Ep 025 Karl Kapp and how gamification includes involving students in your job

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Karl is the assistant director and a faculty member at Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies (IIT), where he teaches courses like Managing Multimedia Projects, Applying Theories of Learning for Interactive Technologies, E-Learning Concepts and Techniques and Learning in 3D.

He believes teaching/education/learning is an interactive exchange between students and the instructor that can take place both within and outside of the classroom or online environment.

His graduate level teaching reflects the belief that learning and understanding stem from interaction. All of his classes and courses include a problem-based learning approach. Students must interact with the material and apply theory to gain answers. The theory is important but practical application is critical to success. His instructional and learning methodologies ensure that knowledge is retained, learning is applied and results are visible.

As usual with our guests, having a regular day is hard, but normally mornings start with writing or research. Then he goes to the university, where he interacts with students and has the always exciting experience of paperwork! Usually, he likes to have lunch with a colleague and in the afternoons he is normally dedicated to clients, where he also involves his own students as much as possible. Then from 6 to 9 pm, he does his teaching. This is of course, when he’s not traveling, doing webinars or visiting clients who are not in the area.

Once, Karl was working with a local high school to create several games for classes. He included one of his students and asked them to create an illustration of a hangman for one of the games they were creating. At the time he didn’t get a chance to review it with before sending it to the high school, so what do you know? Next thing, the high school calls and says that this is completely unacceptable! It was a super scary, grotesque scarecrow that totally turned them off from creating a hangman game. He had to flip it around completely and achieve the objectives with a changed game. Another interesting time was with a big company where they were creating a learning material. One of the things they asked from the client was the specifications of their technology, which included their computers. Once they finished and shipped, they realized it wouldn’t work on their computers! The problem was that those specifications applied only to the new computers, which currently represented only 1% of the organization! They had to bring down their systems so they would work well with these older computers but of course, it represented a lot of extra work. There are lots of learnings we extracted from these two stories, scroll up and listen to the episode for more details!

A great achievement with gamification was when Karl was working on another project, a sales video game for learning. It was themed with a zombie apocalypse, but the client was starting to back off on the whole fantasy and video game thing, so he decided to make a huge shift, abandon the video game part and turn it into a Zombie Sales Apocalypse card game! The client was really excited about it, so they went on and used some index cards to test the game!! Sometimes it is important to keep in mind it is not only about using a lot of technology in every scenario, take a step back and think if you need a digital design or if perhaps something more physical that can get your learners engaged.

If you are creating a card game, the first recommendation that Karl would give you is to play different games, so you not only design for the games you like, but also other styles. The next thing is to know what you want the learners to be able to do after the course, as well as the actions you want the learner to do to support such learning. The next thing is, with the most basic thing you can have, test out the game. If it’s a card game, take some index cards and test it with the first people you can. There you’ll certainly find out all the things you did wrong, so that way you can make some pivoting and do those changes. Then, with this new version, get some more people, ideally, some who don’t know or like you and test it with them. That way you can once again make some modifications and improve your game. Then it will be ready for the final audience.

His general process is very similar to what he recommends for card games. The first thing is to understand, if in a corporate setting, which is the corporate need or problem to solve. When in an academic setting, the first thing is to know what you want the learners to learn. The next step is to try to find a non-gamification solution. This is especially important to bulletproof your solution when you need to justify it. This could even be how it is being done currently and why it doesn’t work. As with card games, it is an iterative process of design, so get some bare bones version and test it out! After the testing process, he likes to pilot it with a small group of the final audience, right before the big launch to the larger group. A ninja tip is, when asking for feedback, give the reviewers areas of feedback that you are interested in (so they don’t comment on the colors if that’s not what you’re testing), don’t open it up entirely.

Iteration is what Karl would say is something that any project could benefit from, especially if you prepare for it. His favorite mobile game is Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, Exploding Kittens as a card game, Acquire is his favorite board game, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a video game he’s really into right now. Being involved with diverse games helps give some perspectives when designing something related to games and gamification.

Karl thinks that there’s a lot of people doing interesting things in the gamification and games for learning area, some that he would love to listen to on Professor Game are Amy Jo Kim, Clark Aldrich, Ruth Clark and Sharon Boller (a coauthor of one of Karl’s books). A book that he would recommend to The Engagers, to read for both entertainment but also with the designer hat on, is called “The Story of S” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.

His superpower when creating gamification is to use an evidence-based approach! His final piece of advice is to play lots of games, embrace failure as part of the learning process and to reflect on those failures, where you can learn a lot.

We can reach Karl through his website karlkapp.com, his LinkedIn profile, Twitter @kkapp and he also has a Facebook Page.

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