In Spring, 2011 I added a gamification component to my course on Social Media Innovation. The student experience grew and evolved over many semesters. Here’s some of the press coverage of the course.


The Temple News published an interview with me on April 30, 2013, “People You Should Know: Steven Johnson.” I discuss gamification at length there.

The NMC Horizon Report > 2013 Higher Education Edition includes my course as a gamification example:

Social Media Innovation Quest: At the Fox School of Business at Temple University, a professor designed his social media innovation course as a quest in which students earn points for blogging and engaging in social media activities. They are awarded badges, and those that excel earn a place on the leaderboard.

The Mar 10, 2013 edition of the Temple News includes an article on Competitive approach to learning goes beyond fun and games:

“In the education setting, the final grade can seem so distant in relation to any individual activity in the class that having this opportunity for students to be recognized in front of their peers can be a very strong motivation along the way,” said Steven L. Johnson, an assistant professor of MIS who has gamified his “Social Media Innovation” course.

According to one widely used definition, gamification uses gaming elements, mechanics and frameworks in non-game contexts. In Johnson’s class, students embark on a “quest” for points through tasks such as commenting on blog posts, creating a Pinterest board or choosing a profile picture on Twitter. Students level up by amassing points and earn badges, some of them by surprise, to display on their virtual mantels.

“I like getting recognized,” said senior MIS major Megan Stephens, who took Johnson’s class. “It gets me to do higher-quality work and dedicate more time to something.”

To professors and administrators, deeper engagement among students — whether with class material or professional development — is the point, not “pointification,” where participants chase after meaningless outcomes. Johnson’s lesson: “You get whatever behavior you reinforce, reward and recognize.”

On November 12, 2012 the Financial Times highlighted the course in Skilful players can get ahead of the game:

Some schools are using gamification techniques in the classroom.

Steven L. Johnson, an assistant professor of management information systems at Temple’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia, uses video-game elements in his social media innovation course to motivate students. The course is portrayed as a “quest”, where students can earn points for different activities, such as commenting on a blog, and collect badges at particular levels. Each week Prof Johnson recognises those students who have climbed a level…

(The FT article contains a small inaccuracy. While I did recognize students who “level-up” on a weekly basis, I have only handed out prizes at the very end of the semester.)

The November 2012 issue of BizEd Magazine discussed my course in the article Gamifying the classroom:

One educator who served as a model for [Wharton Prof.] Werbach as he designed his approach to gamification is Steven L. Johnson, an assistant professor of management information systems at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia. Johnson has used gamification in his social media innovation course for three semesters.

Johnson presents his gamification system to students as a “Social Media Innovation Quest.” Students earn points for different activities and receive badges at certain levels, which include “rookie,” “ace,” “magnificent,” and “virtuoso.” Although quest points don’t count toward students’ final grades, some assigned activities can help students earn quest points.

Johnson uses the blog platform WordPress and its Achievements plug-in, which awards badges and points to users for their blogging activities. The plug-in automatically calculates students’ points for some activities—such as commenting on a blog or adding a Twitter “follow-me” button. Johnson must check other activities manually, such as when students set up their own blogs. In these cases, students fill out online “Activity Submission Forms,” which Johnson tallies each week.

When students reach an achievement, the system automatically sends them emails that congratulate them and show them the badges they’ve earned. Johnson also posts a “Top 10 Leader Board” online that displays the top performers in the quest to give those students public recognition. To motivate the rest of the class, each week Johnson recognizes students who have moved up a level.

At the last class meeting, Johnson recognizes the top three or four students on the final leader board with school memorabilia, such as t-shirts and hats. He also gives a “judge’s choice” award to a student who did something unique. For example, one such winner had taken a photograph for each of his blog entries. “I want to show a distinction between quality and quantity,” says Johnson. “Some students care a great deal about each blog post, not just about their number of posts.”

So, does gamification help students learn? It depends, says Johnson. “You will always have your top performers, and you’ll always have students who struggle, no matter how many incentives you throw at them,” he says. “A well-designed gamification system has the most impact on the middle 40-percent to 60-percent of students. It motivates these students to do more.”

On May 4, 2012, Peter Key of the Philadelphia Business Journal featured Temple U. Fox School of Business in this story on area education trends, “Reading, writing and social media“,

Temple University’s Fox School of Business recently devoted an entire update email to social media.

“The next generation of business leader must also be a social-media leader,” Fox Dean M. Moshe Porat wrote in the email, before going on to say that there are more than 20 research projects involving about 70 faculty and doctoral students focusing on “crowd sourcing, social-media web services, online reviews, online communities, open innovation, the blogosphere, viral marketing and other [social-media] topics” happening at Fox.

The school has offered an undergraduate course in social media since 2008, the last three times under the name of Social Media Innovation. An upper-level elective in Fox’s management information systems department, it’s a requirement in Fox’s new digital marketing minor.

“The purpose of the course is for students to understand what social media is, to understand how it can be of value to businesses and other organizations and then to learn that there are better or worse ways of implementing and using social media,” said Steven L. Johnson, the assistant MIS professor who teaches the course.

Students in the course get a list of social-media-related tasks that range from creating online animations to blogging and getting people to read their blogs.

To give the students a little extra incentive to complete them, Johnson created a game called “The Social Media Innovation Quest.” As they complete their tasks, they get points based on the difficulty of the tasks.

The game “is definitely motivating the students,” Johnson said. “I certainly hear it all the time from the students of wanting to make sure they got things done on time for the class.”

Feb 22, 2011, Fox School of BusinessGame on: New Social Media Innovation course features virtual quest

“There are other classes that cover social media topics, but what is unique here is The Quest,” said Johnson, an assistant professor of MIS who researches large-scale social networks. “Lots of social media sites incorporate elements from games, like points, levels and badges. We’re doing the same thing here and having a lot of fun while learning.”

Johnson said he’s already been impressed by his students’ creativity. Every week, students present their best work in class, which also helps students learn from one other. By the end of the semester every student will learn to create and manage blogs and manage an online presence through social media.

“The ultimate objective is that a student in a job interview will be able to say ‘well of course I use Facebook, but, you know, here’s why Facebook is so popular,’” Johnson said.

Johnson said the course will also help students manage their digital identities, which is essential for college graduates seeking jobs.

“When you apply for a job, odds are your boss will Google your name,” he said. “They are either going to find something that you put out there yourself, or they’re going to find a picture of you at a party, or who knows what, and it may not represent you well.”

My presentation on Gamification for Funtastic User Experience from Philly WordCamp 2011 was posted to WordCamp TV.

WordPress WordCamp Gamification Presentation Badge