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I have this idea.  Stupid little things can increase engagement in online communities and classrooms.  Things like “rewards”, “awards”, games, points, and the like.

I spent Friday night working on a simple game for BuddyPress that creates a high-score board.  The game simply counts how fast you can click a square 10 times.  It then takes your time and compares it to other members’ times in a public “high-score board”.

This concept has been used since the beginning of the digital age with arcade games and has been taken to a new level with Facebook games, which let you compare your high scores on Bejeweled and other games with your friends’ high scores.

This concept, of course, is totally stupid, but the results are staggering.  People enjoy Facebook more because of these features.  They spend more time on Facebook, become more engaged with Facebook, and buy into the brand a bit more on account of these stupid games.  They also have something to talk about with their friends when they see them in person.  Amazing.

Application

I have a friend who is running two classrooms on the BuddyPress platform.  We were talking about the Facebook game/high-score phenomenon over pizza one day and decided to apply this concept to his BuddyPress classroom communities.  Coincidentally, he is also planning on writing his doctoral thesis on the effectiveness of online communities as classrooms.

My hypothesis is that the simple addition of stupid, competitive games to BuddyPress will get students of his class engaging more.  It will help them learn faces, and it will help them start conversations when they meet up in person once per week.

It is the quality of these person-to-person interactions that make or break classrooms, imho.

So, just in time for the 2011 Spring semester, I plan on releasing a gaming plugin for BuddyPress that includes a single game with a high-score board.  My hope is that teachers will demo this plugin out and provide some feedback.  I might also include an add-on for Heavy Analytics so that teachers can track student progress in the game.

What do you think?

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