Classically Inclined

January 23, 2015

Gamifying Intermediate Latin – a mid-year update

When I posted that I was intending to gamify intermediate Latin, I got quite a positive response back, and I promised to give you an update on how it was all going. As we start the second week of the spring term, now seems like a good moment to review how things have gone so far. I should also add that I’m thinking of putting together an application for our college teaching excellence prize based on this, not least because (as a colleague pointed out to me the other day) the potential applications of the technique go beyond the languages, which is where I’d thought it might be useful – every subject has got its bit of ‘stuff we need students to put the work into, that doesn’t feature as part of the summative assessment, but that will impact students’ performance in the summative assessment’. When I explained what I was doing, she immediately thought of how useful it could be for statistics, which wasn’t something I’d thought of at all. At any rate, now seems like a good moment to reflect on the experience so far.

To recap, the goals I had in gamifying Intermediate Latin were:

  • Give students a short-term motivation and reward for doing work they otherwise wouldn’t see paying off until the medium or long term.
  • Increase participation rates in optional homework activities.
  • Through this participation, increase student confidence with vocabulary, grammar and other skills they need for in-class tasks.
  • Generate a bit of friendly competition in the classroom and thus build community among students on the course.

So, how’s it going? As a general first learning point, more related to me than the students, I am noticing that my usual tendency to assume that people will read things on bits of paper and understand them perfectly is having its usual flaw – namely, they aren’t. For instance, I have insignia set up to test vocabulary which involve students coming to me in my office and doing one-on-one vocabulary tests. The class assumed that we would do these tests as a corporate body in class time, meaning some students missed out on the early weeks (because I didn’t realise there was something to explain…)  and others just didn’t get into the rhythm of it. Equally, I’ve yet to see a single submission for the insignia compositionis – not, I suspect, because the students can’t do it, but because I may not have made my expectations and the rules unavoidably explicit. So, for going forward, I want to try and make myself be much clearer about this stuff, because if the barrier is me not being clear enough, that’s easy enough to sort, and it’s an easy thing to try and correct.

That said, I think that in the first fortnight of running the course, I was given more homework than I’d been given for the whole of the course the previous year. Which, if you ask me, is pretty darn impressive, and clearly shows increased participation rates! I’m noticing, perhaps not surprisingly, a bit of a downwards trend over the term – for instance, while every student turned in the first insigne recognitionis worksheet, participation rates fell to about half the class, and indeed is currently lower for insignia that technically were due over the Christmas holidays (and about which I am going to need to make a Pronouncement). I’m going to have to make sure that students get back onto the bandwagon both with finishing off work from last term and keeping on top of this term’s new assignments. One thing I wonder about is the impact of my ‘three week deadline’ rule – that is, students have three weeks from when an insigne is unlocked to submit it. Last term, students got into the habit of submit work at the deadline, not the work for the week just passed, so everyone was basically running a deficit all the time. Not helpful, but I also don’t want to take away the possibility of students putting off their Latin work a bit for an essay deadline and catching up again. More thought needed.

What’s this stuff doing for their actual academic performance? I don’t have final grades yet, and only one quiz grade. However, what I am seeing in class is an increased level of comfort with grammatical terminology, and less reliance on the dictionary for words I think should be embedded in reasonably automatic recall. I’m also seeing a lot of camaraderie within groups that’s manifesting outside the classroom as well as inside it, but I’m a bit cautious to put that down to insignia rather than the particular dynamic of the students I’ve got on the course this year. That said, I’ll be interested to look at the grades and exam performance and see what I think insignia may have done for the students who are grasping it with both hands.

Of course, none of this would be possible if my students weren’t happy to buy into the whole ‘we have stickers!’ experience. They have been. And if I can sneakily admit it, it’s quite fun from my perspective to dish out the stickers and see their records of achievement grow. It makes doing the increased piles of marking worth it.


  1. So, just to clarify–in a non-gamified iteration of this course, how does homework work? Things are assigned, and corrected if handed in, but grades are not given? Is there required homework, or quizzes? (I don’t really understand UK undergrad marking, I think).

    The reason I’m asking is that I currently, in my Intro class, give vocab/grammar quizzes once a week (totalling 15% of the course mark) and intermittently assign homework to be handed in (another cumulative 10%). In 2nd year and above, I require translations handed in weekly, and have frequent tests. What I’m trying to figure out is if this is similar to what your gamified class ends up doing–though my version is clearly less fun!–or whether you’re adding the insignia to replace graded homework & quizzes.

    Comment by Aven (@AvenSarah) — January 23, 2015 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

    • In the ‘usual’ iteration, I would set homework (so ask students to complete worksheets and unseen translations begun in class, perhaps set an unseen passage or a worksheet as well) and give feedback if anyone handed it in, but there would be no grades given. The course is graded 20% on in-class quizzes (one dry one, then best two out of three), and 80% on a cumulative exam taken in the summer term. That’s still the way the formal grade is arrived at, but I’ve put a bit more thought into what the best ‘additional’ tasks would be (e.g. grammar drills or unseen translation practice) for each week of the course in order to structure the insignia.

      There is a class of insignia associated with the in-class quizzes, which rewards students for handing in a set of corrections of their quiz mistakes, but otherwise this is doing something entirely supplementary. Does that make things clearer?

      Comment by lizgloyn — January 23, 2015 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

      • Yes, it does — thanks! I’m not used to a system of having so much weight on one or two tests, but I can see how this could help with encouraging continuous investment of time–so crucial to languages in particular. Glad it seems to be working out, will be interesting to see how you tweak it.

        Comment by Aven (@AvenSarah) — January 23, 2015 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for sharing this update/reflection! A question: are the stickers a usable token of some kind? For instance, if a student collects X stickers, s/he can trade them in for some special consequence (extended due date, etc.)? I’ve wondered if a mechanism like that might add a layer of motivation, without promoting an unhealthy obsession with grades. 🙂 Sounds like a very cool project in process – kudos!

    Comment by Gerol Petruzella — January 23, 2015 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

    • Oh, what an interesting idea! No, I don’t use the stickers as trade-ins for privileges; there are ranks associated with how many insignia each student earns, although as yet none of them have made it to the first rank (I based the scale on Tim Phin’s one, and I think it needs rejigging for the UK system next time around).

      Comment by lizgloyn — January 23, 2015 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

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