A Real Game-Changer

Using gamification for teachers’ professional development

November 1, 2023

Youth Matters, by Karina Quilantan-Garza

Gamification has gained traction over the last decade for its potential to facilitate learning, foster motivation, and empower individuals to lead their own professional development. The integration of digital badging, microcredentials, and other game elements in training and upskilling programs has been shown to hold learners’ attention and motivation more effectively than traditional methods. Yet when we talk about the practice in school libraries, it’s often associated with students rather than teachers.

In fall 2022, I used gamification to design a six-week professional development series for staff members at my middle school in South Texas, where I work as a library media specialist. Our campus had just adopted a laptop initiative for students, so my goal was to ensure that teachers would retain the skills they learned during the pandemic to help students with their tech needs. The series, Tech Yourself, covers the latest trends, techniques, and updates for Adobe, Canva, Google, and Microsoft products. By incorporating immersive and interactive elements in instruction, I looked to transform what teachers typically see as mundane tasks into engaging experiences.

Tech Yourself is self-paced and meant to accommodate individual learning preferences by providing multimodal content like videos, podcasts, websites, simulations, and hands-on exercises. Each week, teachers choose a different topic based on their interests and set their own pace for completing a module. Each module consists of a short video embedded with reflection questions. Following the video, teachers are asked to develop an artifact—such as a vision board, lesson plan template, presentation, or worksheets—that showcases how they would apply a specific tech tool in their classroom. Teachers have flexibility to choose and personalize the format of their artifacts.

Teachers submit completed artifacts through Google Classroom, our learning management system. Digital badges are then awarded to participants via Badge List, a free digital badge distribution site. Teachers can use these badges to display their skills and competencies in professional learning portfolios.

Ask teachers what barriers they encounter with technology integration and their preferred learning options.

In addition to badges, our series incorporates weekly leaderboards, incentives, and rewards, such as backpacks, stickers, water bottles, and free or discounted software subscriptions. Teachers who accumulate a certain number of badges throughout the series become eligible for bigger prizes like books and gift cards from Amazon, Starbucks, and local restaurants. This creates a sense of progression, accomplishment, and healthy competition among colleagues.

Teachers have commented that the series has increased their efficacy and confidence in adapting to new technology trends. Many presented their artifacts to earn higher distinctions on the technology component of their year-end evaluations. They have also said they appreciate how Tech Yourself gives them control over their learning by allowing them to make choices, explore different paths, and set personal deadlines. This autonomy fosters a sense of ownership in professional development and has motivated our teachers to continue learning about new applications in and outside the classroom.

School libraries looking to train and upskill staff members should consider creating a program like Tech Yourself. I would recommend first conducting a needs assessment to gauge staff members’ skill and interest levels. Ask what barriers they encounter with technology integration and their preferred learning options. Then consider running a pilot program with a small group of teachers using tools that your district has already adopted and refining the modules before releasing them to a larger audience.

With gamification, we have a unique opportunity to unlock our teachers’ potential as technology leaders and create a school culture where professional development is prioritized.


Penn State University student Luz Sanchez Tejada uses the school's microcredentialing platform in Pattee Library to earn badges as part of her peer research consultant training. Photo: Steve Tressler

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