Saturday, June 24, 2023

Teaching Techniques - Scoring Competitions and Game Mechanics

It's hard to imagine that senior executives of publicly traded companies would actively engage in course planning competitions just to win a small prize. It's also difficult to believe that the once dull learning atmosphere can undergo such a transformation through the incorporation of game and competition elements. Instead of encouraging everyone to raise their hands and participate, instructors often request that participants remain calm and not raise their hands too quickly. This scene is not just something we see happening overseas; it's a common occurrence in our regular classrooms. The reason for such high levels of engagement from students is often attributed to the inclusion of gaming and competition elements in the curriculum. This is a little secret known to professional instructors. As internal trainers, let's explore how to design effective course competitions and motivational systems to enhance the overall learning atmosphere.

1. Prepare small prizes

The prizes don't have to be grand, but it's best if they are tangible and visible. Examples include cookies (used in certain sessions), chocolates, notebooks, keychains, building blocks, small toys (my personal favorite), books (frequently used by Dr. Xian and Dr. Yang), or even cosmetic bags... Anything goes! The key is that the prizes don't have to be big; their main purpose is to serve as a target for participants to strive for. In fact, participants are not necessarily motivated by the prizes themselves but rather find the whole experience enjoyable. Sometimes, prizes are presented in a mysterious way (announcing the presence of a prize without revealing its contents) or wrapped up and displayed on the podium without disclosing what's inside. The important thing is to announce the presence of prizes at the beginning or have them placed on the podium to attract and motivate participants to engage.

2. Individual or group rewards

Individual rewards are relatively straightforward. Instructors often incorporate question-and-answer sessions, offering rewards to those who answer correctly or even to those who simply raise their hands to participate. This approach can be applied in various types of courses or presentations. The disadvantage is that you may need a considerable quantity of rewards to sustain continuous distribution throughout the entire audience. Another approach is to give rewards to groups by designing scoring mechanisms that consider the collective involvement of the entire group. This method can be applied not only to question-and-answer sessions but also to group discussions and exercises, making it a more advanced technique suitable for course settings.

3. Scoring mechanisms

If rewards are given for individual responses, a scoring mechanism may not be necessary. However, if the overall performance of groups is taken into account, a well-planned scoring mechanism becomes crucial. There are various ways to design a scoring system. Some instructors simply accumulate points (e.g., awarding points for each correct answer, additional points for stage performances, or extra points for outstanding performances). Others prefer using playing cards (e.g., drawing a card for each correct answer, receiving more cards for exceptional performances). Some instructors take it a step further, where the ultimate goal is not the points or the number of cards collected but the point values assigned to the playing cards or even comparing the face values of five cards (similar to Texas Hold'em). Personally, I prefer the scoring method, where different performances receive different scores, with higher scores awarded for more significant exercises. As for which method is best... as long as it is fair and enjoyable, any method works well. You can design your own and experiment with it.

Three points above is the key method of how to add competition and game into a course. Also, there are some points that I want to remind lecturers to ensure effect can be maximize.  

1. Ensure fairness

Fairness is a crucial element in games, and a fair competition will motivate everyone to stay engaged. One common issue is when instructors intentionally overlook individuals or groups who are actively participating to prevent significant score gaps. While this may seem reasonable, it can create a sense of unfairness among those who were initially engaged (leading to decreased participation) and maintain the same level of disengagement from those who were not participating. It's essential to handle this situation carefully. For example, you can push less engaged groups to answer questions while verbally encouraging actively participating individuals or groups. The key is to ensure that all participants can continue to be involved and engaged, as that is the primary focus.

2. Always have opportunities

It's recommended to design scoring mechanisms in games where more points are awarded towards the end. This provides everyone with a chance to catch up and overcome any scoring disadvantages. It also allows consistently engaged groups, who may have been leading in scores, to perform well until the end. Remember, the ultimate goal is not the game itself but rather the participation and performance of the participants. Scores and prizes are just motivational tools, so don't get too caught up in adding only a few points each time. I've seen instructors adding 10-20 points at a time and then suddenly awarding 500 points for a big performance. I've also witnessed others adding 10,000 or 20,000 points and then granting an additional 100,000 points! As long as it's enjoyable and encourages active participation, it's a good thing.

3. Plan in advance

While competition mechanisms and games should be fair and enjoyable, it's still crucial to plan in advance. Determine which instructional activities will offer scoring opportunities, how many chances there will be to earn points, who will keep track of the scores, how and when the results will be announced, the game rules, the prizes, and which rankings will receive rewards. All of these aspects need to be carefully planned in advance to avoid any last-minute confusion that might detract from the original goal of motivating participants to engage.

The more profession and more boring your course is, scoring competition and game is more effective to improve the dull atomosphere during the course. Of course, it is nessesary for us to have some experience Implementing scoring or reward systems and integrating them into professional courses requires some practical experience. However, I strongly encourage internal instructors to experiment with these approaches. You will discover that the results you achieve will gradually exceed your expectations! And when that happens, remember to come back and share your practices with me!

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