Tag Archives: education

Second Life: conference, land sale

I’m happy to say that I’ll be volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference again this year. It takes place from March 9-12 in SL and OpenGrid and everyone is welcome to attend, no charge. Some of the sessions are also streamed live and recorded to watch later.


And that’s where I come in. Last year I volunteered as a greeter and a mentor: before the event I helped presenters get set up with the technology they needed, I served as on-site tech support during their events, and for a few hours, I stood at a landing point and welcomed attendees. Those weren’t the best assignments for someone who is terribly shy around strangers. Interactions are easier in a virtual world but I still get tongue-tied (finger-tied?) and uncomfortable.

So, this year I volunteered to be part of the streaming team. Not only is there less personal interaction, but I get to have the fun of working the camera and producing video content from the conference. Yesterday I attended a training meeting with other members of the streaming team and I’m excited by the possibility of creating professional grade recordings of an SL live event. I’m looking forward to learning more and playing with the tools in my spare time.

I haven’t been in SL much at all lately, which leads me to my next topic: my parcel on the Heterocera Atoll mainland. If any of you are looking for a quiet, low-lag place to drop a skybox or build on the uneven terrain, ping me (in SL as Kay Jiersen or with that same name – no spaces – at gmail). I’ve already abandoned a couple sections of my land, but I plan to give up another 3000 m² and limit myself to the land allowance on my premium accounts. The region I’m in is almost empty, just two long-term SL residents and abandoned land.  I’d happily chop off a section for one of my blog readers and sell it for L$ pocket change rather than abandoning it to be wasteland. In a perfect world, Linden Lab would say, “Oh, Kay! We’d really prefer you to just keep the land, because you landscape it nicely and don’t run idiotic scripts or put up ban lines, so we’ll waive your tier!”, but let’s not talk crazy.

Yesterday I was discussing my SL land with a new companion. I told him that honestly, part of the difficulty in downsizing is getting rid of things that belonged to Jakob that are rezzed on the parcel: bouquets of flowers, wind chimes, a lotus pond. “Take photos of them, then return them,” was his practical response. “Either way, it’s all just pixels.” True, but that doesn’t make it much easier.

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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Learning, Relationships


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Video game summer school

As someone who enjoys video games, even those I’m lousy at playing, it’s no surprise that I think gaming can provide unintentional learning opportunities. Of course there are games that target specific skills, but I’m seeing many ways that even the MMORPG I’ve been playing can be educational.


That’s my second avatar in ArcheAge. Like my first, she’s of the Argent class and she just reached level 47, but she’s a different race from my initial avatar and I’m working on different proficiencies with her.  Since I’m nearing endgame levels and I refuse to engage in PvP fighting or join parties, guilds, or raids, at this point I’m doing whatever amuses me rather than playing the game as it’s designed. That means a lot of stealthy farming and gathering, leveling skills so I can craft everything I need, observing chat drama, and wandering off the edges of the map.  It’s given me a lot off time to see what other people are doing in-game and think about those behaviors.

I’ve seen players develop incredibly detailed profit and loss spreadsheets, as intricate as anything in a first-year college accounting class. Making money can be a big part of the ArcheAge gameplay, either as a goal in and of itself or as a way to afford high level gear. Someone who successfully farms for profit in AA has to track his costs carefully: raw materials (seeds, saplings, baby livestock), feed/fertilizer/medicine, land costs, the cost of the labor points used to plant and harvest, the cost of buildings/storage and carts/ships for transportation. He needs to know where he can get the most profit from what he raises and balance that against the risk of piracy on long trade runs. He must monitor the prices of raw materials he needs but doesn’t grow himself, as well as keeping an eye on the auction prices for his products, which sometimes may be cheaper to buy than grow himself.

Farmers like me, who don’t own or share land but instead seek out hidden places on the map where they can plant, have a different set of variables to track. We incur a higher labor cost and the risk of loss through theft or griefing, and we might need to keep track of numerous spots and the time that each particular crop will ripen. If someone intends to farm for profit instead of just playing 3D Farmville, the bookkeeping is no small matter.

Others monitor auction prices with the diligence of Wall Street options traders, snapping up underpriced items and flipping them for profit. Though some use bots and plug-ins that are against the game rules, many simply keep track of prices, fees, and profits over time. I’ve seen a trader buy up all of the listings for one particular item, then relist all of them at higher prices with differing auction duration.

Social and strategic skills are exercised in an MMORPG, for better or worse. In ArcheAge, trusted partnerships can be important for commerce and crafting as well as fighting. It’s possible to play as pirates and criminals, though there is a peer trial and prison system that provides consequences to those actions. Because people who have played the game long enough to have good gear, equipment, and land have a huge advantage over new players, new players who want to reach the upper echelon need to be socially strategic, making connections and getting into a powerful or very helpful guild. Once inside a guild, all the political and interpersonal pressures intensify. I was so burned out by leading a guild in another MMORPG that it will be a long time before I choose to be an active member again.

Even people who like to explore on their own face puzzles that require creative thinking. How is it possible to reach the peak of that mountain? Is there a hidden path, or a slope that can be tackled with some difficulty, or might I have to find a higher peak beyond my render distance and soar over with my glider?  Plotting a path through a bunch of monsters without attracting aggro is mathematical thinking.

It may seem mindless, but even relatively low-strategy gaming requires more cognitive work than passively watching a movie. When my stepson was younger, sure, I would have preferred for him to read a book, build something, play an instrument, or get a job in his free time, but I knew that his MMORPG time was valuable in helping him develop social and conflict management skills. Now as I lurk at the edges of ArcheAge, I see another generation engaging their brains along with their fingers.


Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Gaming, Learning


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VWBPE conference, day 4 (part 2)

The final keynote was from Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jayjay Zifanwe), who spoke on “Building Global Communities Through Virtual Worlds”. He talked first about how he began in a virtual world, building an online version of the University of Western Australia. Winning a Google SketchUp Build Your Campus in 3D competition with his team helped them gain credibility and funding from campus sources.


His initial plan in Second Life was simply to reproduce the UWA campus so that people could enjoy the space. However, the campus soon became a living and breathing university, with in-world classes, an architecture competition, visualization research, artistic exhibitions, and machinima challenges. You can see more about that in the short promotional video below.

Jay Jay discussed a building launch where audiences were in both SL and the physical world, with cameras on both so that they could see each other.  After that, they did a full launch of the UWA online campus and the online presence was actually selected as one of the 100 Treasures of the university upon its centenary. Also, they made a point of connecting with media outlets for coverage. Jay Jay mentioned how he’s actually been able to travel extensively in the physical world to talk about his work in the virtual world.

He went on to discuss many ways that they’ve crossed between worlds: running film competitions, making physical books of the art from virtual competitions, taking part in a virtual world working group, and leading joint classes with other universities. They also created SLeducate to help educators and students learn about the opportunity in virtual worlds.

Then, Jay Jay showed a picture of a pretty, pixie-like avatar that he introduced as his friend Dianne. He showed a photo of her in RL — a lovely woman with a warm smile and mid-length white hair. Then, a third photo of her in her wheelchair. That was part of his inspiration for the Freedom Project, for artists and filmmakers with disabilities or chronic illness (in partnership with other organizations). He shared some of their artworks and words with us. It was a powerful way of reminding everyone how important SL can be to people who have limitations in the physical world.

It was remarkable to see how much Jay Jay, UWA, and their partners are doing. Wow, just wow. He attributed their success to the community, spread across arts and teaching and other fields, so the campus is always dynamic, and collaborating with other organizations. Before he left, he shared the film that won their 7th challenge, MetaPhore, by Tutsy Navarathna:

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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research


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VWBPE conference, day 4 (part 1)


Shh. I’m still red-faced and attending the conference incognito.

Today is busy for me offline, so my plan is to see two sessions at beginning and end of the day. I’ll split those into separate posts to remain relatively timely.

The morning began with a talk by Susan Toth-Cohen (Zsuzsa Tomsen), “7 Years of Adaptation and Renewal in Second Life”. She has been using SL with her occupational therapy graduate students for that entire time. She began by talking about how she became involved here. She jumped in with both feet: quickly creating an avatar, joining the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), volunteering in-world, leasing a home base, and meeting others who were strong advocates for the possibilities of virtual worlds. She then began to talk about working with her students, mentioning the Diffusion of Innovation Theory and expressing surprise that the Millennials she taught were not so quick to embrace SL. (The Milennials I taught had never heard of SL until I did a presentation about it.)


Susan decided that she didn’t want to be walled off on a private campus, so she got a small parcel on EduIsland, open to the rest of SL, and said that the traffic was stimulating to her students. She took hundreds of classes in building and creating, used the framework on how to create powerful interactive exhibits from the Tech Virtual Museum, and discovered interactive tools like Holodecks. Her graduate students worked as groups to create and present research-based material in areas such as the Adapted Playground and the Garden of Healthy Aging.

The next section of her talk was about scholarship and faculty development in virtual worlds, as well as grants/funding and the difficulty of publishing work done here. (She specifically mentioned an article about the Garden of Healthy Aging being rejected because it lacked “behavioral outcomes”, which makes me think it could have been a great fit for something like Medical Anthropology Quarterly or a journal of another field that would value a discussion of the lived experience of using the Garden.) Susan emphasized that documenting the work she does in-world in other formats, YouTube videos and a blog, was essential for establishing it as legitimate scholarship.

All in all, very interesting. It reminded me of the difficulties I had getting Second Life research approved by my university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Though the university maintains an island in SL and has staff partially dedicated to working there, it was as if I was asking about doing research in Narnia. Eventually I rewrote my proposal so it didn’t require approval and moved on from there.

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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research, Uncategorized


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VWBPE conference, day 3 (part 1)

I’m splitting today’s posts about the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference into two parts, to take advantage of my afternoon break and not overload either post.


I arrived at the first session, “Creating Dinosaurs & Earning Badges”, in my finest pteranodon attire, but since it was as anachronous as my normal shape, I reverted to human to sit in the amphitheatre. Presenter Jeroen Frans is a founder of The Vesuvius Group.  He spoke first about a project they did for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which has a summer program in which middle school kids study cretaceous sea animals. The program only lasts two weeks, which doesn’t allow much time for teaching building or texturing skills, so they created a LEGO-like build kit so the kids could make animated models of the animals in a virtual world. In the photo below, you can see the build kit on the right as well as two types of avatar — a skate and an ammonite — that are used in the program.


It got even cooler. The kids were instructed to think about how their creatures behaved, what they ate, where they lived, etc. This shaped how their creations acted in the virtual world.  Unfortunately, they hit technical limitations and had to reduce the numbers that were active at any time. Jeroen also explained how they set up an orientation area to teach the teachers, so that they could train students ahead of time and not have that cost time during the program. Everything about their implementation was awfully clever and I’m looking forward to playing with their build kit.

Later in his presentation, Jeroen talked about two other projects. One was for the World Bank Institute. The WBI wanted to gamify some of their courses, so Vesuvius created a game show and also an ATV race track, with questions to challenge the participants at checkpoints. The second was for the CATEA project (Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access) through Georgia Tech. They created an environment for mentors to meet with disabled STEM students, but soon found that the lecture-type spaces weren’t used.  So, they gamified the process by creating a HUD that allowed participants to earn badges by attending events and doing things online.


The next session I attended was “Transcending Culture in Global Settings”, in which Steven R. Van Hook discussed his own work. His research question was, “How do we gather a group of culturally diverse people in an international setting, and try to get beyond our differences, reaching together towards a common purpose?”  He did this by using a study group of university students (with more than 24 countries of origin) in an advertising class, looking for positive transcultural themes in television commercials. You can find a paper published from his research here: Hope and Hazards of Transculturalism.


I had to leave that session a little early, so I will have to read the paper to learn more about his conclusions.

I’ll post another update at the end of the night. Now, I’ve got to grab a quick lunch before two hours of social anxiety volunteering as a greeter, and then I’ve got a little break before more sessions.


Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Learning, Research


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VWBPE conference, day 1

The 8th Annual Virtual World Best Practices in Education conference started earlier today. Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg kicked things off with the opening keynote. The amphitheatre started filling up more than an hour before the event.


I should be jaded after almost ten years in Second Life, but it was still exciting to see five Lindens on the map. This year I wasn’t able to take notes (one of the many advantages of a virtual world conference is that I could attend while cooking dinner) and I don’t see a video of the keynote online yet, but there are excellent posts about it from Daniel Voyager and Ciaran Laval.

Update: here’s the video!

Unfortunately, I missed the discussion on gamification that I planned to attend after that, and I hope to find a summary.

In the evening, I attended two sessions from the tech-savvy educators at the University of Idaho. The first was a hands-on workshop entitled “The Importance of Space”.  We visited three different environments and played with blocks that had some odd physical qualities. I had the pleasure of trying to figure out the blocks with Gentle Heron of Virtual Ability; we both approached the challenge with a similar mindset, though I’m not sure she laughed as loudly as I did when we discovered that if you sat on a block, you would immediately faceplant on the floor. The discussion afterward addressed how we felt in each space, emotionally and physically, and then connected that to principles of design. It’s useful to remember that in a virtual world our meeting spaces can be anything we want them to be.


After the workshop, we went over to the University of Idaho online campus in Idahonia for a research presentation entitled “Comparison of Teen Gamers and Non-Gamers in A Virtual Learning Simulation”. You can find that paper on page 29 of this issue of the Journal of Virtual Studies (it’s easiest to download the PDF and read it offline). The presentation itself was interesting but there was great value in the Q&A session afterwards, where people compared notes on some of the nuts and bolts of virtual teaching experiences: how to get buy-in from local schools when SL has a reputation as an adult space, funding and bandwidth issues, and the advantages of online simulations. I really enjoyed watching educators sharing ideas and links.


Tomorrow I have three sessions that I’m hoping to attend, plus I have two volunteer shifts as a greeter. Friday’s schedule is packed with seven sessions I’d like to see. At physical world conferences I usually hit burn-out and people overload by the second or third day; it’s not so bad for an introvert when I can put down my headset and step away if I’m feeling crowded.

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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Learning, Research


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VWBPE conference this week!


VWBPE info kiosk at my office

The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference runs from Wednesday through Saturday this week. I’m not an educator but this is a conference I strongly recommend. Most of the year, I read articles about how virtual worlds might be used to teach, inform, increase empathy, improve health, etc — usually based on studies run by researchers on a few dozen college undergraduates. At this conference, I get to hear from people who aren’t just speculating; they’re doing the work. They’re using Second Life and Open Grid to teach academic classes for teenage and adult students. They’re creating interactive virtual spaces for people to learn about healthy choices and medical conditions. They’re performing live theatre and music and shooting films. They’re dealing with issues like distracted students, varied technical abilities, and diverse cultures and languages. They’re building their own supplementary welcome/tutorial experiences to help people new to the world.

The conference is free and you don’t need to be an educator to attend, so if any of the sessions interest you, stop by. Some of the talks, panels, and machinima will be streamed live if you can’t attend in-world. I’m working a few shifts as a greeter and mentor, and I hope to clear my schedule so I can get to the following sessions. All times are in SLT, which is GMT -7.


  • 13:00 – Virtual Education in Second Life & In the Future: keynote talk by Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg
  • 14:00 – Gamification
  • 16:00 – The Importance of Space
  • 18:00 – Comparison of Teen Gamers and Non-Gamers in a Virtual Learning Simulation


  • 7:00 – Reconstructing and Navigating the Crossroads of Community
  • 9:00 – Gaming and Machinima at the Crossroads of Gender and Culture
  • 10:00 – Quill & Quarrel: REAL Theater in a VIRTUAL World


  • 7:00 – Creating Dinosaurs & Earning Badges
  • 8:05 – Transcending Culture in Global Settings
  • 11:00 – How Do Virtual Experiences Alter Users’ Visual Cognition?
  • 14:05 – Educators and the Second Life Viewer
  • 15:00 – Content Curation Through Virtual World Communities
  • 17:00 – Real Democracy in a Virtual World


  • 7:00 – 7 Years of Adaptation and Renewal in Second Life
  • 16:00 – Building Global Communities through Virtual Worlds

There are many others; see the full calendar with descriptions here, including social and machinima events. There’s also an exhibit space to visit in your spare time. Perhaps I’ll see you there.


Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Learning, Research


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8th Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference


This year’s conference is only a couple weeks away, so now’s the time to clear space on your calendar. If you’re interested in how educators are using persistent virtual worlds, this is the place to be. You can get a taste by watching video from some of last year’s sessions. I’ve attended for the past couple years and this time I’m volunteering as a mentor and greeter.

To see this year’s schedule, go to the VWBPE calendar and use the arrow next to “go to date” to look ahead at March. So many of the sessions look good! Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg kicks off the conference with the opening keynote at 1:00pm SLT on Wednesday, March 18th and the list of featured speakers is interesting.

There is no cost to attend. Some sessions take place in Second Life and some on the AvaconGrid: how to access the conference.  If you haven’t used SL or OpenSim before, accounts are free but it will take some time to download a viewer and set up an account. (Note that if you’re an SL resident and want to attend the Avacon sessions, you must use a viewer version that can also access OpenSim and you will need to set up a new account there.)

There is a page about conference etiquette on the VWBPE site and I’ll add a couple items. The keynote addresses and some other events can be so well-attended that the sims are full, but you can still attend: simply go to a nearby area and move your camera to see and hear the speaker. If you are wearing a lot of scripts or have high render weight, a conference volunteer may ask you to remove items, so it’s easiest to dress for low lag before attending.

Hope to see you there!

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Posted by on March 3, 2015 in Learning, Research


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Teaching for STEM equality: 80s time machine edition

Over the weekend, a friend showed me an old photo. It has a group of young kids gathered around a Commodore PET computer. At the keyboard, face unseen, is the only girl in the picture: me. It’s hard to mistake my early ’80s feathered pageboy haircut. I’d share the photo but I don’t have permission of the others; I can’t remember half of their names. So, you get a photo of what we were focused on:

"Commodore 2001 Series-IMG 0448b" by Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr via Wikimedia Commons -

“Commodore 2001 Series-IMG 0448b” by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

From 1980-1984, I was in the first “gifted and talented” math and science program in my school district. I had the same math teacher all four years, apparently the only one up to the challenge of teaching know-it-all middle school brats. He taught us logic, basic algebra and geometry, and then he brought in a computer and taught us how to use that. If my memory is accurate, we used the PET until he got an Apple IIe.

There is a lot of talk now about how to encourage girls to pursue degrees and careers in STEM. My G&T math classes had 2-3 girls in a room of 12-15 students. I don’t remember my teacher ever treating the girls differently than the boys, but importantly, he didn’t make us all act the same. He encouraged us to be the goofy tween girls we were. I remember that he thought the Smurfs were stupid, so my friend and I used to tease him by singing the theme and calling him Gargamel, though our Gargamel had photogrey aviators and a droopy ’70s mustache. I loved going to math class, even if my favorite subjects were… well, almost everything else.

Looking at that photo yesterday, I noticed something that didn’t register in my memory. The cork board behind the computer table has two sections. One is covered with print-outs of computer art but the other has pictures and biographies of female mathematicians and scientists through history. This was long before diversity was wedged into every part of the standard curriculum; Gargamel must have put conscious thought and planning into it. It makes me smile to look at that board and then the foreground, where an 11 year old girl writes lines of Commodore BASIC as a handful of boys eagerly lean in. And, that’s another point: the boys aren’t looking at me or pushing to get their chance. We’re all focused on the screen.

When I was growing up, it was normal for boys and girls to be friends and play together; something that my mother’s generation found bewildering. At my university a couple of years ago, I got to see young men and women in the generation below mine. At least in a public school in the northern US, I saw friendships and working relationships easily spanning sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and ability. It was a huge step forward in 40 years.

Yet, I can’t open Twitter without seeing new stories about abuse of women in gaming, inequality in hiring and pay in tech companies, or someone pushing to give women a leg up so they can have equity. How is this happening?

I never felt any barriers to being a woman in tech. Guidance counselors pushed me toward engineering (I chose a different path).  Later, in the 15 years I worked in the Internet industry, sure, some people I worked with were sexist. I found them easier to deal with than others who were willfully ignorant, abusive, or scheming.

I wonder if I thrived partially because of the great start I was given by Gargamel. He taught me that it was ok to be myself, female bits and all, and that had nothing to do with math or science or coding. I could be a dork who played Dungeons & Dragons with the boys and shuffled around in Bastad clogs and Jordache jeans with the girls. So what? I belonged there because I could do the work and it interested me. Nothing else mattered.

Not only did he give that message to the small group of girls in his classes, though, it also was the norm for the boys. Looking at the photo, I see boys who were friends and crushes over the years, some who are still connected to me on Facebook. There were boys in high school who gave me a hard time for being active in male-dominated areas, but I don’t see any of them in this photo. Perhaps it was just as important for them to have an environment where girls and boys could be different but still engaged with tech and math. The well-intentioned strategy of offering girls special tech camps might teach them skills in a “safe” environment, but it reinforces a message of separate but equal rather than integration and tolerance.

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Learning


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The efficacy of gamification

On last week’s Drax Radio Hour [with Jo Yardley] featuring Canary Beck, there was a short debate about whether gamification would be a useful way to approach education for new SL residents. That got me thinking about the pros and cons of using gamification, so I reflected on a couple of personal examples, looked at a bit of research, and then considered that particular implementation.


What exactly is gamification?

Gamification is more than handing everyone a trophy for things they might or should do anyway. Gartner research VP Brian Burke says, “Gamification is not about slapping points and badges onto an activity and expecting it to magically become more engaging.” Looking at the use of gamification in business, he differentiates it from standalone games and reward programs in this way:

  • Games primarily engage players on a whimsical level to entertain them
  • Rewards programs primarily engage players on a transactional level to compensate them
  • Gamification engages players on an emotional level to motivate them

I think that games and rewards can be part of a gamification strategy, and often are, but it’s fair to see emotional motivation as a point of differentiation. Mollick and Rothbard define gamification as something that “entails adopting the structure, look, and feel of a designed game with the intent of advancing instrumental organizational goals, while creating the same experience for participants that they would have if they were playing a game”. Hamari et al conceptualize gamification as having three parts:

  1. the implemented motivational affordances
  2. the resulting psychological outcomes
  3. the further behavioral outcomes

After all that academic posturing, though, the explanation I like best is from gamification expert Yu-kai Chou: Gamification is design that places the most emphasis on human motivation in the process. In essence, it is Human-Focused Design (as opposed to “function-focused design”). He explains:

Most systems are “function-focused,” designed to get the job done quickly. This is like a factory that assumes its workers will do their jobs because they are required to. However, Human-Focused Design remembers that people in a system have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do certain things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.

Gamification can be used to motivate us to do things that aren’t very good for us; they’re the techniques that drive huge profits for freemium games, after all. But when the goal is something useful and positive, gamification is a way to help us reach it.

Personal example: Nest thermostats

In my view, good gamification isn’t about dumbing things down or giving everyone a participant medal; it’s a way to make use of our inherent drives to promote a particular behavior. The app for my Nest thermostat shows a green leaf when I turn down the heat enough for energy savings. What do I care about a leaf icon? I don’t. Still, it triggers just enough of a reward reaction in my brain that I’ll turn down the temperature one more degree until I see it. The monthly report email from Nest uses other gamification techniques and encourages social engagement:


The fact that I purchased a digital thermostat suggests that I had an existing interest in energy savings before using the app, which is true. The gamification of Nest’s approach helps keep me on my toes, though. I don’t set the thermostat once and then bemoan my monthly bills; I have a visible incentive to push the limits of my comfort and a tiny feeling of reward when I do so. Those are so small that I never think about them until I start doing an analysis like this, yet they motivate me. Does this mean I never give myself an extra degree or two when the house is chilly? Nope. But I do it less often and we’ve been able to get by with lower settings even with record cold temperatures outside.

That’s nice for me, but is it really effective?

Beyond introspection about what works for me and anecdotes from others, I wondered if gamification is more than hype. I turned to “Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification”, a 2014 paper by Juho Hamari, Jonna Koivisto, and Harri Sarsa. They reviewed 24 studies in their research and found a variety of techniques used to provide the “motivational affordances”: points, leaderboards, achievements/badges, levels, story/theme, clear goals, feedback, rewards, progress, and challenge. And yes, the studies generally found that gamification was effective. There were some caveats, however. The positive results might have been skewed by novelty. Some users hated the same motivational items that others enjoyed. Even among the majority that enjoyed the gamified elements, motivation varied: some wanted to top the leaderboard while others were content to be in the ranking at all.

In their conclusion, they mention what seems to be a key point for gamification detractors: that intrinsic motivation could be diminished from extrinsic rewards. They provide no follow-up to support or refute the statement, perhaps because it wasn’t addressed in the studies they reviewed.

Triangulating from self-determination theory [7] as well as from the traditional definitions of games [3], both suggest that outside pressures (such as extrinsic rewards) undermine intrinsic motivations (see e.g. [6]) and hence would in essence undermine gamification which is an attempt to afford for the emergence of intrinsic motivations.

Looking at my example above, I don’t feel that Nest’s use of gamification undermines my intrinsic desire to save energy. It keeps me more mindful and encourages me. I may get satisfaction from thinking I’m helping the planet or saving money, but those are less tangible than seeing that little green leaf when I choose 66 degrees instead of 68.

Another personal example: learning German with a game

I’ve spent a couple days playing a new German learning game from the Goethe-Institut, Die Stadt der Wörter. Previously I played their Lernbenteuer games on my phone and frankly, at times they were tough! My German vocabulary is not so practical: I can read a bestselling German mystery novel but I don’t know the words to apply for a job. This new game has basic tourist-level vocabulary. Hotel, shopping, transportation, food, free time. It also uses many different motivational techniques. Since they’ve been teaching German for a long time and have tried other game techniques, I wonder if their new approach is based on earlier results.


The basic gameplay involves going through various parts of a city on short missions, clicking on items and typing their names (as you see the words and hear them used in sentences). You earn points as you complete each mission and are sometimes rewarded with additional gear to customize your avatar. Then, they start to pile on the gamification elements to encourage practice and engagement. You can pick up homework papers along the way; complete them correctly and you earn stars, more avatar gear, and coins toward future discounts in the Institut’s store. You are always given a visual display of your progress in the game and there is an achievement area where you can see your progress toward various goals. To add a competitive element, the top 3 players’ avatars are shown and the top 10 players are listed. You can see where you rank at any time, but it isn’t a persistent, annoying element. The game can connect to Facebook and occasionally you are offered the option to share your progress. You can also play mini-games against friends in the game.

It’s as if they took a list of gamification techniques and wedged them all in there. Maybe that is useful for some learners? For me, I feel like I ignore a lot of the options yet still practice well. I’ll admit I feel a burst of competitive spirit when I see my rank improve, even though I’m still somewhere in the 300s. I am inherently motivated to learn German and I work on it every day; if part of that practice is expressly designed to be fun and engaging, I’m inclined to do a little more. That’s not a bad thing.

Welcoming new SL residents with gamification

Gamification in learning is nothing new. A spelling bee is gamification: there is nothing inherent in learning to spell that necessitates a competition, but ranking, awards, and public exhibitions can drive motivation. So, could it be useful for something like helping new residents in a virtual world?

Well, why not?  Taking into account that some percentage of users would hate a gamified method, if it’s possible to skip ahead or use the methods that already exist (mostly self-education or through volunteer groups), I think it would be very effective. Tutorial levels are a common model in video games and using them in an open virtual world seems similar to me, and could be done in a way that doesn’t give the impression that SL is just a game.

Groups in SL have independently developed tutorial areas for new residents and when I tried the new member experience last year, it seemed that Linden Lab’s intro taught some basic skills, but there was no sense of achievement, progress, or connection. I’ve been daydreaming of an implementation that would teach those skills — giving rewards and useful items along the way — and then branch to allow users to explore specific skills, tools, and landmarks for various possible in-world roles, such as Builder/Creator, Student/Educator, Socializer, Fashionista, Roleplayer, Photographer/Moviemaker, etc. Ideally, someone who passed through that sort of tutorial would have skills to get by and pointers to answer the inevitable “So, what now?” question. (I actually gave this far more thought and went deep into the weeds, sketching out a ten level system. If someone wants my input on it, just ask, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself for now.)

When a new resident appears in SL, he has already demonstrated an inherent motivation to check it out and a curiosity about what will be found. The tutorial could be designed to use techniques to enhance intrinsic interest as well as providing extrinsic rewards, and with motivated learners in an environment where gamification doesn’t seem out of place, it would have the characteristics of the most successful implementations reviewed in the study earlier. Why not increase engagement and help new residents get off to a good start?

A final (huge) graphic

Gamification Infographic

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media


Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Learning, Research


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