Skip to content

Gamify Online Blackboard Courses with Quick, Fun Polls

2016 January 27
by Richard N. Landers

From my research on gamification, one of the major conclusions that I’ve come to is that gamification must be implemented for a reason. Blindly throwing game elements into a course without carefully considering why you’re doing so – specifically, planning out the changes in learner behavior and attitudes that you’re targeting and choosing elements to create those effects – is the quickest way to annoy and frustrate your learners. If you gamify a course in a way that feels gimmicky, it is hard to escape that perception, which will color everything innovative you try to accomplish in the eyes of your students from that point forward.

One of the biggest challenges when designing online courses is ensuring you create a sense of relatedness with other students. In an in-person classroom, this is much easier – you can use interactive activities that require students to talk to each other, and often that interaction will lead to more serious learning relationships, like the formation of study groups. Online, you have a more limited set of options. These courses are typically offered precisely because the timing and location requirements of in-person courses are too inconvenient (or impossible) for many students.  That means instructors need to find ways to encourage casual interactions between students to facilitate these sorts of relationships, and you can gamify to accomplish this.

In my online undergraduate course in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, I gamify the content in several ways. First, I use videos that demonstrate key concepts – but in a slightly goofy way. For example, I use the video below to start a discussion of “how do you define good job performance?” although I use a clip with higher video quality than is available on YouTube.

Dwight will do whatever it takes to get the sale – so how would you evaluate that, as a supervisor? This is not a super-realistic example, of course, but it highlights the challenges faced when rating someone’s performance. There are always shades of grey and matters of interpretation, but at the end of the day, there needs to be a number, and that number’s going to determine who gets fired, who gets raises, who gets promoted, and so on.

In my in-person course, we have a great discussion about this point. Online, I can’t do that as easily. What many instructors do in this situation is post the issues to talk about in a discussion board, but discussion boards are quite hit-or-miss. If you happen to hit a semester without critical mass (i.e., without at least 10 or so “power users” that love talking on the discussion board), then that board will sit dead silent. You can require participation for credit, but then most posters aren’t really going to care about anyone else, and you end up with a lot of noise that doesn’t contribute – everyone just posts for credit and then never looks back.

This is not helped by the fact that the Blackboard discussion board platform is horrible, from a usability standpoint. Maybe they should gamify making their platform work better!

So what to do? This is where I can gamify. I add a human interaction element by polling students mid-class with simple questions. In my lecture video, the clip above plays immediately followed by a question on a PowerPoint slide:

Dwight works with a medium-sized company focusing on selling  paper products.  He works as part  of a sales team, all focused on selling  the company’s products.  He will do whatever it takes to make a sale, including sabotaging team members and lying to customers, and these efforts have made him the top seller in the office.  How would you rate his job performance?

Respondents are given options from 1 (Very Bad) to 5 (Very Good). When they click to vote, it opens up a new page with the voting distribution where students can also add comments, if they so choose. Over two semesters, this has produced a distribution exactly like what I see in-person:

Gamification Poll on Dwight's Job Performance

Opinions are almost evenly distributed among all available options, which is the ideal situation to stimulate discussion.

With 129 responses, I have 19 comments – 15% of students have voted and commented on their vote despite absolutely no class reward for doing so.  That is the sort of effect you want when you gamify – making an optional learning task interesting!  I use these polls in almost every week of material, as a way to encourage students to think more deeply about course material while connecting with other students in the class. I recommend you try it too!

Now for the technical nitty-gritty – how do you actually go about adding polls?  Fortunately, it’s quite easy with freely available tools:

  1. Create an account at
  2. Choose whether or not you care that students will see advertisements when they visit  If you do, it costs $40/year to remove them.
  3. Click Create a New Poll at the top right.
  4. Enter your questions and answer choices.
  5. Customize your poll using the options on the left.  For Blackboard, I tend to choose a 500px poll width but leave everything else at the defaults.
  6. Click Get Poll Code.
  7. You’ll see a textbox full of code.  Click on it, then Copy with your favorite approach (press Ctrl-C, find it in the menus, right-click and select Copy, etc).
  8. In Blackboard, create a new Item wherever you want the poll to appear.
  9. Within the item editor, click the HTML button, which will pop up a window for editing raw HTML.
  10. Paste the code you copied from the Poll Code website.
  11. Optionally, if you want the poll to pop up a new window instead of navigating away from blackboard, add the code target=”_blank” to the form line, so that the start of your code reads:
    <form target=”_blank” method=”post”
  12. Click through to save the content and create your Blackboard item!

That’s it! The poll will now be live. Importantly, Blackboard is as usual sort of broken, so you won’t be able to click the “View” button while Blackboard’s “edit” mode is on.  If you want to follow the view link to see what the poll looks like to students, you’ll need to turn off edit mode (use the button at the top right) and then click on it within that view.  When you gamify, always think about the “user experience” – how do students see your gamification and how would they react to it?

If you want to reset the responses between semesters, head back over to and trigger a reset whenever you want it. I have so far chosen to leave the responses so that even the first student viewing the poll sees a distribution of responses, but you might want to reveal one class and one class only.

Top Ten I-O Workplace Trends for 2016

2016 January 6
tags: , ,
by Richard N. Landers

Top Ten Workplace TrendsThe Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) has once again released its top ten list of anticipated top workplace trends for 2016 based upon a vote of the current SIOP membership. Here they are, with a little commentary and comparisons to both the 2015 and 2014 lists:

  1. Using Social Media to Make Employment-Related Decisions. Technology is always all over this list, in one way or another. Last year, it was mobile assessment – this year, social media. Personally, I think it’s interesting that it falls at #10 when I’d say what’s driving its reemergence on this list is the #1 trend – Big Data has made the information contained within social media much more interesting.
  2. Building Healthy, Diverse Workforces (down from #8). Steady interest, year over year. Organizational focus continues to be on finding value in diversity rather than diversity for diversity’s sake. Token hires do not signify a healthy organization. What you want is an organization that identifies and integrates how diverse viewpoints, histories, and perspectives can improve employee’s work lives.
  3. Work-life Balance Across Generations (down from #3). Work-life balance has dropped down the top ten list a bit. Perhaps that means we’ve solved it? Nah. But the additional wrinkle this year is the “across generations” bit. Older workers are increasingly being asked to be constantly connected, and younger works like being constantly connected but not necessarily to work.
  4. Increased Focus on Business Agility and Flexibility in Work and Business Processes. That model of the steadfast, concrete organization that knows exactly what it does and does that thing effectively, increasing its accuracy and precision over the year? Basically dead. Organizations these days need to react. The market changes, customers are fickle, and a cautious degree of risk-taking are what keep your business alive these days.  That’s a lot of change, and not everyone is ready.
  5. Increasing Focus on Health and Wellness in the Workplace. As occupational health research takes a firmer and firmer foothold in people’s minds, we’re increasingly realizing that a healthy, happy workplace is a productive workplace. It’s not enough to stick a foosball table in the breakroom.
  6. Employee Engagement. Engagement is one of those workplace buzzwords that we just can’t seem to escape. Is it motivation? Is it something new? Who knows, but clients want their employees to have it.
  7. Changing Nature of Performance Management and Development. Something I’ve been saying for years – annual performance appraisals represent a broken system, possibly more harmful than helpful to many organizations. As all other parts of organizations have sped up, the slow and inefficient nature of appraisal has become all the more obvious. Effective performance management should be an on-going, continuous process. Don’t wait a year to tell your employees that they did something harmful, and don’t tell them in the context of a high-pressure meeting that could result in them either getting a raise or getting fired. There are better ways.
  8. Managing Virtual Teams. As an academic, it’s easy for me to forget that many organizations don’t have extensive telework systems incorporating virtual teams. I only see the research team I supervise once a week, but we still get quite a lot done. The reason is the Internet. We can coordinate, communicate, and work together without physically being in the same space. It’s not that hard these days from a technical perspective, but it does require you trust your team, and that’s where I/Os can help.
  9. Trends in Technology Are Changing the Way Work Is Done (up from #4). There’s my lab’s work again, at the top of this top ten list. Technology is fundamentally changing how people work, and it’s unclear how much of our research and how many of our standard practices still apply in this brave new world. But at least now people are recognizing the problem.
  10. Leveraging and Maximizing Big Data and Applying Correct Analytics to Make Better Business Decisions (up from #2). Nothing is as trendy right now as big data. In fact, it’s so trendy that many I-Os want to claim big data as their invention. To be clear, pretty much any I-O that says that doesn’t know what big data is. If you’ve never needed to worry about real-time curation and interpretation of datasets, or datasets with billions of cases, or iterative approaches to data analysis, or interactive visualizations, you’re nowhere close to big data. Big data is inherently interdisciplinary; it combines the social science that I-Os know so well with computer science that most I-Os don’t know at all. That can change, but we’re a long way from it now.

And there you have it – the top ten hottest topics for I/O in the coming year. Once again, technology plays a major role across the list, and I bet it will continue to do so for years to come. But as gamification appeared and disappeared from the list, and then mobile assessments the year after that, will big data vanish in 2017?

IO Psychology Journals That Are Fixing IO Psychology

2015 December 16
by Richard N. Landers

One of the most significant challenges currently facing IO psychology researchers is ensuring the relevance of our research to real-world HR and OD practices. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, the IO research in our top journals has become increasingly specialized and decreasingly applicable to solving real world problems.

There are many potential causes of this problem. I personally blame the siren song of “methodological rigor.” By demanding only the absolute most rigorous tests of theories for publication in top-tier journals, authors are actively discouraged from investigating new, relevant organizational phenomena because the risk that such research will be unpublishable in those journals is extremely high. When rejection rates are around 95%, as they are currently for Journal of Applied Psychology, editors and reviewers use absolutely any weakness to justify rejection. As any IO psychologist can tell you, if methodological weakness is correlated even weakly with practical relevance, fewer relevant papers will be published.

More troubling, such practices also encourage researchers to engage in a wide variety of questionable research practices to get past such barriers.  When a paper could be rejected due to unsupported hypotheses, researchers may be inclined to modify or eliminate hypotheses or analyses based upon the data (i.e., p-hacking).  When a paper could be rejected due to lack of complex theory, researchers may be included to overdevelop theory to the point that it provides little real-world value.  When only new theory is published, the very foundation of science, replications, become actively discouraged.  When faced with developing a new theory or developing a new theory and empirically testing it, developing an untested theory becomes increasingly attractive – you can’t have flaws with your method, results, and their interpretation when you don’t have any data.  These are all significant problems for IO psychology, and most start and end with our publication process.

Fortunately, there are a few IO psychology journals making an active effort to fix this problem, in a variety of ways. The key for us is to prioritize these journals as both authors and consumers of research. If you’ll only publish in journals that actively work to repair the problems in our field, eventually those journals and their practices will hold the most influence over our literature. What follows is a brief and partial list of three, based upon the journals I’m regularly personally exposed to, so if you have more that qualify, let me know in the comments.

1. Journal of Business and Psychology
Editor: Steven G. Rogelburg

For me, JBP is the most prominent do-gooder in the area of IO publishing. As a few examples of the innovative initiatives pursued by JBP:

  1. These nuggets from their guide for authors are revealing: “We very rarely publish uninvited conceptual or theoretical pieces unless highly impactful and ground-breaking” and “The Journal of Business and Psychology is…dedicated to bridging the science/practice divide…striving to create interdisciplinary connections.” This ain’t no Academy of Management Review.
  2. Each year, JBP publishes a special feature edition, and some planned editions are directly targeted at improving the research-practice gap.  As described on their website, this planned edition is:

    a “State of the Practice” edition.  This edition would have about 12 pieces (around 3000 words each), typically written by well-known scientist-practitioners.  Each peer-reviewed piece would discuss best practices in a particular practice area that are extremely relevant in today’s business world.

    If you’re at all familiar with scholarly publishing, you’ll realize just how unusual such an effort would be.

  3. JBP did something completely unfamiliar to most IO psychologists when introducing its hybrid registered reports initiative. When taking this approach, researchers submit only the introduction and method for initial review. If the reviewers and editor approve the manuscript in this form, it becomes untouchable, like a dissertation proposal. If not one hypothesis is supported but the analyses are sound in the full version of the manuscript, that is still a publishable paper.

2. Personnel Assessment and Decisions
Editor: Scott Highhouse

PAD is a new journal, the official journal of the International Personnel Assessment Council (IPAC).  In addition to being open-access and therefore accessible to practitioners who often don’t have the journal subscriptions that universities do, PAD has a submission model unlike anything else in our field:

PAD is a unique short reports journal in industrial-organizational psychology. Its aim is to publish concise reports of empirical studies that provide meaningful contributions to our understanding of staffing organizations and assessing and developing its members. PAD strives to publish innovative, cutting-edge, and impactful research. It is geared toward a speedy review and publication process to allow innovative research to quickly become part of the applied and scientific discourse. Articles cannot exceed 4,000 words (excluding references), and may present new theory, new data, new methods, or any combination of these.

Short, impactful, practice, and cutting-edge. Not words commonly associated with scholarly publishing!

3. Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice 
Editor: John Scott

IO Perspectives is the original “let’s try something different” journal in IO Psychology.  Its model is also quite unique:

Industrial and Organizational Psychology focuses on interactive exchanges on topics of importance to science and practice in our field. The journal features focal articles which present new ideas or different takes on existing ideas that stimulate conversation on an important issue for the field (or potentially a pair of papers taking opposite sides in a debate).

One of the side effects of the mainstream scholarly publishing model is that it’s much easier and thus more common to publish papers making small and incremental contributions. But sometimes what science needs is an about-face. IO Perspectives provides the opportunity for scholars to present controversial or tentative viewpoints, inviting other scholars to submit commentaries refuting or supporting that paper. Perhaps no opinions will change as a paper, or perhaps it will trigger a revolution. There’s only one way to find out.

Importantly, the current editor is a highly experienced practitioner. In that position, he can easily direct the journal toward those topics of most interest to both the academic and practitioner communities. And because access to IO Perspectives is an included benefit for membership in SIOP, IOs have no excuse not to read it!

The only way that new journals or journals with new initiatives like these succeed is if people like you read, cite, and submit to them. These are the journals to watch, and let’s hope more follow soon in their footsteps. As long as we hold in high esteem those journals that encourage a wider science-practice gap, that is exactly the sort of IO psychology research that will be published. Time to get to work!