AWS Public Sector Blog

Tips and tricks to gamify your class

Do you favor that points-earning credit card? Or stick with the same airline to rack up miles? These are examples of gamification in action. While the term is relatively new, gamification has been around as long as people have tried to make boring activities interesting. Humans have a natural desire to compete, be social, and gain rewards. found that 67 percent of students feel gamified courses are more motivating than traditional ones. And with educators shifting to virtual or blended classrooms worldwide, it’s worth making the effort to create a gamified classroom.

Here are four tips to mastering gamification in your classroom:

Create winning scenarios. First, identify what appeals to students most. In the 1990s, I taught a middle school class how to use spreadsheets. I wrote a program that randomly gave them a job at minimum wage and then had them spin a wheel to select a new life event each day. Students went shopping for food in their budget, found housing, and paid bills—all through the spreadsheet. In my current role at Abilene Christian University, where I founded and teach in the game design program, I assign a project to my students each year to gamify their degree. The act of working through the concepts of gamification and then applying these concepts to something that they care about helps students internalize the concepts. Creating the right scenario that appeals to your audience will motivate your students to earn points.

A little reward goes a long way. Create a points system and rubric for how and when to reward your students. The most common are badges, achievements, and certificates. Badges are easy to implement, and you can award a student when they accomplish a defined sub-task of a larger project like completing a single assignment or memorizing a passage. Stickers to add to laptops, books, or backpacks work well. Badges should culminate toward earning a significant achievement like completing 50 quizzes. Once the student completes the requirements for the achievement, they might receive a special sticker or other award. As a sixth grade teacher, I would award students pizza for lunch.

Publish your points. Leaderboards offer pros and cons, but it’s important to create a points system that is visible to students to foster friendly competition. For K12 classes, I instituted Burton Bucks. Students earned bucks through achievements on assignments, good behavior (no easy feat for middle schoolers), and turning in assignments on time. Display the points and the corresponding rewards by value prominently in your physical classroom on a poster board or virtually through ePortfolios in your learning management system (LMS).

Get students’ feedback. After implementing one gamification model in your class, reflect on what seems to motivate students best and ask for feedback. Another way to ensure your rewards are desirable is to have students design the rewards or stickers themselves. You may need to adjust the level of rigor it takes to earn a badge to ensure the pace to earn an achievement is attainable.

For example, the DETXP system broke my college class into three major segments: the traditional course work (Storyline), the major project at the end of the semester (Boss Project), and the Side Quests. Side quests allowed students to submit any project related to game design to create in their free time. This also addressed a second problem: getting comfortable with constructive criticism. By presenting on a regular basis and receiving immediate feedback, the students became used to having their work critiqued and encouraged to bring the project back the following week to show their growth in skills. Gamification encouraged more engagement in the course work outside of the classroom, which helped put students in a better position to find jobs after graduation.

As a part of the gamification of our game design program, students use Amazon Web Services (AWS). To manage their projects via a hosted version control system, they host their ePortfolios and multiplayer games on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon Lightsail servers. To create voices for their games and cinematics, they use Amazon Polly. AWS provides much of the infrastructure for our game design program. By building with the cloud, our students can launch and scale the services they need in a virtual environment whenever they need them—and pay for only what they use.

Gamification is a very flexible approach that allows you to motivate your students. I recommend starting small and growing, adjusting the system into what works for you and your students. I recently hosted a webinar with AWS Educate to share more tips for how to gamify your virtual or blended classroom. You can also visit my website where I answer questions and write more about gamification and other topics like virtual reality and online learning.

Learn more about AWS Educate and AWS for higher education.

Brian Burton

Brian Burton

Brian G. Burton, EdD, is a professor/researcher/author/speaker/trainer, and an AWS Educate Cloud Ambassador Program. Dr. Burton founded and teaches in one of the top game design programs in the world. His research focus is on the development of serious games and learning in virtual environments. Brian and his wife Rosemary founded one of the first online high schools and continue to research and implement online learning innovations. You can learn more on Dr. Burton’s blogs:,,, and