Can you make your grad life more fun?


The topic today is not about taking a break of your grad life activities and going out to have some fun and forget about your frustrations. Today the topic is ‘gamification‘, which is a kind of a buzzword that gained in popularity during this past year.

While a whole industry is developing around the concept (which is not new, by the way: just think of how long you’ve been doing things like accumulating miles from your favourite airline and/or credit card), I have developed an interest on the topic in three ways: as a research subject, as a way to engage students in class, and – more personally – as a way to make my own grad life more fun.

As for the first interest, I am still – let’s say – flirting with it. But working on a paper on the topic is on my list of things to do in 2012. I also had a small experience with the second one this past year: while teaching a class about – you guessed it! – gamification, I tried to engage the students a bit more in the topic by using some gamification techniques. Assuming most of students would have a laptop in class anyway, I asked them all to bring one and pointed them to a website called Socrative. It is a simple way to get instant feedback from the class (for instance, I started with a question asking whether they knew about gamification, and none of them had heard of it before). That can help a teacher better manage the activities based on what the class actually knows. You can also set simple quizzes or even some games by teaming up students.

The tool is still in its beta phase and has a lot of room for improvement, but in a nutshell, it allowed me to have (and give) instant feedback from the class undersanding, it provided them some challenge through the game we played, it directed their screens to something related to the class (instead of facebook), but above all, it helped to increase engagement.

An off-line visual to-do list for the semester

Then we come to my third interest, which is making my (and yours!) grad life more fun. My first step in ‘gamifying’ my PhD life was building a one-sheet page full of bar graphs corresponding to my to-dos for each course to be filled. Later I added a second one with some extra activities I wanted to do once or twice a week, so I could paint the bars while I progressed. This is not yet gamification per se, but it is a way of keeping me on track by giving me easy visibility on what I need to do and what is left.

This was a good technique for to-do lists, but it still didn’t make the process more fun. Perhaps because gamification is something we’re supposed to do socially, perhaps because doing a PhD is already pretty challenging already (check the graph below from Csikszentmihalyi’s research about the sense of flow), but for the next semester I want to try some new ideas. Would you have some to share?

There is a sweet spot for the level of challenge you need

One response to “Can you make your grad life more fun?”

  1. Funny that after writing this post I came across this one here:
    A tip for those who want to take the concept to its extreme!

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