TYJM: Motivating Team Members

‘Quest’ as a Catalyst
One of the many great examples in Reality is Broken was Quest to Learn. Quest to Learn(Q2L) is a grade 6-12 school in New York City that is built on game-based learning. “At Quest, we define games as carefully designed, student-driven systems that are narrative-based, structured, interactive and immersive. Seeing game-based learning in action provided me with a tangible and relevant use case at the proverbial intersection of game design and learning.

In this image from the Q2L website you can see that even their marketing approach is gamified.

Online social environments from Facebook to massive multi-player games become ever better at creating opportunities for people to connect and interact in rich and engaging ways.  Our standard pedagogical approach stands in sharp contrast for the current generation of students, who are accustomed to experiencing richly interactive experiences elsewhere in their lives. As McGonigal says, “it’s a lot harder to function in low motivation, low feedback,  and low challenge environments when you’ve grown up playing sophisticated games.”

Q2L has some very creative strategies for filling that gap.  McGonigal relates the story of a young student, Rae, for whom ‘leveling up’ to master storyteller status is the primary motivation for working on an assignment. In the traditional educational setting, school work is regulated by grades and the hope of ‘passing’ versus the threat of ‘failing’.  I rolled the idea of ‘levelling up’ around in my mind and it definitely sounded more appealing than the concept of ‘passing’ a test.  In that context how unappealing does passing sound?  It’s not a motivation as much as it’s a “whew, I dodged another bullet”.  “Leveling up”, on the other hand signifies an achievement.

Fixing ICB300: Feedback and Rewards
In Part 2 of this series we talked about feedback as a reward.  At this point I started to think about how I could incorporate a points system into the Marketing Plan Project.  For students to be able to “level up” we would need to create levels.  These levels would need to be meaningful to the individual students as well as the groups.  We would also need to make sure that the points were seen as rewards rather than a punishment.  Ultimately, we would incorporate points in two interrelated ways.  For the remainder of Part Four I will discuss how we used points, quests, and badges to motivate the individual students.1

One of the primary problems with our course design was how much of each student’s grade, in all three of the integrated courses, was based on one, huge, group project.  As Abby so aptly illustrated, this killed motivation and left students feeling that they were at the mercy of group dynamics over which they had little control.  To provide students with a sense of agency, we created a series of activities that would highlight individual accomplishments and would also be meaningful and necessary to group success.2

Introducing ICB300 Quests

(1) Individual Goal: Achieving All-Star Status
(2) Rules: Any student is eligible to achieve All-Star Status for the functional role associated with their major. Students will be assigned Quests based on their chosen major (ie; Marketing Quests for Marketing Majors). Students must complete seven Quests and earn a minimum of 10,000 point of a possible 12,000 total points to receive the coveted “All-Star Badge”.
(3) Feedback: Points would be earned as a running total. All students would know where they stood at any given time in the semester. There would be a tally board where everyone’s earned Badges would be displayed.
(4) Voluntary Participation: All-Star Status would be treated as a big deal and not everyone would achieve it. The motivational incentives, however, were substantial.

Impact on Individual Grade: Upon completing all quests at a high enough level to earn 10,000 points, the student (no matter how well or poorly their group performed) would earn an ‘A’ for the marketing, management, or finance portion of the course; depending upon the functional area in which they achieved all-star status.

Impact on Team Standing: Since students were completing quests in each of the three functional areas associated with the marketing plan (finance, management, and marketing) they all had very specific contributions their team would need. Each student understood the importance of their, and others’ individual contributions for successful completion of the marketing plan.

Impact on Team Grade: Quest points earned by each student in a group would be tallied and added to the groups final project point total (this will be explained in more detail in Part 5).

Seven Quests
Since these were all introductory courses (the first course each student would take in their major) the first two quests were designed to let them explore their potential career path.  This is something the textbooks would touch on but these exploratory quests provided a more hands-on experience.

All of the remaining quests were directly tied to aspects of the Marketing Plan Project. They would, for the discerning student, serve as a ‘how-to guide’ that would take them through all of the important steps in their marketing plan project.  Once marketing majors, for instance, had completed Quest 3 they would understand how to search a library database for information relevant to the company and industry their group would be focusing on for their project.  Quests 4, 5, and 6 would require students to use the databases to search for information on their chosen tablet manufacturer, information on their competitors and information on prospective consumers.

Their final quest would require that they se all the information gathered from the earlier quests to propose a ‘Unique Value Proposition’ for their company’s tablet offering.  This UVP would then be incorporated into the marketing strategy agreed upon by all team members; each of whom was bringing a unique perspective based on which quests they had undertaken.

Narrative Arc and Unnecessary Obstacles

The seven quests were directly related to the final project and we had always expected students to perform the activities.  However, the amount of detailed work required to successfully complete each quest was well beyond what a traditional version of the project would have required.  Once we started to build the quests  knew they fell into the category of ‘unnecessary obstacles’.  I still marvel at the realization that had we presented these quests as 7 additional 3-5 page papers probably would have had a full scale revolt on our hands.  However, with a compelling narrative, and the All-Star Badge as the valuable prize, the student experience was transformed.

The first step for the other two instructors and myself was to deconstruct the entire project into it’s functional components. Reimagining the various steps in the marketing plan project, forced us to fully flesh out the activities involved in each quest.  This needed to be done to build meaningful rubrics for each quest so students would understand how quest points were being allocated.  As students earned points for each successive badge, we were able to provide them with substantive feedback so they would know whether they were headed in the right direction.  Through this process we managed to add a minimum of 7 (badges) additional feedback opportunities for students.  A win for instructors and students since it was much easier to identify where students were struggling and how to strategically intervene.


  1. In the interest of context, the course design changes described herein didn’t happen instantaneously.  the “Quest strategy” described here in Part Four went through a number of iterations before we felt satisfied with the results.  It wasn’t until Fall 2013 that we added Purdue’s Passport Badging Platform.  The addition of badges was extremely well-received by students and made a great addition to the narrative we had created for quest strategy.
  2. Collaborating closely with my management and finance colleagues, we implemented many changes and received significant feedback (solicited and unsolicited) from students before we had the course to a point where students looked forward to taking ICB300 and then proudly wore it as a badge of achievement afterwards; regardless of whether they won the Marketing Plan team competition. Without support from my colleagues and our students’ willingness to believe in the process this all could have turned out differently.

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