Published Work: “Gamification in a Social Learning Environment”



“Gamification in a Social Learning Environment”

Published in Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology Volume 10, 2013,

Co-Author with David Giannetto and Joseph Chao

Download (click here for PDF)

Gamification has gained traction in recent years as an effective way of engaging users to perform actions in contexts that would otherwise be considered tedious and undesirable. Education is an area in which user engagement could have the greatest impact on success, with some advantages for students being improved grades or better comprehension. The authors of this paper have designed and implemented a three part system for gamifying a social learning environment designed for use in higher educ ation lecture classrooms. Our goal in doing so is to foster greater user engagement from the students using the system and thereby promote an environment better suited for active learning.

Star Wars The Old Republic

Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR), the new Star Wars MMO, is out. While it has a superb new questing system with real story development and the ability to have companion avatars help you along the way… it surprisingly does nothing else to advance the MMO genre.

Certain elements from the last Star Wars MMO, Star Wars Galaxies, that we also saw in Second Life that weren’t in World of Warcraft or SWTOR are:

  • Pure roles/classes that don’t involve fighting (dancers, musicians, crafters)
  • Houses and virtual items for sale, earn, or trade (SWTOR has ships, but eh…)

SWTOR has crafting, but you actually outsource that job to one of your companions. WoW has crafting but most people add that onto another class. In SWG you actually could be a crafter or musician… and that’s all you did. These things actually led to gameplay that was creative and outside of what the creators had developed. Uber geek confession: I once hosted a speeder bike race for about 20 of my guild friends in SWG where we raced from house to house, purchasing cheap vendor items as we went to mark progress. The winner had to turn them all in at the end. This was MMO user generated content at its best – and we had a party at the guild hall when it was over!

Other things that are easily going to make any new MMO stand out are:

  • Classes you can play for free (like a dancer, musician, crafter, etc…) without playing the monthly fee – just to get you in the door; let you see and explore the worlds. This type of class would increase the social features and player set of the MMO. Diversity – imagine that!
  • Mobile content – like puzzle games that could actually be played to craft items. I mean, Club Penguin has this!? Why doesn’t a major MMO? Players should be able to interact with the world from an iPad, smartphone, etc…

SWTOR does have space battles which look really boring and don’t look like they cost a lot on the processing power. I’m guessing they might actually have plans to push that onto a mobile platform. Now that would be cool.

Final gripe: Travel. SWTOR looks like a giant and spacious world. This is cool – BUT it means that the majority of game time is NOT spent questing, engaging in stories, or otherwise playing the game. The majority of game time will be spent running or traveling by speeder bike or spaceship from one place to another. BOOOoooRING! I still have nightmares in which I run from place to place in SWG, EQ2 (now free by the way), or WoW. Who wants to play something in which the majority of time is spent traveling? I know I don’t.

For some videos on the new story-driven experience of STOR see here and here. Below is a video of the space battles.

Best and Worst of 2011

Best of 2011

Device: iPad 2
It’s hard to believe that this device isn’t even a year old! Released last March, iPad 2 brought a quicker processor, front and rear facing cameras, and a thinner and lighter look to an already amazing device. I’ve talked to a few folks who bought an iPad and yet still can’t figure out how to work it into their lives?! I use mine for everything from work to playmaking art to storing recipes. Thanks to Google Docs, I also used it while writing this post. It even inspired me to build a web app called QizBox (read more here). Also, this is my favorite smart cover.

All Around App: Vox
This little known gem is the most used app on my iPhone. It touts itself as a walkie-talkie app but it’s real function is asynchronous voice messaging – something sorely lacking from every phone OS. With the touch (and hold) of a button, I can send/record a voice message sent directly to another user. If the other user is available, we can talk in real-time (like a walkie-talkie), and if not… they can listen to the message when they are ready! This beats texting and driving. The app is free on iOS and Android.

Biggest Surprise: Siri
The iPhone 4S seems like a dud to me. Sure, it’s faster and… uhm, I think that’s all. Except for Siri. While there have been a ton of awesome jokes about Siri, it marks the third wave of computer interface milestones in the last several years (the touch interface that kicked off a revolution of phones/tablets AND the kinetic/body interface of the Xbox Kinect). It will be exciting to watch how voice interfacing competes and integrates with the others.

Game: Gamification
The best game of the year isn’t Skyrim or the new Star Wars MMO, it’s the gamification of everything. Its hard to throw a stick in any direction and not see how gamification, or the idea of adding game mechanics (badges & awards, levels, co-op or competitive play, and something social), is affecting many different fields. From waiting tables to the classroom, making our lives more playful and engaging is gamification’s goal. Check out Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal and her TED talk that influenced the inclusion of gamification in the design of my web app QizBox. Or these articles about Will Wright’s idea to turn life itself into a game called “HiveMind”.

OS: Google
While Google itself is not an operating system, I use more Google apps on my devices. With a fresh new design and a billion functions, the search giant gets me where I’m going, answers all of my questions, stores my life and work, and connects me to friends. Not a day goes by that i don’t use something Google  Although they aren’t perfect (Gooogle+ = meh) I’m positive that Google will continue to surprise us big in 2012. And I truely can’t wait until it literally gets me where I’m going!

Music: Spotify Desktop
All the music I could ever want. Streaming. Free. Nuff said.

Movie: Winnie the Pooh
Personally, I’ve never liked Pooh, but this movie was hilarious! My kids and I laughter harder and quote more lines from this movie than any other of the year! This movie is another sign of what John Lasseter is doing for Disney. Yes, Cars 2 & Kung Fu Panda 2 were both awesome as well (Ska-doosh), and the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo was crazy suspenseful, but if you haven’t seen Pooh, try it.

Social: Google Hangouts
Apple’s FaceTime & Microsoft’s Skype should be shivering in their boots. Beyond just conferencing Google Hangouts is an amazing collaboration tool. And with an open API, I’m sure we’ll see more and more integration of Hangouts in 2012.

Worst of 2011:

Device: Kindle Fire
I bought a Kindle Fire, not with expectations that it would measure up to an iPad, but with hopes that this device could be the perfect low-cost solution to those entering the tablet world. I was sorely disappointed! My long list of complaints (uncontrollable carousel, poor Amazon Prime movie selection, a sluggish OS, and super small text) were recently featured front and center in a article. Luckily, the majority of those complaints can (and likely will!) be fixed with a software update. I look forward to an even better and cheaper Fire next year.

All Around App: Facebook
I’m not sure if it’s just me… But I receive dozens of Notifications in my on Facebook for Friends I’m not even subscribed to! It extremely annoying. What was once an easy website/app to use, notifying me when someone interacted with me, is now a cluttered mess that looks more like a Twitter feed. Beyond that, on some posts I can “Like” other users comments and on others I can’t. Also, the settings I have on my computer for whose updates I receive don’t seem to translate to my mobile device. WTF? With other options (Twitter & Google+) in the social network realm, Facebook is giving me many frustrating reasons to leave. – Side note: I was sad to see my favorite location based check-in app, Gowalla, first ruin itself, then shut down altogether to join the Facebook team. This has to be my runner up for Worst app of 2011.

Music: Spotify Mobile
I had 48 free hours of all the music I could love on the Spotify mobile app… Then it asked me to pay. Dear Spotify, I’ve spent a total of $9.99 on music in the last two years! I would never ever think of spending that PER MONTH for music! Your business plan is wack. Serve me more ads and give it to me for free. OR make your service free with the purchase of one 99 cent song per month. Also, as much a I love the desktop app, I de-coupled it from my Facebook account. The idea that I want to a) share what I’m listening to with friends or b) learn about music by hearing what my friends listen to are both false assumptions. I’d much rather rely on a computer algorithm to make recommendations – Thank you Pandora!

OS: Xbox
My particular gripe with Xbox isn’t it’s new interface (that’s ok), it’s the $9.99 a month they are requesting from me to use other services like Netflix, HBO, or Pandora that I’m already paying for! This attempt at Microsoft is nothing more than a cheap money grab. My friends who play games together online obviously have a reason to pay. However, if Microsoft is going to tout their new “apps” as a real competitor to Google TV or the upcoming Apple TV they’d better drop the Xbox Gold Live price tag altogether. Google doesn’t have one and I’m pretty sure Apple won’t either.

Biggest Surprise: No iPhone 5
While this shouldn’t have been a big surprise given Apples usual development cycle, the hype and media leaks surrounding an iPhone 5 were at a new peak last August. Rumors of a bigger screen and thinner profile are likely to be true when we finally see this model next year. I will definitely be getting one.

Social: #OWS
The Occupy movement stands for one thing more than any other- Get big business out of government. This message was seemingly lost among the protests and ensuing social media blitz. Furthermore, many smart people I know could not separate the message from the messengers. Yet, I could hardly find a person on either side of the party lines that didn’t agree that our government and politics have been overrun by big business money and lobbyists. It’s time we act like the 99% in a peaceful and cooperative way; without the craziness.

What to look for in 2012:

Devices: iPad 3 (5”x7”) – Sony Gaming TV – iPhone 5
iPad 3: I’m hopeful there will be a 5″x7″ iPad 3 announce in the first quarter of 2012. The 5″x7″ size of the Kindle Fire was one of its best features! Plus, it would make this amazing device more affordable.
Sony Gaming TV: Pushed to 2012, this TV allows two users wearing 3d glasses to see different images when looking at the same screen. I think this tech will quickly move beyond gaming as many families will use the glasses, combined with headphones, to watch different content while looking at the same screen.
iPhone 5 - I think I’ve covered this.

Social: Everywhere

I think by the end of 2012 we will see chatrooms or comment boards everywhere. With apps like Oink allowing you to comment on any object anywhere and Twitter chat and Foursquare continuing to gain momentum, the obvious next step is a live chat feed attached to every place, thing, and tv show – and possibly every person too!Fresh newsreaders like Google Currents and Flipboard have brought back a desire to seek out news again – now that it’s formatted in a clean and readable interface (I always hated RSS readers anyways). I can easily see how format flow and interface could influence education, textbooks, and wikis (check out QWiki).

Finally, as information overload continues to grow, curatorial and creative story telling tools, like Storify, will too! Even smaller social networks, like Path, might help to cut down on the increased information stream on Facebook and Twitter.

QizBox in Educause Review

I recently wrote an article called “Making An App” about my collaborative experience creating a web application called QizBox: A Social Learning Environment. You can read the article here:







More information about QizBox at

Mindful Social Media Practice

I found this article on the Buddhist website titled:

10 Mindful Ways to Use Social Media

The article really spoke to me in terms of how many people could use social media but often don’t. In fact, it seems to me that many of the complaints about social media stem from their interactions with or understanding of social media by those who don’t practice mindfully. (And I’m sooo guilty of this too!)

Ever hear someone complaint that Twitter is a broadcast medium where everyone is shouting and no one is listening? Or that they’re afraid spending their whole lives on Facebook? If you use social media mindfully, authentically, aware of your intentions, truthfully and in a helpful way, while still being here, now, in the present moment with the people you’re with I believe many of those complaints would begin to dissipate.

It’s when we begin to use social media as a coping mechanism to escape the reality we’re in that often times leads to this all-or-nothing outsider mentality. What mindful social media practice means to me is that when I’m online, I can be totally online. When I’m offline, I can do that with my full attention too. It’s when I get distracted in between… usually on my phone, answering an email or responding to a post while walking down the hallway that I realize I’m not mindful of reality. I’ve found it much more helpful to eat while I eat, surf while I surf, and walk when I walk. And that doesn’t mean that since I have the internet in my pocket I can’t look something up when I need too, even if it’s in the middle of a meeting.

So the question is, are you using social media to escape reality?

Best and Worst of 2010

Best of 2010:

My ‘Best of’ list may help you save a few bucks next year, be more (or less) productive, or just keep you busy clicking links for a while.

Device: iPad
I take it everywhere. It’s my GPS, MP3 player and radio while I drive. It’s my pencil and paper at work, it’s my computer of choice, even if it’s not capable of everything I need at all times. My top uses and apps:

All around app: Google Voice
This app is totally free (used in a browser) and has saved me $15 a month in texting fees by routing the SMS texts thru my email and data plan on my phone. I can also use the Google Voice app on my Blackberry to send or receive texts if I wish. I get my voicemail transcripts in email to read when I can’t take a call. It’s a game changer for saving money.

Biggest Surprise: Google Chrome
The most secure browser out there and perhaps the fastest one too. I now know why they made this little browser into it’s own operating system. I’m already living in it. Customize it with extensions and without the (Firefox) lag. Here’s a few I like:

Music: Pandora/GrooveShark
Everyone uses Pandora. The fact that it’s on every device I own makes it ultimately useful at all times. Gooveshark is another great web app where you can actually listen to the songs you want. I’m not sure how they are making this happen since it seems to be peer to peer (P2P) sharing. Make a playlist, listen to whole albums, Tweet a song with a tiny URL… all for free! Sorry iPad users, this puppy uses (ugh) Flash.

Movies/TV: Netflix
I cancelled my cable bill this year and saved a bundle with Netflix on my Wii, iPad, and laptop. The streaming library is ever increasing and if you like TV, are willing to give up new content full of commercials, this is your last stop. My favorites:

Game: Angry Birds
2 Games, a bazillion levels, hours and hours of addictive fun. iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone and Android. Nuff said.

OS: Android
Although I don’t own a device running Android, the fact that I want one so badly is proof that the fastest selling mobile OS on the market kicks ass. It has a huge development team, an open system, and took Linux from being a joke (sorry Linus) to what could end up being the most widely distributed OS of our time.

Movie: Inception
Nolan’s best movie to date. Thrilling, conceptual, and an all around spectacle. Buzz Lightyear, Iron Man and Zuck didn’t stand a chance.


Worst of 2010:

Devices: Google TV / Apple TV
The biggest let downs of the year. A device that could change everything. A device that could have brought the best mobile operating systems (Android and iOS) to our TVs and give us millions of apps to play with… instead searches our cable box for content and giving us more ways to pay for overpriced content. Boo. Fail.

All Around Worst App: iTunes
For the 10th year running: iTunes. What a beast. Slow to start up. Hard to use. Copying all my files to who knows where (whenever my hard drive is suddenly out of space, iTunes is to blame). Here’s an app by the maker of the iPad whose iTunes app doesn’t even perform the simplest task: subscribe to podcasts – i.e. automatically download new content. This year iTunes also introduced Ping, a social network (as if we needed another) for music. Note to Apple: Concentrate on usability and usefulness.

Music: The Social Network OST
My biggest gripe here isn’t with the music. I’m a huge Trent Reznor / Nine Inch Nails fan! My problem is with the price. Facebook is free. Everything Trent does is free. This is one piece of musical soundtrack that should have been free.

Movies/TV: Hulu and Hulu Plus
What a joke. Limited content, too many commercials, and an over priced app for shows that eventually expire. Hollywood really has to be reaching with this last ditch effort to save commercials. Forget it. Put a Pepsi or McDonalds logo (linked to a limited time offer) down in the corner and drop the commercials and the charge for the app.

Twitter tastes Delicious

Yahoo recently announced it was shutting down or selling Delicious. is a social bookmarking tool bought by Yahoo in 2005. Delicious says it will stay open.

I say Twitter should buy Delicious. Talk about a powerhouse combo! So many people use Twitter to aggregate and pass links, often times never saved or seen again (just like the tweets themselves). But wouldn’t it be great if every link you ever tweeted was automatically bookmarked and stored for you? What if every posted by everyone you ever follow was stored too?

What’s even greater is that Delicious does tags (folksonomy), something long missing from Twitter. Could Twitter put that tag system to use, not only for links, but to get rid of this silly hashtag stop-gap measure and get down and dirty with some real taxonomicial mojo?

A few years ago, links were the currency of the web: traded, saved, and stored. Very few of us keep detailed records of links, unless doing research or a paper or something. If we did keep track, we had a myriad of resources to choose from: blogs, wikis, and RSS through sites like Delicious. Today however, we’re still passing links every day, but with Twitter as our aggregator. Where succeeded over Delicious was in its community. Where Twitter succeeded over was… in its community (and respect for community). Where Twitter fails is in its storage and search for past links and other metadata, i.e. who passed it to who and how.

Twitter is growing up fast and has made only one big purchase: Tweetie, the best Twitter iPhone app at that time. In doing so, it strangled the market for Twitter apps and put a solid stamp on its mobile product. By buying Delicious, Twitter could do the same for the short URL, which was developed entirely on the premise that most links take up too much of the 140 character limit. There are security concerns with such links and where they might land. Giants like Google have stepped into the foray with and Delicious uses But services like and seem to be ruling the day. But for how long? By buying Delicious, Twitter could shore up the shortened URL market and with deeper integration and tools then they currently use now.

The Urgent Social Blissful Epic Classroom

Jane McGonigal’s talk on gaming in the real world is totally worth the watch and I thank AJ Kelton for passing it on to me! I think what she outlines as gamer skills to be utilized the real world can ABSOLUTLEY be used to construct divergent assignments in an integrative classroom. Although, I totally disagree with Malcom Gladwell‘s theory in Outliers: that 10000 hours of practice at something = you’re an expert at it. Give me two hours on FarmVille; (something I’ve never played) and Google and I’ll can be an expert too.

McGonigal outlines 4 ways in which games make us/our students virtuosos for gaming in the real world:
  1. Urgent optimism: compelling need to act + possibility of success
  2. Social fabric: trust with others
  3. Blissful productivity: happier when working hard at games rather than relaxing uselessly
  4. Epic meaning: knowledge + resources
How do we use these in the Multichronic Classroom?

Help me out here… add to this open google doc:

Bonus Points: Give students the Google 20 = 20% of class time to work on their own project! Not something you assign, something they come up with themselves and can turn in for credit. Let them write their own assignment.

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    Anthony Fontana is Geek, Artist, Educator, Learning Technologist, App Designer, Virtual Campus Admin, Graphic Novelist, Zen Buddhist, Father and more...
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