Learning Management System

Gamify ATutor Courses

Designing a Gamified Course

To gamifying an ATutor course requires a good understanding of how ATutor features and tools are being used in a course as teaching and learning are going on. To add game elements you might integrate more course tools into the instruction, providing more opportunities to earn points. Or, you might increase or decrease point values for higher and lower valued activities within a course, or you might modify the messaging to guide students through activities in the course, rewarding them when they successfully complete activities, while pointing them in the right direction to the next activity.

When an instructor first opens GameMe, all of the default settings for events, badges, and levels are enabled. You could leave those settings as they are, and have the default points, levels, and badges issued when students interact with the course. But, more likely you will want to adjust the default settings specifically for the course. What's described here will help you get started, though you'll want to fine tune GameMe from course session to course session, to optimize how points, levels ,and badges are issued.

Turn GameMe On

GameMe is enabled for Students when either the GameMe side-menu block, or the GameMe Course Tool is enabled in a course. Until one of these is turned on, you can work in the GameMe Manager to customize game elements without them being visible to students, and without collecting any game related data.

It helps to have GameMe turned on while you are setting up and maintaining the course. You'll earn points and badges, move through levels, and receive alerts much like students would if they were taking the course. It will give you a better sense of how points accumulate, which tools and activities generate points, how often tools are used or how often an activity occurs, before a badge is issued or level reached. It can also help you understand what Reach Messages for events might say to guide students through your course.

When you customize GameMe elements in a course, there are several things to consider. These are discussed below.

Customizing Events

Course Duration

The length of a course should be considered when point values are set for events. If the course is shorter, lets say 3 weeks, then either the Each Points values for events need to be raised, or the Points Threshold for levels needs to be lowered, and the Reach Repetitions for badges lowered. If it is a longer course, lets say 12 weeks, then perhaps the opposite is true: point values for events are lowered, or the points threshold for levels are raised, and reach repetitions for badges are raised. When adjusting point values, points thresholds, and reach repetitions, the goal should be to make it possible for students to reach the upper levels in a course, and earn all the available badges, with a reasonable amount of course participation.

Course Activities and Tool Usage

The number of tools enabled in a course, and the opportunities students have to use them, should also be considered when point values are set for events. If few tools are being used, lets say just the discussion forums, then perhaps Each Points values for forum related events need to be raised, or levels' Points Threshold needs to be lowered. On the other-hand, if a course includes activities such as student blogs for writing activities, file sharing for group activities, link collections for resource gathering, and networking to get to know each other, among other potential activities, there are many more opportunities for students to earn points and badges.

The points that a student should earn when an event occurs (Each Points) will also depend on the way the tool is used in a course. Some tools will be available from the start to the finish of a course, while others may only be available during particular activities. If the tool is used often over the duration of the course, then Reach Repetitions for the event could be raised so it takes longer to earn the associated badge. If the tool is used once, during a particular course assignment for instance, then the reach repetitions might be lowered, so the associated badge can be earned when an assignment is submitted, for instance.

Reach Event Messaging

A Reach Event occurs when its associated event reaches a certain number of repetitions, Typically an email alert is sent to the student containing the new badge they earned, and a Reach Message, which typically has some congratulations, and a message that might help the student along in the course.

Reach messages might suggest a followup activity that would earn more points or a bonus badge. One example might be, when a student has uploaded 10 photos into the photo gallery and a badge is issued for being a good contributor, the reach message might suggest "...create an album to help sort the photos and make them easier for others to find, and earn a bonus badge."

A second example might be, a student who has started enough discussion threads to earn a badge, might be given a clue ".... Did you know that replying to someone else's post, earns you 3 times as many points as posting a new message?" A strategy like this might be used to guide the good forum contributors, to contribute further by encouraging others to post more, with the aim of livening up forum discussions.

With this messaging, and with messaging for other game elements discussed below, just a little imagination is needed to turn event alerts into a series of clues, or helpers, that keep students interested, while perhaps guiding them through the course in a predetermined direction, or reinforcing what a student had learned to earn the badge.

Customizing Badges

Badge Images

There are currently 26 badges, most associated with a reach event, that you can modify to suit the needs of your course. These badges are part of an open source set of badges. There are another 75 or so, that you might choose to use to customize badge images for the course.

You can find the full icon set at the following link:

Open Source Icon Set Preview

There are many sources for free and custom designed badge sets that you can find with a well crafted Google search, that you might investigate to make the badges in your course a little more interesting, or more relevant to the courses' topic area. Or, you might design your own badge images. Consider making them Open Source, or Creative Commons, if you do.

Badge Title & Description

Because badges are associated with particular events, the Badge Title and Badge Description will still describe the same reach event that triggers the badge, but they can be described differently. For example, the default welcome event, which student receive the first time they login to a course, has a Badge Title "Welcome," which could be made a little more inviting with "You made it! Time to get started"

You may want to revisit the Reach Message, described above, that gets sent when a reach event occurs and a badge is issued, and tailor it with clues and direction, and use the badge description to describe why the student received the badge.  Continuing with the Welcome example, the new title we've created suggests a proactive approach to the course, so the Reach Message could layout a series of tasks to "get started" on, such as "...setting your personal preferences so ATutor works the way you like it, uploading a profile picture so people are able to know you better,  and visiting the profiles of other classmates to get to know them better."

The Badge Description might then say "...this is your first badge. There are many more you can earn in the course, by participating in course activities." The description acts as a reminder,  that course participation is important, and would less likely to mention tasks or clues to earn more points and badges.

Customizing Levels

Level Icons

Level icons can be customized the same way badge images can be. You can use stars, or you can use whatever icons you like to represent levels. They differ from badges in that level icons represent a sequence, while badge images represent occurrences that do not necessarily occur in a particular order.

Level Title & Description

You can be creative with the Level Title. Perhaps something a little less boring than "Level 1," perhaps something more familiar like "Newbee!" to represent someone just getting started. Level 2 might be "You're Settled!" to represent having been sufficiently active to earn enough point to reach the next level. And, so on... The level title gets used as the Alt text for the level icon, to make them accessible to screen readers.

The Level Description serves much the same purpose as the badge description, in this case to describe to recipients why they advanced a level.

Points Threshold

Unlike badges, which are associated with particular events, levels are based only on the points a student has earned.  As mentioned above, the Points Threshold for each level should be based on the time students have available to earn points, the number of point generating tools and activities in a course, and the number of levels available (see Enabling Game Elements below), with the goal of having all levels and available badges attainable by students who participate regularly in a course.

Enabling Game Elements

Under the Options Tab in the GameMe Manager, you can enable and disable game elements. Each of these features is described in more detail in the Instructor Documentation.

When GameMe elements have been turned on, they start collecting data, and make game elements available to students.  (see Turn GameMe On, above),

When choosing which game elements to enable there are a few things to consider.


Depend on your jurisdiction, institution, or organization there may be rules in place to protect users', or students', or employees' privacy. Some might consider the leaderboard to be an invasion of privacy by revealing ones position in the class, particularly when one's position is near the bottom in a small course. Limiting the number of people who are listed in the leaderboard can help reduce this concern. Or, the leaderboard can be turned off altogether. Other game elements are only visible to the student, and the instructor.

Student Log

The Student Log provides students a running account of all the GameMe events they have triggered. It can be enabled and disabled by the instructor. You may want to have it turned on so students can see their activity record, and potentially use the information in the log to maximize the points they collect, discovering which activities generate the most points, and doing these activities more often. As described earlier, instructors can assign more points for more valued activities, like replying in discussion forums. Students can discover this, which can potentially lead to more active discussion forums.

Or, you may want to disable the log, so students cannot see their activities, or strategize how to gather more points. Clues and strategies in this case, might be limited to reach messages, and level and badge descriptions, to create a more even playing field with less competition, and reduce the gap between points scored by the more game and technology savvy students and those less skilled with the technology.

Position the Side-Menu

If you have all the levels enabled, and lots of tools enable that students can earn badges with, and you have a long leader board and points enabled, the GameMe side-menu block can take up a lot of room. This may not be an issue for shorter, less feature rich courses, though for longer, more interactive courses it can result in the side-menu pushing more important information down out of view if the GameMe block is located near the top of the side-menu. In such cases, you might decide to enable only the GameMe Course Tool, which creates a tab in the main navigation bar to open the GameMe panel.  Or,  you might move the GameMe side-menu block down below the other, more important blocks. Having the GameMe block at the bottom of the side menu, may encourage students to scroll down further.

You may want to disable the side-menu block altogether, if for instance it is distracting students from more important course activities. Or, perhaps disable all game elements except Points, which will be much less visually distracting at the top of the side-menu, and will occupy the same space in the menu throughout the duration of the course, unlike the level and badge areas which take up more spaces as a course goes on.

How to Earn Points and Badges

It is also a good idea to let students know about GameMe and how it is being used in a course. These details could be added to the home page in a course by editing the course banner, or perhaps highlighted in a course syllabus. For example, the tools available in a course to earn points could be listed, something like "Participate in the Forums and Networking, complete Tests, read Content, and submit Links to earn points and badges."

Who Benefits from Gamification

Gamification is not for everyone. Some people will want nothing to do with game elements in a course, and don't care where they sit in the leaderboard or what badges they have earned. Others can become preoccupied with earning points and badges, and may be distracted from the actual learning that should be occurring in the course. Ideally, you want students earn points and badges as a side effect of learning and participating in course activities. Game elements should be associated with a learning activity, and not just be available for the sake of providing more opportunities to earn points and badges.

Cheating the System

Though there are a variety of checks to help prevent students from cheating the system, it is not too difficult for them to figure out ways to generate points without doing any significant learning. For instance, a student can logout and login over and over to earn login and logout points. Or, they can click on the next/previous buttons in the course content to generate page view points without actually reading the content.  Fortunately though, you are able, as the course instructor to see this kind of activity, and potentially flag, or warn students that their behaviour is being monitored.

Using GameMe Points as Marks

Given the system can be cheated without too much trouble, be careful when using GameMe points as part of a students' course marks. You may for instance, use GameMe points as a basis for a class participation mark,  perhaps suggesting the participation marks for a course are awarded based one's point level at the end of the course. Those in the top 25% for instance, get full participation marks (e.g. 20 out 20) , those in the top 50 to 75% get 75% of the available marks (e.g. 15 out of 20), and so on.

Or, points could be used for bonus marks. Perhaps the top five people in the leaderboard, get a bonus of 5 marks added to their overall course grade. Or, perhaps each level a student reaches is worth 10% of their participation mark. There are many other ways GameMe could be used to motivate students to participate, using a course grade as incentive, but be aware of what students are doing by review their logs occassionally to identify any suspicious event repetition or point gathering.