Another common element found in video games is the use of avatars. In the early days, you always played a pre-selected character. Mario, Sonic, Samus, Link, Donkey Kong, all the of these pre-existing characters were you as you played through the game. As games got more complex, players started to be given choices in who they would select. Pokemon now offers multiple options, Mario-Kart grants more and more characters, and even Angry Birds lets you choose which "side" of the force you'll adopt in their second Star Wars game. Of course, Avatars have existed in non-mainstream games for years as well. Most all Dungeons and Dragons style games have the players begin by selected the type of character they will be, and have them select abilities based on a limited amount of "experience". For example, a player could be balanced all around while excelling in nothing. They could be super fast, but weak on strength in combat. They could have excellent magic abilities but poor defense to physical attacks. These games became highly customizable.
While I really like the concept of avatars, I've found them difficult to work in the Gamification classroom. I mean, I can easily have students design a character they will be be in the physical sense, or perhaps choose an image of themselves for use in the 3D Game Lab...but when it comes to school, the abilities are already pre-decided. A student can't say "I want to have excellent reading skills but be weak in writing" or "I want to give myself lots of discussion powers but lack focus on work independently". The reason is simple: those things have already been determined the monent the student walks in the door. Students are naturally better at some things and weaker than others. Sadly, they don't have the ability to rearrange these talents on a whim; we have to work with and around them. (Actually, as I write this, I wonder if it might not be a bad idea to have students create a chart in which they map out their existing skills. I would be willing to bet they'd be pretty honest about their strengths and weaknesses, and it may help me out as a teacher. Thanks stream-of-consciousness blog.) Anyway, Avatars are not something I've really used in the past because they seemed fake, especially for a class of high school seniors. They were an extra add-on without any real merit. My job, rather, was to create experiences that allowed students of any existing skill set to succeed, something I'll talk about later when I discuss course design.
I mentioned yesterday I was going to start using badges for a purpose beyond bragging rights. Starting next year, students will get to exchange their badges for more "powers" as the game goes on. Remember, no badges are required to pass the class, but some badges are required if a student wants an "A". Even so, a student could easily get an "A" in the course in all four quarters while only earning 2-4 badges total. That student would get a 90%, but they'd miss out on adding to their tiers. Here's an example of what I mean:
(Please forgive that some of these are a bit vague. I'm still in the process of solidifying the rules for the system)
Tier 1: 0 Badges
TimeWanderer: Complete all assignments as written.
Tier 2: 3 Badges Pick one
TimeTechnician: Able to offer help to others in place of submitting the understanding phase
TimeInnovator: Able to delve for more readings to connect with the existing text in place of the explore phase
TimeManipulator: Able to find alternate perspectives to readings in place of Explore phase
Tier 3: 6 Badges Pick one
TimeTraveler: Able to direct their own learning in place of Existing Synthesis Projects. Must present materials used, create a learning product, and demonstrate 80% Mastery
TimeGuide: Able to direct their own learning in place of Existing Synthesis Projects. Must present materials used, create a lesson for others and demonstrate 80% Mastery
TimeScholar: Able to direct their own learning in place of Existing Synthesis and Test. Must present materials used, create a learning product, and demonstrate 80% Mastery
Tier 4: 8 Badges
TimeLord: The Wizard directs own learning and may develop alternate ways of showing mastery. Must still show mastery over the required standards
Since my overall narrative is based on TimeTravel, the different Tiers and ranks are all built around this theme. You'll notice that there's some choice within the middle tiers, and the final level allows the students to take full direction of their own learning. To acquire 8 badges by the fourth quarter will be difficult. Many students will not make it to TimeLord or even Tier 3 before the year ends. That's ok though. This is just one more way to promote self-efficacy, self-regulation, and self-motivation while also making the game a bit fun. (On a side note, I have to credit Phillip Vinogradov and Pokemon for the inspiration behind this tiered system).
So Avatars, though not used much by me in the past, and slightly difficult to use in the same way video games do, still can be a powerful tool to integrate badges, XP, personalization, and choice into the Game system. Nearly every LMS offers students a way to add their own image, and with a system like this, the Avatar can be more than just a picture, but a full blown rank as well. Tomorrow, I'll talk a bit about narrative and it's importance in a Gamified class.