Sport Management Students Try Out A New Gamified Classroom

This semester in History and Sociology of Sport and Exercise Science, students will be using a new instructional strategy aimed at increasing student motivation and engagement. The concept of gamification is being added to the course as an assessment strategy and to provide students with a choice for learning course-specific content. Gamification is the use of game elements and game-design techniques within non-gaming situations (Werbach & Hunter, 2012; Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011; Zicherman & Cunningham, 2011). The use of game elements has been shown to engage people, make education more accessible, and accelerate learning curves to help teach complex subjects and systemic thinking (Kapp, 2012; Schmitz, Czauderna, Klemke, & Specht, 2011; Kam et al., 2008). McDonald’s Monopoly promotional game that started in 1987 is an example of gamification being used to market, promote, and engage users/customers: link.

How does it work?

So, how does the gamified course actually work? For this subject and course, History and Sociology of Sport, one theory is that the more exposure and experience you have with topics like gender, race, social class, religion, and others as they relate to sport, the more awareness you have. With this in mind, the traditional 0-100 grading scale was converted into a “leveling up” system. Video games like RPGs (Role-playing games) and MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online games) traditionally use levels to advance player’s gaming characteristics and skills throughout the progression of the game. The same concept was used to develop this course’s grading scale. Envision a video game character’s development and skill progression as the learner’s awareness in these key course-specific areas.

The explanation made sense to the students. They were aware of this leveling system concept and even started shouting out other examples like Call of Duty and Halo.  For those students who were not familiar with the concept, fellow students seemed more than willing to help explain the system to their classmates.

With the leveling up grading system, each student starts the first day of class at level 1; appropriately dubbed the Youth Level.  As students progress through the course and perform assignments and other assessments, their point value increases along with their current level.  Students need to get to level 41, The Professional Level, to receive an A for this course. The leveling system used derived from the following formula from The Elder Scrolls:

Formula: Level 1 to Level N = 12.5 * N2 + 62.5 * N – 75

Using the formula, the following grading scale was produced:


Learner Choice and Accumulating Points:

Students can accumulate points through two ways:



Completing the Required AssignmentsThe required assignments are worth 10,000 points.




….and Learner Choice for Course Content assignments or LC3s.  With LC3s, students get to choose from over 90 different assignments (and growing). Assignments are based around digital content like movies and TV shows, creativity, historical events, and research:


Students can also accumulate points through obtaining achievements. Using Blackboard’s achievement system (tutorial here), students will receive extra points depending on their coursework submissions.  For example, as seen above, completing all five History Flipped Lesson Assignments gets you the “Flipping History” achievement, which rewards the student an extra 500 points. Students are also given points within class discussions for making quality points or bringing forth new research or current events.

The Downside to Gamification

Using gamification can also present some challenges to the course and learner experience. The complexity of the gamified design may actually discourage or confuse learners and take away from the course content. You can read more about “Why You Should Not Use Gamification” here: LINK.

According to the Dominguez et al. (2013) study, task evaluation seems to be one drawback of this gamified strategy. This was a big area of concern when designing this gamified course. “If I give students the option to do a hundred different assignments, how can I possibly give feedback on each type?” Moreover, “how can I maintain academic rigor if I give students complete choice over their learning?”. The main issue seems to be providing quality assessment to the coursework in a timely and appropriate manner.

Our Course Strategy

To combat this issue of assessment, students are required to meet one-on-one with the instructor at both the midterm and the final week of the course. These meetings will have students present and show their LC3s and receive hands-on and immediate feedback on their work.  During the meeting, point values will be awarded for each Blackboard submission made by the student at that time.

In addition, students are required to keep score of their coursework and progression by using Microsoft Excel. A course workbook was created that includes the course schedule, a list of lectures, the grading scale and leveling system, and a scorecard.2014-09-11_13-31-19

Students can use the Excel spreadsheet scorecard to calculate and project their point value and map out their coursework.  If they get 1700 out of 2000 points on the final exam, those points can be “made up” by doing more LC3s. This strategy will hopefully encourage students to project and plan their coursework and take ownership of their learning all while using Excel.

For the Required Assignments selected, each of these are assessed traditionally by using rubrics.  The mid-term and final exam are both heavy on course content.

More To Come: 

Be sure to check back in October to get an update on this instructional strategy.  I’m sure issues will arise and some downsides to this strategy will be identified.  Students will certainly be a part of the discussion in correcting and fixing any issue. As a case in point, I’ve already identified one issue and the students have agreed. Putting “NO LIMIT” on video-based assignments may have been a bad idea. The sport movie pool on Netflix is just too deep!2014-09-11_14-28-49

Lastly, if the course design pans out and the students continue to be flexible with it and communicate routinely, we could end up turning this course design into a competition.

“Who can get to the highest level?”

If we do this, the winner of the course will be given a “traveling trophy” in the form of a WWE Championship belt. Each section of the course will then have its own reigning champion until the next section offered is over.

Increased motivation…..engaged.


S. Deterding, D. Dixon, R. Khaled, and L. Nacke, “From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining ‘Gamification’,” Proceeding of the MindTrek’11, Tampere, Finland, September 28- 30, 2011.

Domínguez, A., Saenz-de-Navarrete, J., de-Marcos, L., Fernández-Sanz, L., Pagés, C., & Martínez-Herráiz, J.-J. (2013). Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers & Education, 63, 380–392. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.12.020

Kam, M., Agarwal, A., Kumar, A., Lal, S., Mathur, A., Tewari, A., et al. (2008). Designing e-learning games for rural children in India: a format for balancing learning with fun. In Proceedings of the 7th ACM conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 58–67). Cape Town: ACM.

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction. San Francisco: Wiley.

Schmitz, B., Czauderna, A., Klemke, R., & Specht, M. (2011). Game based learning for computer science education. In Computer science education research conference (pp. 81–86). Heerlen, Netherlands: Open Universiteit, Heerlen.

Werbach, K., & Hunter, D. (2012). For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press.

G. Zichermann, and C. Cunningham, “Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps,” O’Reilly Media, Inc., First Edition, 2011.

About Dr. Zachary Binkley

Zachary W. Binkley, PhD is the former Assistant Professor and Program Director of Exercise and Movement Science Program. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Special Interest Group on Basketball.

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