Engagement & Gamification Takeaways


game controllerI was recently asked to briefly summarize “takeaways” for gamification and student engagement. This was not easy for me, as there is so much on these topics, and so many nuances that defy summary.

As a student of Squire, Gee, Steinkuehler, Halverson, etc, it is perhaps no surprise that I used Gee’s 13 principles as a base. I am sure there are things I’ve missed.

  • Players (learners) are not alike: Some like to accumulate points, but some play to socialize, some to explore, and some to express their personality. Design so a variety of players/learners can enjoy playing/learning.
  • Your game sucks: Relative to the professionally-produced multimillion dollar games your students play outside of your class, your $10k or $100k game looks terrible. Still, there are elements of playful learning in it that are better than lecture and/or worksheets.
  • Enlist Players/learners I: Your programming AI is not as exciting as real people. Build in structured opportunities for learners to engage with each other — collaborations and competitions — where a variety of skills and expertise is required to progress.
  • Enlist Players/learners II: Narratives can engage and offer learners to try on new perspectives, but yours might not work for learners of other cultural experiences. Leave enough room in them for learners to see themselves those roles and narratives. This is tricky.


  • Empower learners: How does your course design welcome and respect the knowledge that students already have (that brought them to your class to begin with), offer opportunities to co-design and customize the course to work with and build on their strengths and interests, and provide opportunities to engage in multiple ways, to meet students at their current and familiar comfort level while gently inviting them to try on new perspectives, roles, and values based on the epistemologies and practices of professionals in your field?
  • Provide Problem-based Learning: In what ways are you offering a safe place to risk and engage in authentic practices that are well-designed, scaffolded, and repeated (to provide practice) based on previous knowledge with new information provided as-needed and just-in-time?
  • Provide Deep Understanding: Does your course offer learners opportunities to use authentic tools to solve problems in a way that clearly ties their use to the underlying meanings and actions of the field, and offer models and opportunities with those tools, to make sense of and explore the complexities of the systems that drive understanding in the field?

Gee, of course, explains it better:

An Idea for a Learner-Centric LMS transition

Teaching Effectively in CanvasA certain university I know is transitioning thousands of courses from D2L to Canvas in the next couple of years. It’s a big task. Some might argue that simply getting them transferred will be a great accomplishment, but I argue that said stakeholders will miss a great opportunity if they don’t also use the move to transform the courses to the significantly more learner-centered types that Canvas can support, rather than focus on getting the new LMS to look and feel like the often-terrible course designs in the previous LMS.

So, I’ve designed a few variations of a transition course: 1) a four-day, 24-hour course; 2) a three-day, 9-hour course (below); 3) a two-day, semester bookends course, and 4) a semester-long (13 one-hour sessions) course.

Pilot Proposal: TEiC (Teaching Effectively in Canvas)

TEiC is a 9-hour course for Instructional support staff at UW-Madison that integrates Learning Science and Universal Design principles into Canvas. Building on lessons learned in across campus teaching programs, it will distill best lessons to quickly get participants to:

  1. understand and apply in various Canvas tools key evidence-based principles of learning
  2. understand and apply in various Canvas tools key principles of Universal Design in Learning
  3. create resource materials that others can use and refine into richer training materials.

Schedule (DRAFT)

Class 1:
Learning Science Principles (In Canvas)
Class 2:
Universal Design Principles (In Canvas)
Week for
Project work:
Create Walkthrough
Class 3:
Sharing Findings
9–10:30: overview some of the strongest principles from Learning Science (LS) research 9–10:30: overview some of the strongest principles from Universal Design (UD) research For Class 3 — after one week to work on this:
1) Develop a 15-20 minute walkthrough of an assigned Canvas tool that explores examples of how Canvas can be used to promote and reinforce effective learning principles, and Universal Design.
2) Create a 1-2 page guide on how to implement these principles in your tool, to accompany your walkthrough.
9–10:30: presentations from teams on how to integrate LS and UD principles in assorted Canvas tools
10:30–11: create a rubric for identifying LS principles in Canvas 10:30–11: provide a rubric for identifying UD principles in Canvas 10:30–11:30: intermix teams and design unified, holistic strategies across tools.
11–12: provide group practice in identifying LS principles in one Canvas tool 11–12: provide group practice in identifying UD principles in one

Canvas tool

11:30–12: share results from teams on how to integrate LS and UD principles across assorted Canvas tools
Readings: Curated summaries of the LS principles covered in class. Readings: Curated summaries of UD principles covered in class. Post-course: continue using peers as resources

Google Docs: Embedding Tricks for Canvas (and other systems)

there’s the official way to publish google Docs, and it works with various degrees of success. Depending on the system, it may strip out width and height defaults, or other small details that make the content look good. I’d like to share some alternate methods.

This is Monday’s schedule for a course design bootcamp I help run, and here’s the HTML iframe embed code:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Vo9AY5VI-Ck8SNMCaRJntDN5jL09zYoW7hcBwK0sQ0w/pub?embedded=true" width="100%" height="1200"></iframe>

Ignoring that, for this post in WordPress, I changed the width from 100%, (Canvas renders: “100%” nicely in a flexible width that looks good on computer and mobile devices. Here in WordPress, not so much; so I set a fixed width of 600).

Also note that it is not editable. I used Google’s “Publish to the Web” command to get this code. You should be able to click the How did I embed this Google document in Canvas? link within the embedded google Doc to see detailed instructions on how to do this.

Here is Tuesday’s schedule, and code:

<p><span>Schedule:&nbsp;</span><a id="" class="" title="Day 1: Empathize and Define (Monday, June 6)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-1-empathize-and-define-monday-june-6" target="" data-api-endpoint="https://canvas.wisc.edu/api/v1/courses/7/pages/day-1-empathize-and-define-monday-june-6" data-api-returntype="Page">Monday</a><span>, </span><a id="" class="" title="Day 2: Ideate and Design (Tuesday, June 7)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-2-ideate-and-design-tuesday-june-7" target="" data-api-endpoint="https://canvas.wisc.edu/api/v1/courses/7/pages/day-2-ideate-and-design-tuesday-june-7" data-api-returntype="Page">Tuesday</a><span>, </span><a id="" class="" title="Day 3: Build (Wednesday, June 8)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-3-build-wednesday-june-8" target="" data-api-endpoint="https://canvas.wisc.edu/api/v1/courses/7/pages/day-3-build-wednesday-june-8" data-api-returntype="Page">Wednesday</a><span>,</span><span> </span><a id="" class="" title="Day 4: Refine and Present (Thursday, June 9)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-4-refine-and-present-thursday-june-9" target="" data-api-endpoint="https://canvas.wisc.edu/api/v1/courses/7/pages/day-4-refine-and-present-thursday-june-9" data-api-returntype="Page">Thursday</a></p>
<p><iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1w844NkcyFJXSe-QYI9MzGa1KMqKha4gDkllYKehx-SM/edit" width="100%" height="1200"></iframe></p>

Note that this one has editing/suggesting/commenting options. Again, the link How did I embed this differently? should give clear instructions on how to do this in Canvas.

There’s a nice post in the Canvas Community on this as well.

Google Forms as a Student Response System

I led a workshop Wednesday, March 30 from 2-4:30 on how to do this and get other types of formative feedback. Details here.

I’ve been figuring out how to use Google Forms as an alternative to costly student response systems (SRS, aka “clickers”). I presented on it at EDUCAUSE Connect in 2014 using Google Sites as a (clumsy) prototype that I had session participants access quickly with their devices at bit.ly/mobileconnect. But I haven’t had the time to dig into it since then. Our university has recently chosen TopHat as a supported SRS, but many faculty are hesitant to make students buy another thing, so I challenged myself to create an easy-to-use (for faculty and students) “clicker” system. The goals:

  1. use existing LMS, which now feature easy-to-access mobile versions for students who just bring their mobile devices, but also support laptop and tablet users.
  2. easy enough for any faculty who is willing to use TopHat to use
  3. support a good variety of questions (this does not support the “heat map” style questions)
  4. show a good variety of responses “live” for the class.

I looked to Google Forms, but not Google Sites this time. Whereas Google Sites is still clumsy, Google Forms is as easy (or easier) than TopHat to create quick surveys for formative in-class feedback (for instructor and students), and it looks good on a mobile device or laptop. Desire2Learn and Canvas both work generally well for quick mobile access (students can get in, get to their course, and find a unit or class page quickly), so if I could embed surveys and results there, I figured it should be easy to use in class.

But embedding surveys in an LMS is not new or challenging. Embedding live results is. Google Forms used to allow this (see this video at 0:30 for a view of the now-extinct “Publish Analytics” link), but no longer does.

This is the form embedded as an iframe:

This should be the Google Form’s “Summary of Responses”embedded as an iframe (but does not appear to work):

The workaround is pretty simple, actually — to embed live results as a chart using all-Google products, you simply create a chart in the Google Sheet associated with the Form, and publish the form.This works in Canvas and D2L (and WordPress). Here’s an example of how that looks:

This video explains how to do that (pay attention at ~3:27 on)

If you don’t want such a finished look, or want to convey the data in more than one form, you can also put several on the sheet and embed that sheet, like this: [removed]

AwesomeTable also provided a solution.

This is AwesomeTable’s (free) “Live View”embedded as an iframe:


Communications Strategy — The Active Teaching Lab

Active Teaching Lab bannerWhile image is NOT everything, the presentation of a program is important in conveying what it’s really about. That’s why, in our communication plan, as in our sessions, we aim to be clear, playful, and branded.


We aim to make the language used in communications concise and clear, actively limiting unnecessary sentences and words. Because we understand the power of the visual, we will communicate with graphics as much and often as possible.


We know that learning is more effective when people are slightly, but not overly-stressed, so Active Teaching Lab sessions are designed to be safe and comfortable spaces. We add the stress needed to learn in pressuring participants to actually get hands-on with the tools and techniques presented. To minimize the fear of mistakes, we promote a playful and fearlessly experimental atmosphere (i.e. fearless sifting and winnowing). We model mistake-making in the facilitation of activities, and we’re never afraid to admit that we don’t (currently) know the answers to some of the trickier questions.

We strive to communicate an atmosphere of fearless playful experimentation through our communications. One currently popular archetype that expresses these things is Steampunk — the fearless tinkerer. Often paired and conflated with The Mad Scientist, these offer us many options for eye-catching and playful marketing images.

AT Lab Survey


Branding is important for pointing participants to other events held by the sponsoring organizations (e.g. “This was a great event! What else do you have for me?”) and for general recognition and praise (e.g. “I’ve been hearing great things about these ‘labs’ that AT does…”). Therefore, we use blurbs (with links to the websites of the sponsors when online) and logos when space permits.

We also recognize that branding is important for our speakers. They are working on promotion, on staying recognized in their field and to their peers. Since we cannot offer speakers a stipend, we strive both to make their experience as positive for them as possible, and to promote their expertise via pre-event marketing, and post-event accolades.

Siftr with Cathy Middlecamp

The Active Teaching Lab

I’ve been very lucky to be given the go ahead to turn this pilot into a program! We’re doing fun stuff again this semester!

Active Teaching Lab - Hands-onSponsored by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW Teaching Academy, the Active Teaching Lab provides a safe space and refreshments for structured explorations of the cool teaching tools and techniques that your peers are using to engage students and teach more effectively.

If you missed an event, each session page has a link to a video of the instructor sharing: 1) what they wanted; 2) what they tried; 3) what happened; and 4) what they’d do next time.

Spring 2016 Sessions

  • Feb 05 Canvas, with Catherine Arnott Smith from the School of Library and Information Studies. Session page
  • Feb 12  Online Platforms for Language Learning, with Andrew Irving from French. Session page
  • Feb 19 Design Thinking for Course Activities, with Pamela McGranahan & George Jura from Nursing. RSVP • Session page
  • Feb 26 Piazza with John Gillett from Statistics. RSVP • Session page
  • Mar 04 GoPro Cameras to improve student interviewing skills, with Kristen Pickett from Occupational Therapy. RSVP • Session page
  • Mar 11 Electronic Lab Notebooks, with John Puccinelli from Biomedical Engineering. RSVP • Session page
  • Mar 18 Workflow Visualization Toolkit, with Alan Hackbarth from UW Colleges. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 01 OpenAuthor for WordPress eTexts, with Steel Wagstaff from Learning Support Services. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 08 Omeka.net for Student-curated Collections, with Anna Andrzejewski from Art History. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 15 Genius.com for Assigning Annotations, with Jeremy Morris from Communication Arts. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 22 TopHat for Student Learning and feedback, with Laurie Brachman from Marketing. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 29 Timeline Software, with Bronwen Masemann from Library Science. RSVP • Session page
  • May 06 Google Drive for Course Docs, with Tanya Buckingham from Geography. RSVP • Session page

Past Labs — Fall 2015

  • 12.04.15: Blackboard Collaborate with David Feldstein & Yuyen Chang. Session Page.
  • 12.01.15: MakerSpaces with Catherine Stephens. Session Page.
  • 11:20.15: Skype (VideoConferencing) with Andrew Irving. Session Page.
  • 11.13.15: Flipping Lectures in CSCR with Aurelie Rakotondrafara. Session page.
  • 11.10.15: Course Design in Popplet with Margene Anderson. Session page.
  • 11.06.15: Google Maps with Colin Connors. Session page.
  • 11.03.15: Google Forms with John Martin. Session page.
  • 10.30.15: Flipped Learning Strategies with Lauren Rosen. Session page.
  • 10.27.15: Kaltura MediaSpace with Josh Harder. Session page.
  • 10.23.15: Photo-Mapping in Siftr with Margene Anderson. Session page.
  • 10.20.15: Critical Readers in CSCR with Cid Freitag, Dan LaValley & Emmanuel Contreras. Session page.
  • 10.13.15: Case Scenarios in CSCR with Margene Anderson, Dan LaValley & Emmanuel Contreras. Session page.
  • 10.16.15: Engagement Strategies in Moodle with Shiela Reaves & Jenny Chung. Session page.
  • 10.09.15: eTexts with Colin Connors. Session page.
  • 10.06.15: Adobe Captivate with Dan LaValley and Josh Harder. Session page.
  • 10.02.15: Twitter with Catalina Toma. Session page.
  • 09.29.15: Google Apps in D2L with John Martin. Session page.
  • 09.25.15: Google Docs with Tim Paustian. Session page.
  • 09.22.15: Course Design in D2L with Margene Anderson. Session page.
  • 09.18.15: Diigo with Duncan Carlsmith. Session page.

Past Labs — Spring 2015

The Active Teaching Lab is co-sponsored by the UW Teaching Academy, which hosts this page, and DoIT Academic Technology.

TA:AT logos