Gamifying ekaola IELTS mock tests Part2

4. Activity loops

Engagement loops

Based around the principle of teacher feedback that indicates learning had taken place. This can simply be

1. additional moments of encouragement presented to the student as they study – ‘ticks’, ‘thumbs up’ etc.

2. reminding students how they compare with class average (no explicit leaderboards)

3. boss fights – these are indicated to the student by completing the mock and the full follow-up

Progression loops

1. progress bars added to summary pages, how many mocks completed, how many to go

2. Progress bars added to self-study courses to indicate how many activities completed so far

3. Study plan – breakdown into 5 steps (1. Read comments and listen to recording 2. Note down mistakes and repeat phrases 3. Complete self-study content 4. go to websites and note down topic and 5 new words or phrases 6. watch teacher tip video) with progress bar


Representing symbols of achievement that teacher may award e.g. ‘star’ on paper / tick

Complete first mock – Starter badge

Improve on last mock score by 50 points! Skill booster (speaking

Improve on last mock score by 100 points! Elite skill booster

Complete first follow-up study plan! Positive attitude

Submitted first practice mock for teacher! Positive plus!

All mocks completed, with study plans = Super student! badge and ~ free live mock!

Unexpected, random, but related to performance – the most pandas at the end of the course – free live mock with a panda!



Before first mock – remind students that it’s easy to do, stress-free (low challenge) Try your first mock! It’s easy, don’t worry!

After first mock – reminders to complete study plan – add motivation ‘Carry out these activities to boost your score next time! It’s going to really help!’

After the study plan is finished: (socialisers)

‘How about doing a simulation to improve your pronunciation! Over half of your classmates are trying this!’ (need to keep up with classmates) or ‘How about doing a practice mock for your teacher to listen to? Impress your teacher!’

Later to challenge them to beat their score:

Last time you scored well but this time you can do even better! Go for it!


5. Just for the fun

Avatars – basic, female or male

Design of badges – fun style please

Messages from teacher (trigger), with teacher’s avatar!

progress of movement one mock to next mock – follow metaphor on first page with stopping points depending on number of mock completed. Moves up along the line towards the rocket!

Activity tracker – who what, and gained what badge,

John completed a writing mock test! He gained a skill booster badge for improving by more than 50points!

Say congratulations – click ‘Congrats’ (like ‘like’ button),

Give a gift to be funny a pet ‘panda’, soft fun motivator to engage with friends on social and competitive level. (Pandas only become available if you earn a badge.)

For giving a panda – add a note of encouragement, e.g. well done!

Hope that generates some ideas or if you have any suggestions I would love to hear them.

Gamification plan and proposal – Ekaola IELTS preparation site

The following is a first draft attempt to formulate a gamification of the IELTS preparation site

1. Defining business objectives

Repeat sales – persuading a new school to use the service relies on generating trust of quality and through finding ways to illustrate expertise related to IELTS teaching and grading. Once this has been achieved (no small task), then the school makes a tentative purchase to try out the grading service. If they see that the students benefit, they will hopefully commit on a larger scale and make a more long-term, commitment. Student benefit relies on students exploiting the resources on the site as much as possible notably doing the mock tests and also carrying out the follow-up study plan (videos, reading, self-study units) and using the simulation room to get pronunciation feedback.

2. Target behaviours

Timely mock testing

Type A behaviour: some schools will simply control the process by leading all students to a computer room at a set time and then coordinating mock testing all at once. Extrinsic motivation (potential punishment) to do mock-test, little to no attempt to change value perception, harder to generate engagement loops

Type B behaviour: Some schools may not have these facilities and as such the students have to motivated enough to complete their homework/mock test in a timely fashion. Perception of value needs to be increased (shift to integrated regulation) as much as possible. This is about actual value – beneficial feedback – and guiding the students in such a  way to realise the potential value without relying on extrinsic motivation of teacher/school punishments. Engagement loops can be generated easier after first mock is completed.

Feedback follow-up – key to generating engagement loop and motivation to do future mocks

If students carry-out the feedback follow-up activities this will hopefully make them realise improvement, feel a sense of pleasure from learning and nearing their goals and ultimately understand the benefit of the process. They will also be more motivated to carry out the next mock and potentially study additional content available on the site and perhaps choose to voluntarily take an online live class. The more time on the site, the more benefit to the student, the more likely there are more live or non live mock tests carried out.

3. The players

Tech-savy, young (age 18-25), Chinese, high online activity, (one of the highest in the world), practically addicted to phones and constantly using social networking sites to interact with friends online (it’s a challenge to work with this in class) On the face of it, they would appear to be well-suited to online learning even without a gamified system however, they are generally externally regulated when it comes to learning in general. For the most part, learning anything school related is seen as book, teacher, classroom and something that has to be done to avoid punishment. The few lucky ones who are able to escape this and jump into perhaps a self-perpetuating engagement loop are the most intelligent few who can feel motivated by the knowledge that their scores and relative class performance is at the top – explicitly presented to students in the form of scores. With intrinsic motivation generally lacking, there is also an issue of value perception of online learning. Online activity is generally considered to be fun and distracting attention away from actual learning that occurs by looking at a book. (I have heard of instances where parents actually use going online as a reward for having completed the book homework.)

The challenge is to devise a learning system that not only takes some of the elements of popular sites (fun, social interaction etc) as well as enable the students to realise the benefits and this challenging the value perception of online learning. The balance is required – can’t make it too much ‘fun’ otherwise this might not be perceived as valuable, but need it to be engaging to make the students actually want to do it and then realise the benefits.


How to gamify doing HW?

I have started a course on Gamification on Coursera to be able to put myself in a position to implement it on Ekaola (IELTS preparation website). Trying the ‘Signature Track’ this time around – I think it will certainly motivate me to finish the course knowing I have paid for it. Interesting how that works, relating cost to value and commitment. Perhaps this relates to using money and considering the alternative benefits that could have been consumed with the same money – and also knowing that it would also take effort to ‘earn’ the money spent back again. There’s an attempt to avoid the negative emotions associated with wasting money, making a bad decision. Many websites give stuff away for free (freemium’ model) to attract people to pay for the good stuff. The ekaola website now moves to give away all the learning content for free – and as such the students and teachers attach little value to it and don’t necessarily use it as a result. In strange contrast to a more traditional based paper text book – less interactive media forms, without instant feedback, no speech recognition feedback etc etc. Perhaps the key to a business success is riding a wave of a change in perception of value, as much as spotting where value can be created in new ways.


This all has little to do with gamification unless we consider that a website is perceived as being of a higher quality when there is evidence of gamification on it. Everyone will have a suggestion about how to gamify a learning website. It follows the trend and there is supposedly solid evidence to show that it improves results – not having it can lead people to conclude the learning experience designer is a bit out of touch or the development team have a lack of awareness of their field. So, this maybe relates to the perception of value but in order to add some gamification elements I’m finally looking into this once and for all. Any gamification needs to add actual value as well as perceived value. And already from the initial videos and readings, I’ve realised that this is going to be more complex than PBLs as the professor calls them (points, badges, leader boards) although no doubt there will be a bit of that.

So, it’s about adding game elements to activities generally not associated as being game-like. In the case of the learning website, this is about getting students to study more. The learning is the goal – tied to this is the business goal of charging for the grading of submissions. With the mock test writing and speaking submissions graded online – this is how the business operates. The submissions are set as homework – everything is in place for the student to benefit from the feedback – but the final catch is getting the student to complete the HW! To integrate the website the teachers ideally schedule some class time to allow students to ask questions about the feedback they have received and even begin the follow-up study that has been suggested by the teacher giving the feedback. When the submissions are not made timely, the class schedule can begin to fall apart, the chance is missed to add further value to the students’ learning.

Goal 1: full integration of online mock test submissions into current classes as HW

Goal 2: Students actually do the HW punctually

I think gamification can help as part of the second goal. To motivate the students to complete the HW through prizes and points, perhaps some healthy competition amoung classmates, a chance to show off achievements in social networking sites etc, not sure exactly yet.

This is one tool of many – the other tools rely on teacher and centre buy-in – to show the students that the site is a valuable learning tool for them. It’s got to be useful for teachers as well as students – the non-paid for HW submission function should help with this. Breaking down the different ways students can submit HW in ways that align with the current HW submission process of the teachers is important, along with adding a simple feedback mechanism for the regular teacher to use.

Give it all away for free except for the submission grading – the teacher may recognise the value through the additional freedoms that it allows – ease of organisation, providing feedback – and then this voice, along with the gamification elements may bring about the tipping point in usage. I sense we’re getting closer, not quite there yet but not that far off either.


#CIC Creativity and knowledge frameworks

Had some more time this week to return to online courses, one work related on Child Protection (engaging, scenario based format, relating to key themes, with links and statistics) and 2 on coursera: Creativity, Innovation and Change, and Accountable talk.

I want to try and link the ideas around types of creativity to knowledge framework of Cynefin. There is a scale of creativity according the course principles: adaptively creative, meaning you take the existing systems and parameters that define the problem and seek improvements or reformulations of the same process, vs innovative creative where you question the existing parameters and processes, ideas may be considered more ‘radical’ or ‘out of the box’.

The cynefin framework as far as I understand it, relates to situations where different amounts of information are available, from ‘simple’ – where all variables are known, we know know how each variable affects the other. In this case, I would say that the case for following established best practice, would be a good fit here. Then we move to environments that are more complicated. Here, many different variables are interacting with each other in ways that it is impossible to understand fully. However, there are experts out there who can help and be called upon to give advice about what to do. There are common attractor states and models to follow. However, there is some unpredictability. Perhaps, a change in circumstances, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, national celebration, new technology has brought about a change. In my view, this is when the ‘out of the box’ ideas come in. The parameters that you were once working within have changed. An expert has sufficient awareness of the the interacting variables within his field to know how this change in circumstances can allow for new opportunities. In the case of knowledge and learning, this might relate to utilising a new piece of software to lead to more productive learning experiences.

The other 2 elements to Cynefin are ‘complex’ and ‘chaotic’. The ‘complex’ situation is when many variables are interacting with each other in new and unknown ways. Everything is affecting almost everything else. In this case, I think the model of Intelligent Fast Failure overlaps with Cynefin model when it talks about trying things out and learning from them. This way you are able to understand the interactions between variables better and gradually formulate the best course of action as you learn. You should not expect to succeed the first time around.

The last sector is ‘chaotic’. In this situation, I would say everything is affecting everything else and its almost impossible to hypothesise on the best course of action to take to meet any goals. Perhaps the best policy to take would be ‘fail to safe’ / ‘do no harm’ while trying the IFF approach.

I’ve enjoyed looking at the course material so far and have been prompted to reflect on my creative style. I wish to complete the project and will probably focus on my current online ekaola exam preparation site. I like the ‘morphological’ analysis involved of assessing the service again: ‘when, why, who, how’. It has also brought me awareness of the fact that there are many people out there like me trying to develop a currently small but potentially big business and that this takes ideas but more importantly – energy and drive. I think I need to plan out any achievements step by step and gradually realise the goals bit by bit.

Finally, the course on ‘Accountable talk’ relates quite directly into good training and classroom practice. This is about helping people to develop their ideas and reminds me of the auto tutoring systems I looked at a while back when thinking about developing reflective learning online. The example video of the students is nothing short of impressive with the students aged about 12 asking each other to extend ideas and reflections about the book they have read with almost no teaching prompting. I think this is going to be interesting to explore for teacher training work (online and offline) as well as trying to prompt better self-reflection and perhaps even peer assessment on the online course in future.


San Jose Uni professors MOOC concerns and MOOC developments

 San Jose professors complain about the influence of MOOCs – ‘social injustice’!

Mmmn, my views on this one…
First of all, I can say that it’s possible to learn and be engaged by MOOCs. I’ve done a couple of the more radical MOOCs that attempt connectivist style of learning which I found was really inspiring and I’m onto my second MOOC on Coursera. I did the ‘Elearning and digital cultures’ a few months back and really enjoyed it –  I would like to share the digital artefact I made for that course.
Right now, I’ve started to an intro to Python programming course. Arrggh – it’s like I’m torturing myself! but I’m learning a lot. Maybe what’s missing is some kind of buddy system? with students paired up to others to offer tips and mostly encouragement to keep going.
The issue of the article as far as I can see it, is about whether students at different universities around US/world should be watching the same videos from the same lecturer. There’s a concern that the message being presented is not suitable for all students in different contexts with different life experiences etc. I think in terms of this issue of relevance and meeting students needs, the issue is probably pretty minor, especially for introductory courses to students who have broadly the same cultural background. I think the professors at San Jose are more concerned with a possible reduction in status and prestige than a concern about the education quality received by the students. It would appear that it’s just like choosing a textbook for the students to use in class, although the medium of the message is different – video rather than text. But, of course, that’s easy for me to say – I’m not a professor, never have been and probably never will be.
My overarching approach to online learning is let it do what it can do well (i.e. let students watch lectures in the form of videos etc) and keep the face to face discussion for high value collaborative communication – deep meaningful learning experiences.
I think that MOOCs in coursera could become the answer to oversubscribed introductory courses and the first year of university may become more of an online thing rather than a on campus going to lectures thing. Once the value of face2face discussion becomes more important then in the 2nd and 3rd years, students will be more inclined to pay for the interaction with the professors.
Back to the issue of teaching students from different cultural backgrounds:
Sebastian Thrun, the Udacity guy, said that there could be only 10 universities left in the world in the future. He has a point maybe – that less universities could be required in terms of massive university campus blocks. But I think the numbers will be greater than this as students from different cultural and language backgrounds will require slightly different approaches to learning and perspective on the learning materials. I would guess that the philosophy of Plato needs to presented in a different way in China compared to the US, as a result of students’ different cultural backgrounds.

#EDCMOOC The Social Human

My submission of digitial artefact for the EDCMOOC is:


The robot introduces a world where human interaction in person essentially no longer exists as it is no longer necessary. People are constantly connected to each other, the internet has become a connection of minds and we are all simultaneously collectively intelligent. This vision is certainly trying to draw on some of the transhumanist principles of the human being, in particular – that it is a work in progress.

The most relevant derivative values from the Bostrom article that relate to the version of the future presented:

  •         Improving understanding (encouraging research and public debate; critical thinking; open-mindedness, scientific inquiry; open discussion of the future)
  •         Getting smarter (individually; collectively; and develop machine intelligence
These are both facilitated by the constant state of collective connectivity – to each other and to the internet.
So what does this say of attempts to identify what makes us human and the need to recognise this as we move forward from a ‘post-humanist’ perspective? My thoughts on this are that our ability to communicate and interact socially has been crucial to the success of the species. It has been proposed that homo sapiens expanded rapidly and overcame other forms of human at the time when they began to develop language abilities. In a sense, the ability to communicate ideas and work together the deciding factor in the successful domination of the homo sapiens of the planet and its resources. (See video here). Therefore, I think, for what it’s worth, that the need to communicate does not define us as humans as such, in terms of granting pleasure or providing a sense of fulfilment, this is related to the fact that we had utilised this ability and we are innately aware that it is crucial to our survival. In this light, communication online helps us achieve this need but we are aware that it is not as good as face to face. There are elements of meaning that are being communicated that are missed – an emoticon cannot express the precise expression and feeling of the individual, it can only be an approximation.. even a video call presents a slightly distorted version of the real think as the data is processed sent and presented on the screen the other end, and in addition we of course cannot experience the location of the other person which gives fuller context and meaning, we are limited in the body language etc. Therefore, there remains a craving for the real thing as, through face to face communication, we are aware that we can see the full picture – and perhaps this increases the chance of survival of the species or (in terms The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins) the successful replication of our genes.
Well, that is probably asking whether there can really be any consideration of what it means to be human as opposed to anything else that has the goal of reproduction. To be human simply means, we have become good at doing what everything with a gene wants – that is to reproduce and the crucial factor that has led to this success is the ability to exchange ideas and thoughts through language primarily but on a more basic level through relating meaning to symbols of representation whether sound/voice or visual or the other senses.
Development as Freedom (extra)
The essay by Badmington noted that perhaps many philosophical ideas that have come to represent the key elements of post-humanism have come into difficulties as fresh insights into the nature of humans have come into light. In particular, there was the rights. Could we be defined by a set of all encompassing rights? The essay suggests that, no, as there are some cultures and regions that dispute this. In light of reflecting on the posthumanist approach I think that these still hold and this has always been the case. I think a universal set of rights are applicable to all humans as this facilitates our ability to survive on a simplistic level – civil and political rights give us freedom to communicate ideas with others.

#EDCMOOC China and internet

This is an article from China Daily which as I see it, is used to present the China perspective to foreigners as a balance to the western media. In this article a Chinese professor criticises  a Human Rights Watch report about surveillance of internet use by the government. In it, he outlines what I think is the general perspective within China regarding the internet, in that it is allowing for greater expression and freedoms but within boundaries. I would agree that currently, there is an expansion of expression happening at the moment. However, it’s far from utopian as all communication is monitored and sites which allow communication that cannot be monitored (for example google+ groups, hangouts, anything from youtube) are blocked and are only accessible via a VPN. The professor tries to justify the monitoring and restrictions. I would say that most Chinese people are aware of these and accept them (at least for the moment) as freedom of expression has at least expanded a little compared to previously. Corrupt officials are regularly exposed through social media sites. That said, my office colleagues are cautious about posting anything controversial, such as an official document signed at end the war with Japan. This showed that the Japanese conceded defeat to the Nationalist government and not to the Communists at that time. My colleague chose not to post it in case this was contrary to the popular understanding that the Japanese conceded defeat to the Communists although they were not in fact the recognised power in China at the time. (They defeated the Nationalist forces after the Japanese were defeated.) I wonder if the professor in the article would agree whether or not this should be posted and shared on social networks.
So, to summarise I would say the internet is being embraced and seen as a good thing offering more ways to express ideas and connect to information. However, people are aware that the freedoms only go so far.

The original HRW article can be found here.

#ETMOOC A Language Learning MOOC – Thoughts & Vision « A Point of Contact

A Language Learning MOOC – Thoughts & Vision « A Point of Contact.

Exploring how to use connectivist mooc style learning for language learners.

I think the prospect of hastagging homework published online in the form of a digital story/learning artefact could bring learners studying from the same classroom material together to connect and interact together, is very exciting.

#ETMOOC Digital story

So, my digital story (click here) is an attempt to capture different moments of Spring festival eve a couple of days ago. I’ve tried to use video, text only and an image with context/commentary. Comments are possible in voicethread for audio/video or just by writing on the wall (or here on the blog in text / google group)


#EDCMOOC Week 2 Metaphors slow the revolution

I’m only skimming the surface of this course and mostly posting reflections behind schedule. I feel it’s more formal than the ETMOOC but probably more conducive to indepth discussion. However, less accommodating for me as I’ve only got a moment or 2 here and there to read something (when kids are asleep and no spring festival appointments allow) and the videos never seem to play – probably related to the fact that I’m using a VPN to access them. But I’m finding the topics interesting nonetheless.

I thought it was interesting to read the piece about metaphors and the internet and then take a look at a piece on MOOCs from this perspective. I figure as a country where the press is trying to make money from journalism, the papers are probably reflecting the general views of their audience – not the case here in China. So, it would be interesting to attempt to correlate which category of metaphors seem to match which category of readership. I would make a very tentative assumption that the dystopia metaphor use correlates to the conservative aligned readership/news source and the utopian may correlate more to the   democratic/left leaning readership.

The limitations of metaphor are interesting. The article notes that the internet as metaphor is conceptualised as a densely populated cityscape or transport system: ‘information superhighway’. The metaphors are useful to help people grasp a new concept within the realm of understanding but are of course approximations of the real thing. The, once understood, can ease the mind [cognitive disequilibrium is relieved]. However, when that individual moves to use the internet, consider it’s benefits, the utopian vs dystopian future they are really applying arguments and logic to only an approximation of the real thing. It would be easy to transfer feelings about the future of the transportation system (increased congestion, pollution etc) to the future of the internet.

Slow the revolution

These approximations of what the internet is approximating towards also slow the development I feel. Given that the internet changes the way we interact with the information and exchange ideas, learn etc, I think we naturally try to use it in a similar way as previous information exchange systems initially as this reflects how we understand the internet. The labels given to services and features are tranferred from a offline world to an online. First it was email, then to social networking and wikis etc. I think the internet and it’s use will evolve as people become more familiar with it’s affordances (posted on here in relation to #ETMOOC, I enjoy making the linkages from readings in one to the other). Digital storytelling is still about telling stories – the story itself might still need a premise etc to be interesting – but there are many other differences – these are now being reflected more and more in MOOCs to take one example. The metaphor of ‘joining a class’ is perhaps being broken down as 100,000s can access the same lecture asynchronously. For connectivist MOOCs, the concept of teacher, learner, course etc are all being questioned. Even the concepts of completion, drop-out, certification are all being questioned by the affordances of autograding, communities, etc.

As we get familiar with using the internet, I think the old metaphors are broken down and we move from surface learning to making deeper connections with previous knowledge and importantly – new experience. In a sense, the metaphor acts as a theory, but we need real usage time and reflection to fully comprehend the most effective way to use something. In this way, the metaphor is broken down and the affordances that allow real change start to speed up.


Language learning online courses are transitioning in a similar way. These offer a course of language learning that are basically the same as a course book for the ones that have more instructional design, or incorporate features of social networking. At the moment, there isn’t one that puts it all together but there are plenty of experiments that are pushing forward one element or another.