Survey Says? First Round of Student Feedback

Since any good blog is in constant need of regular content, I thought it would make sense to chart my journey towards a fully gamified classroom — including the good, the bad, and the ugly alike. And last time, I talked about the power of user feedback surveys to help teachers’ inform, shape, and refine their classroom instruction.

Today, I’m looking into the first round of student feedback on my attempt at a fully gamified classroom, which we rolled out to my 11th grade Honors American Literature classes a few weeks ago. In this blink-and-you miss it, delayed-opening 35-minute class, we:

  • Watched a short video trailer to help hype the concept and serve as a crash-course introduction to welcome student players to the world of the gamified classroom
  • Selected player Hero Types
  • Divided players into teams and started our first “point scoring” activity
(We’ll cover each of these elements in closer detail in days and weeks to come. And as new blog posts are added for each topic, I’ll go back into the bullet point items of this blog entry and pop hyperlinks to relevant updates as they are created. For now, here’s the trailer I whipped up on iMovie to introduce the game):

For today, let’s take a closer look at a baker’s dozen sampler comments from early student feedback (as a helpful frame of reference, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that most of these submissions were completed after just 35 minutes of actual in-class “gameplay”). But first impressions for any activity are incredibly powerful gauges of where we are, where we can be, and where we still need work.

And the survey says…

💎 Student #1:
I would love to give info about what I think of this, but unfortunately I was only in class for 10 minutes. Although from what I saw there was lots of energy which was good.”

My Reaction:
Awesome. Enthusiasm is infectious! Even if this student doesn’t quite know what all is going on just yet, the fact that they’re picking up on high energy levels in the classroom is a really promising sign going forward. Likewise, they seem aware that being absent for even a portion of class means that they’re missing out on something exciting. I’ll take it.

💗 Student #2:
I am little bit confused on how to actually play the game. I also think it is cool because I like seeing how other people react to games differently.”

My Reaction:
Love it. Student clearly detects that there’s some degree of social gameplay baked into the instructional design of this long-form activity. Good to know that they still aren’t sure yet of all the particular rules of the game — which is likewise by design at so early a stage of the game. Essential to keep reiterating that this is a game that they’ll continue to learn the rules as they go.

🌵 Student #3:
I’m very excited to make an English class a LITERAL GAME. Although I am a little scared/have no idea what to expect, I’m stoked that I get to do this with my classmates to make English class unforgettable. That being said, I am a little nervous it will get too confusing to play casually. Again, I am not totally sure how Mr. Meehan is handling the gameplay, but my hopes are very high.”

My Reaction:
How great is it that kids in the year 2018 still use the word “stoked?!” Student’s expectations are clearly very high here, and it’s encouraging from a teacher’s perspective to see that the student is putting a great deal of trust in me as their teacher to not screw things up along the way. SO important to empower your audience to feel like rock stars.

🕱 Student #4:
I’m gonna be completely honest, none of this game makes any sense to me whatsoever. But, we didn’t have a whole class period to discuss it and it does seem like fun, so that’s just my first impression.”

My Reaction:
Super important to note. Even though kids naturally enjoy playing games with their friends, not every student will enter your class as a particularly experienced “gamer” — which means I’ll need to introduce new gameplay mechanics gradually, with a clear eye towards onboarding those who might not be so familiar with game-specific terminology like Power-Ups, Bosses, and Treasure.

Student #5
To be honest I am completely confused. I’m not sure how this applies to what we do in class and for the rest of the year. The rules are a bit unclear. I am excited because it could be cool but I really don’t know what’s going on.”

My Reaction:
Excitement is a good thing. Confusion at this stage is deliberate. Concern regarding how the game will apply to course content will need to be addressed — and the sooner the better on that front. This sound like a case for throwing everybody in the pool so they can get a feel for things with some sample gameplay ASAP.

🔒 Student #6:
“I am very excited as a gamer and all the stuff in the game I go play at home in the form of many games, but it may take me more time to grind through it than the typical game I play.”

My Reaction:
Big fan of how this student is connecting the idea of self-identifying as a “gamer” and the idea of applying the same techniques to “grind” through a gamified course in pursuit of an ultimate goal in a similar fashion. If I can connect the WHY behind all the grinding that this approach will demand for my student gamers, this bodes well.

💰 Student #7:
This game does seem a little ‘extra’ for whatever the goal is considering it’s an English class. Since it’s our first day I wasn’t too worried that I wasn’t understanding a lot of it, because there just seems like there’s so much to grasp for a concept of a class activity. I’m still not sure what my standing is on it I don’t know if I will like it or not I just have to experience it a little bit more.”

My Reaction:
I. LOVE. SKEPTICS. Even though I’ve been employing game-inspired elements to my course design and instructional activities for years, I was super hesitant to move to a fully gamified course simply because, as this student noted, I’ve seen poorly executed versions of this exact concept seem “extra” and ring incredibly hollow. Kinda like the wannabe “cool teacher” who sits in a chair turned around backwards, puts on a sideways baseball cap, and tells students “yo peeps, let’s rap about Shakespeare.” Done wrong, gamification is insulting and shallow — and kids can smell a rat from a mile away.

🎯 Student #8:
I think the idea is super interesting. It really reminds me of Dungeons and Dragons in a lot of ways. How exactly it will be incorporated into the lessons is still something I’m not entirely sure about. I’m definitely looking forward into how it will play out, though. Keeping a balance between fun and work will always be tricky, but I think you can pull it off. I’m glad that I get to be part of something new and exciting, even if I can’t quite see where it’s going yet.”

My Reaction:
Score! Full disclosure: I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, but the idea of a massive multiplayer (sometimes online) role playing game is exactly the vibe I’m going for with this. So students with MMORPG experience could be an outstanding resource in helping the game take shape. Empowering students to be co-authors of their education is such a powerful tool.

Student #9:
When I first heard about this I was kind of skeptical, the most experience I’ve pretty much ever had with video games is when I read the book “Ready Player One,” but today showed me that this could be really fun. It will also probably help in getting people to care more about what they are reading, what they are learning and why. So, I do think that this is a good idea and that it can only get better.”

My Reaction:
Perfect. This student and the one just prior to it seem to indicate that gaming still has tremendous appeal even to those students who may not be full-on video gamers. And as a bonus, students are pretty much giving me an annotated bibliography of what to read, what to play, and what to study as I continue developing my gamified classroom (also helps that I’ve read Ernest Cline’s novel, and that Steven Spielberg will be adapting it into a major motion picture in March).

👊 Student #10:
I feel that it might become a lot, but if done right with a lot of class time devoted to learning and understanding the game it could be fun. But I’m honestly not sure right now how this is going to go.”

My Reaction:
Critically important. Having fun while learning and pushing students beyond the typical “rinse and repeat” cycle of low-level content regurgitation is an admirable goal. But at no point should the “game” get in the way of the learning. Instead, the “game” has to enhance the learning at every stage of the process — functioning like a second skin to the course content, or a background soundtrack that can be dialed up or down according to the particular instructional needs of the day.

Student #11:
My initial impression was that this game was going to interesting and I wasn’t sure that it would work out very well. At first I was like ‘what is Mr. Meehan thinking’ because I have never done this before and it seemed kind of scary and confusing. But once I got to understand it and see what we were doing it seemed fun and something that will make this English class be a class to remember. I am excited to see how this goes and to see if I will be good at this game and how it will tie in with our normal class time.”

My Reaction:
Playing to a child’s innate sense of curiosity, imagination and wonder is exactly what a gamified classroom is designed to do. If you’ve earned your students’ trust, they’ll gleefully jump through hoops of fire for you if a teacher asks them to. But as teacher-turned-game-designer, this makes it abundantly clear that it is our job to ensure that the same flaming hoops will never for a second start burning out of control.

Student #12:
“My first impressions of the game was “Damn this is pretty cool, he actually listened to us.” If I was being completely honest. I think this game is definitely a good idea especially since it’s foundation is based off of how us as students want to learn.”

My Reaction:
I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, the teacher in me isn’t 100% thrilled at the student’s choice of words. But on the other hand, the kid is clearly speaking from a place of unfiltered honesty — which is incredibly revealing. The use of the word “actually” here is perhaps most striking: as in, the student is genuinely surprised to hear that one of their teachers would actually listen to the voice of the learners that they serve when designing their instruction. I take this both as a vote of confidence in my pedagogical decision making, and well as a humbling reminder of how little in the way of meaningful autonomy our current education system typically provides the very same students that we seek to serve.

Student #13:
“I think the whole thing is really really cool and well planned out. I’m a little confused on how the point/badge system works, but understand how to level up, the characters/wagon trains and the importance and use of the cards. My first impression is that this is going to be a lot of work, but I’m very excited for it because it is engaging, an incentive for everyone to do their work and unlike anything I have ever done in school before. I’m excited to see how the game turns out and look forward to working with my team mates!”

My Reaction:
Advanced gameplay mechanics like badges, farming, boss battles, and leaderboards will each have their own blog posts and in-class introductions in due time. For starters, getting classes thrown in to the immersive world of the game with single step directions (that snowball over time) seems like exactly the right way to ensure the smoothest onboarding process for all parties involved.

So for next time: I guess we’ll take a closer look at some first week success stories and lessons learned.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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