It is unfortunate that faculty members often deliberately avoid creating competition in their courses out of fear of damaging student self-esteem or privacy considerations. Competition is one of the best ways to achieve growth. We invariably perform better when we are striving to achieve in a competition. I once performed a maximum heart rate test on a stationary bike, and afterward, the tester added 10 beats per minute to the results to obtain my true maximum, on the grounds that people always achieve a higher heart rate during competition than they are capable of achieving on their own.
Competition can be added to an online course without violating student privacy and harming self-esteem through ungraded quizzes with leaderboards. Faculty often assume that students will not take seriously any activities that do not directly affect their grades, but the competition created by a simple leaderboard is sufficient for creating engagement in an activity without the stick of a grade. Providing multiple attempts at the quizzes also allows for failure without cost, a fundamental attraction of games that has been proven to be a powerful driver of learning (NYU, 2013). Whereas students are made anxious by a bad grade and will fixate on how to get the teacher to improve it, those same students will focus on how to improve through performance to move up a leaderboard that does not have a grading implication.
Instead of individual leaderboards, the faculty member might also put students into groups and publicize the group scores: students are motivated to benefit the group as a whole, but do not see their own scores publicized. Many companies use this motivational device to encourage employee health through “Biggest Loser”–style competitions whereby employees are put into groups and group weight loss is used to determine leaderboards.
There are a number of simple and free online quizzing systems that come with leaderboard capabilities. All of the systems provide students with immediate feedback on their performances, another component of games that helps improve learning, and they provide the teacher with both individual student's performances and a class dashboard. Here are some of my favorite options.
Quizlet (http://quizlet.com) is a good system for creating a variety of quiz questions, from flashcards that provide a term or an audio or video snippet that the student needs to match to a definition, to fill-in-the-blank, matching, multiple-choice, and true-false questions. The quiz can also be set to require students to retake all of the questions they got wrong over and over until they get them right. Thus, success is guaranteed with sufficient effort.
There is also a version that allows for competition between students. The Gravity game requires the student to fill in a blank based on a question written on a virtual asteroid falling toward a virtual planet. The student must submit the correct answer before the asteroid makes impact in order to get credit for it. Once the student gets all of the questions right, he or she moves up a level to the next planet. The teacher can set up a leaderboard that tracks each student's level of achievement.
Quizlet also recently launched a Quizlet Live version of the game designed to be played in real time. An instructor could use it to add a quiz to the in-class portion of a flipped class or during a live session in an online class.
Quizalize (http://www.quizalize.com) is similar to Quizlet in that it allows students to take quizzes with team leaderboards. It allows for only multiple-choice questions, but features the added function of providing an area for the teacher to explain why certain answers are right or wrong after the student submits them. The teacher can also set a time limit for submitting the answer to each question for an added bit of interest.
Quizizz (http://quizizz.com) has the advantage over Quizalize and Quizlet in that it allows students to see an individual leaderboard rather than a group leaderboard. It also allows students to create avatars for themselves and permits teachers to provide image memes as feedback, which can add a light-hearted element to the assessment.
Google Forms is a powerful Google Drive application that can be used for several purposes, from surveys to sign-up sheets. It is also excellent for hosting quizzes, as questions can address various types of content and the quiz can be formulated in a number of ways to control time, the order of questions, and so forth. See the tutorial on how to set up a Forms quiz at https://youtu.be/2q2joyj1ziM.
Forms does not feature a built-in leaderboard system, but you can develop a leaderboard manually using Flubaroo, a Drive add-on that compiles submissions of a Form and grades them. The results are posted on a Drive spreadsheet that can be made public. Take a look at how Flubaroo works at https://youtu.be/U06W3H_iDho.
Consider adding some healthy competition to your course to improve learning and student engagement.
New York University. (2013). Educational video games can boost motivation to learn, NYU, CUNY study shows [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-11/nyu-evg110613.php.