Naomi Pariseault winner of the Outstanding use of Gamification for Learning | Episode 059

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Naomi Pariseault is an instructional designer for the School of Professional Studies at Brown University. As with many other instructional designers, it was a fortunate happenstance that Naomi stumbled into the field and has been happily inspiring student learning since 2011. She loves to experiment with new design approaches. It’s been a dream to blend together the principles of game design with learning to create gamified courses. Growing up Naomi loved playing classic video games and could be found playing Atari Asteroids with her dad or Super Mario 64 and Kirby with her cousin. Naomi has earned both the Level 1 and Level 2 Certifications from Sententia Gamification. She was also the instructional designer of the winning project of the Outstanding use of Gamification for Learning in GamiCon 2018 in Chicago!

Days for Naomi follow certain patterns, where she will be up with faculty on meetings about course design. They are up a giant hill according to her, which is great for exercise. Another part of her day is spent actually on her desk creating those awesome courses like the one that was awarded at GamiCon.

Her favorite first attempt in learning (FAIL) is related to realizing certain dependencies in the design later on in the process. It was their first undergraduate full-semester online gamified course called Fantastic Places, Unhuman humans. The gamification had to be either built-in into the course or through the facilitation. For the facilitation, it could be manual or some “automagic” way to make it happen, online tool or a way for it to actually look automatic even though it is not. However, they ran out of time for the magic and they were left with the manual implementation of a couple of the key elements of the course. That meant the teaching assistants (TA) would do the manual tracking of levels and badges that students received through spreadsheets. As usual, not every student was achieving these at the same time, which was tough for the TAs! Even though this was super important, it was really stressful for them, especially because high achievers were asking for their levels and badges which were slightly delayed given all this humanity of the teaching assistants, which of course they couldn’t help but have! A key lesson was with regards to the scalability of the gamification. I also think it was good that they actually started with some manual elements because they were actually able to test and check on it live.

A nice experience in gamification is also related to Fantastic Places, Unhuman humans. One of the most interesting challenges came from the professor, Jim Egan, who had taught this course beforehand but in a face-to-face environment, and without gamification. He asks students to do things that are difficult and out of the box, one of them is to use an online visualization tool and plug a machine-readable text before reading it. Students were usually providing some pushback on this because it is quite unnatural. This was then built into the design of the course to feel more natural. One of the main characters of the story, Leyla, is from another planet and is a humanoid who speaks and understands in numbers, she is very analytical. So this visualization is meant to help her understand the text. Now the students were not questioning the why of such and analysis but rather were really busy with the how to achieve it. She thinks it is important to ask the subject matter expert, in this case, the professor, what is a challenge that the subject typically has and build to mitigate the weaknesses or difficulties.

Regarding the process she follows for creating a gamified environment would be incorporating what she learned in the Sententia Gamification Certification into the process they follow at Brown University in her team of instructional design. They use the backward design process for online and blended courses. They first ask what do you want the learners to know and be able to do after the course is finished. Then there is a lot of mapping to make sure that is happening, along with learning outcome statements and questions. When she mapped those two processes together, she used the same worksheet but embedding the gamification with it. It starts now with the same what do you want them to know/be able to do, then what is the adventure or story that this would follow, also known as the theme. This also allows segmenting the course, which in their case is semester-long, into its different parts. Next, they identified the learners and their motivations according to the Reiss Profile used in the Sententia Gamification Certification, along with some others as well. Then they jumped into the game mechanics themselves, that would tie back with the storyline and with the motivation, and avoiding demotivating of some. The final step goes back to the regular design process as well, it relates to how you will assess the learner understanding, which is tied back again to the game mechanics and the storyline to make sure everything is tied together with a nice bow. We also spent some time talking about how the now online version of the course also ended up affecting how he teaches the face-to-face version of it.

A best practice for her would be for her the story within a gamification design, especially since it was so central to her design and she strongly recommends to take into account the explicit or even implicit story or theme, which helps sustain a longer experience. Her favorite game would be Kirby but she also really enjoys trivia-based games, that bring her competitive nature in a different way than other games. Naomi would love to hear Rachel Niemer of the University of Michigan, who works with gameful learning. A book she would recommend is The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice by Karl Kapp, Blair and Mesch, which she feels makes it easier to break down complex things into simpler things. Her superpower is to be the mapping queen of gamification!

The random question she got was from a high school biology teacher, listen to her great answer! Her final advice is to not be intimidated by gamification because it is actually quite accessible and there are many frameworks that we can look at for implementation. Read and listen to examples of people doing implementations (like on this podcast 😀 ). She is elearngeekette on both Twitter and Instagram and we can find her also through her email at naomi_pariseault [at] brown [dot] edu!


There are many ways to get in touch with Professor Game, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


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