significant hurdle. Weekly emails, video introductions, etc. are a great way to connect with your students and motivate them. But recent research shows gamification may be another component you can add to your course that will have your students effectively learn their materials and reach course goals. When a course requires a student to complete reading assignments, submit labs, complete assessments, or submit responses to a discussion thread, students appear to start strong but often times fade out due to lack of interest or not seeing how it connects to the course. How can you motivate them to stay engaged? I asked myself this question and my answer was gamification. I have been teaching a course for seven years entitled "Threat of Terrorism and Crime" at Penn State University and gamification has become part of it. The course introduces students to a wide variety of security related topics that required a great deal of reading and report writing. As educators we often observe that reading is not a favorite task among our students. In my course, assigned readings included textbook chapters, professional BLOGS, newspaper articles, and other online sources. In order to further the understanding of the course materials, a course project was created to reinforce other concepts and achieve the course goals. This too added to the reading load. During the presentation I will discuss the effective application of a gamification technique in my course that produced a level of engagement and excitement that was greater than normal and far better than I anticipated. The presentation will define and identify intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and have the session attendees experience an example of this first hand through a simple hands on exercise. I will explain how to use team based assessments as a scoring mechanism and extrinsic motivator, introduce the technique of 'leveling up' like many gaming environments they are accustomed, and introduce 'role-play' as part of a course project. The presentation materials made available will also include file templates showing you how you can easily track these activities and the online tools students found effective in managing their work. Ultimately, the gamification technique I will review is easy to implement for any course in any discipline. To put the gamification technique in the proper context, I will explain the most recent iteration of the course project involving students who were assigned to project teams known as 'FBI Fly Teams' responding as a counter terrorism unit. These teams were required to analyze a large volume of threat intelligence indicating the formation of a possible terror plot at some location around the world and determine the 'plot'. This sets the stage for applying a gamification technique as these teams will compete with one another to determine the terror plot and acquire points to improve their grades. Similar to the board game 'Clue', teams were told it was their goal to learn all the terror plot details and then report to the FBI Director (e.g. the course instructor) the team's analysis to include the terror event location, an estimate of when it would happen, and the weapon to be used. At the beginning of the project, I placed the 'plot' solution in an envelope and sealed it. The envelope would be opened on the due date of the project and we would learn which team's analysis was correct. Prior to the course beginning, artifacts were created in the form of short reports gathered from various intelligence agencies around the world. Example artifacts included online news sources, emails, satellite images, photos, reports, and documented phone conversations. However, in order for the students to gain access to these artifacts, which help decipher the plot, the students needed to complete weekly online assessments based upon assigned readings. Individually, the students were to complete the readings and then take the corresponding reading assessment. I then calculated an average assessment score per team. If the average team score met a predetermined scoring level, the intelligence would be released to the team. If they did not achieve the scoring level, they would be allowed additional attempts on the assessment until the team average hit the required scoring level. The online assessments pull random questions from a pool of questions with each assessment being slightly different and as the course progressed, a little more difficult. Gaining access to more intelligence artifacts is important as it allows a team to further formulate the terror plot. Additional gamification techniques were also used in the form of discussion techniques whereby students were required to engage in scavenger hunt type activities to gather more intelligence artifacts. When the project is due, each team presents their plot analysis. If a team correctly guesses one or two components of the plot, they are rewarded with points to be applied elsewhere in the course such as an exam or assignment. If they guess all three components correctly, points are added to their final individual course grade. When concluding the presentation, I will also share some comments and insight from the students who engaged in the gamified form of the project and students who engaged in the non-gamified version of the project. Lastly, I will share my own observations and lessons learned.
In summary, the presentation will give the audience member a clear idea of what gamification is and how simple gamification techniques can be easily applied to their own courses to motivate students and have them reach a greater level of course content engagement. They might even have fun!

Lead Presenter

As a father of 3, I find myself involved in various youth activities and staying active. Professionally, I am the Co-Program Coordinator and Instructor at the Penn State Worthington Scranton Campus in the Information Sciences and Technology (IST) degree and an instructor in Penn State's World Campus (online). Having been part of the college for over 15 years, I enjoy teaching a variety of information technology courses to include website design, database development, programming, project management, and human computer interaction (HCI). Additionally, I coordinate the IST Internship Program at our campus which allows me to keep in touch with local and national IT needs and getting students excited about technology and entrepreneurship. My background also includes consulting work with small and medium size businesses as they pursue various information technology projects.