Points mean PHD? @alan_hook @OonaghMurphy


I like blog posts that make me think and consider, I don’t read them that often either. So it was nice to read @OonaghMurphy blog about how to gamify the PhD.  For the record, I ain’t got one (nor a degree for that matter, bite me 🙂 ) and I have no real idea how the process works. Forgive details that might seem outside of the general sphere of things.  Let’s take the whole learning process as a starting point.

A two way competition?
Most gamification systems are based on a central point of contact. Foursquare for example if you want points and offers then you have to check in manually. “Here I am, give me my reward.”, whether that be more points, a badge or an offer. What Oonagh offers insight into here is a two way system where essentially the hub (the mentor, lecturer etc) is the not only the hub but a participant too. 

So what’s the reward for the lecturer? In a real world context I’m struggling to find one apart from the notion of peer pressure.  You could easily end up with a Yelp/TripAdvisor for teaching staff, put in the frame and terrified of the one negative transaction that may end their reputation and career. Though if that was already a worry then you’d have to question the individual in the first place. As Oonagh already pointed out:

However if your a rubbish supervisor your probably not going to like this concept very much!

What can be measured?
Off the top of my head there’s a few things…

Lecture attendance 
Can students, and lecturers for that matter, have a system of check in attendance. I think so, Foursquare being the perfect receptacle for check in data obviously. Date, time and location can be reviewed at end of term to ensure good student/lecturer performance. 

Lecturer response
Like Oonagh points out it’s frustrating waiting for questions to get answers. So timely response gets points, quality of the answer (often dependant on the quality of the question, to be fair) gets points too. 

Lecture ratings
Was the lecture actually any good? I know this from first hand experience coming away thinking that it “could have been better” only to find out that the students loved it and it was just right for their needs. It’s not about my needs, it’s about my students/customers and so on.

Reading list purchases
From a central hub a student could click on the purchases, via Amazon, points get awarded for purchases. 

Reading list chapter milestones
Assuming the reading is done on a devide (Kindle, iPad etc) then milestone reading exercises could be monitored. Is the student reading the right passage? With the Kindle you can clip a note and tweet it. Done, simple and can be tracked. 

Blog reading
Back to this central point of reference again, links to blogs and points for a click. Perhaps points for being able to reference a random part of the blog, clicking is just too easy.  Monitoring tweets again for context, is the student asking questions? Are they using words, phrases that are based in the text?  It can all be measured.

If it can be measured it can be fudged
While 90% of the gamers will carry on like nothing matters and check in, read, click, purchase and watch their point totals go up. You’ll always have the game “killers”, the ones who’ll go to any means to fudge the system. And this is where things can be hard to monitor. It used to be easy to fool Foursquare into thinking you were anywhere. Just give me a terminal window, an API and a good geo co-ordinates and I could be way up there on the tables.

And what with all this data?
It’s easy enough to cobble things together. The reports would make very interesting reading. Who’s reading what, who reads the fastest and is that reflected in poor scoring in assignments etc.  Like I’ve said many times over data collection really needs to start with a question. 

With lecturer data there’s plenty to measure too. Response times, answer quality, teaching quality, lecture ratings. The overriding question is will there be lecturers who are hip enough to take part in this game. Who embraces and who fears? Is it an age thing? A generational thing? 

And finally….
As an idea I really like it. Would it fly, who knows until someone has the guts to #JFDI.  And also I bought the book “Reality Is Broken” based on Oonagh’s recommendations so she should really get 100 points for that alone 🙂 


Oonagh Murphy – Gamifying the PhD: http://oonaghmurphy.com/2012/06/12/gamifying-the-phd/

Visualising Foursquare API Data with R and Google Visualisations – Data Is Sexy – http://www.dataissexy.co.uk/visualising-foursquare-api-data-r-and-google

Reality Is Broken (book) – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0224089250/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=jasonbelljava-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=0224089250

Foursquare: http://www.foursquare.com

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