Using Achievements to Spur Wiki Participation

I've been doing some research lately into how an "achievement system," popularized by modern videogames such as Halo and Gears of War, might be a great way to spur student participation in wiki projects. I just finished reading a great essay called "Using Wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches" published in Computers & Education 52.1 (2009). The author, Melissa Cole, found that most of her students weren't interested in her wiki at all, and no one had made any contributions to it after 5 weeks! The reasons ranged from the classic "I just couldn't figure it out..." Uh, come on, it's a wiki--you know, the simplest possible website to edit? The students were seniors, so I just don't buy that. The others claimed it was too time consuming, or, more honestly, that they just didn't have an interest it. As far as I can tell, the wiki wasn't part of the grade, so that probably explains a lot of Cole's trouble.


She does offer some reflections, one of which caught my eye. It needs to be fun, but "fun is determined by the user and students do not appear to view popular social technologies used in an educational context as either enjoyable (fun-to-use) or intrinsically useful (fun-gained)" (145). I know full well that any activity instantly becomes 90% less fun the moment it becomes a required class activity, but there's also no denying that some class projects are simply more fun than others.

I think Cole is also right that "education exists in a consumerist culture where altruistic acts are devalued and individual effort is rewarded" (145). That's a problem I had with my wiki projects...Students are trained to think in terms of My Work and My Grade; collaboration is frowned upon for many reasons--shared responsibility for the grade, less ability to "shine" as an individual, etc. This is an unfortunate part of education, but it makes it hard to do good wikis.

This is where I'm seeing the opportunity to slide in an achievement system. I should note, too, that some wiki packages already have the systems in place, such as Wikia. The idea here is that you could use this system to help individuals "shine," that is, to draw attention to individual achievement, while at the same time promoting a spirit of competition (other students can see and compare each other's achievements). I haven't looked deeply into the system yet, but my initial impression is that it's a very rich and flexible one with lots of possibilities for assessment.

I'm wondering at the moment whether an achievement system should be tied to the grades or merely badges of merit or pride, similar to gold star stickers. My guess is that students would take them more seriously if they were at least tied to bonus points, though it's also important (or at least interesting) to observe that these systems are used in games merely to offer some optional goals or benchmarks. It's never a matter of having to earn them in order to win or complete a game; they're just there for people who want to get all obsessive or have something to brag about to their friends.

I need to do some more researching. I should probably try to find something about grading systems, especially anything about the effectiveness of bonus points for spurring class participation in general. I also need to think more about how to use this kind of system most effectively.