First Coursera Meetup held by Digital October

April 26, 2013, 19:00 meetup


On April 26th, the Digital October Center hosted its first free meeting for current and future Russian users of Coursera, the online learning space.

The meeting was open to those who were already registered for the Coursera lecture cycle on gamification with Professor Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School of Business, as well as to those who have only recently become interested in the use of game mechanics in non-game contexts.

“Mr. Werbach already talked about gamification in our Knowledge Stream lecture, but we weren’t able to test it then, try it out in real life circumstances,” said Yulia Lesnikova, our center’s Director of Educational Programming, by way of introduction. “Today, we will fill in that blank space, and, to make things more interesting for us, at the end of the meeting, Kevin will join us via live link-up and give you a little virtual test.”

“To help you prepare for the test, we’ll have Ilya Kurylev (LinguaLeo), Artem Andreev (Internet Mass Media Laboratory), Sergey Shchukin (Ikra), Oleg Vakhromeev (Mosaic), Sammy Shirkhan (Hungry Boys), and my co-host, Maksim Korobtsev of GameTrek.”

“Virtual teams of Coursera users from all over the world will complete this assignment along with you –

We will be joined by online students from North and South America, a number of European countries, India, and even Japan.”

“One condition for all those working with us – both at Digital October and online – is that we don’t make any criticisms along the lines of, ‘no, that won’t work,’” Maksim Korobtsev chimes in. “When you’re brainstorming, tell your colleagues, ‘Yes, that’s good, but you can do it this way, too.’ And write down what you’re talking about: the human mind works such that, if you don’t pin down your idea, then you won’t go any further with it. And now, let’s get down to the matter at hand.”

Business Goals

We invited Darya Alekseeva, editor of “Social Technology Greenhouse”, a non-profit educational project, to discuss what aspects of human life event participants should gamify.

“Today we will touch on one of the ecological problems that humanity has not gone very far at all in solving. According to the UN, there are eight such problems: desertification, drought, protecting the coral reefs…It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?”

“And now picture this: by 2050, the human demand for food supplies will have grown by 70%, while even today, a third of the food that we produce is destroyed or disposed of. And even though a lot of people are talking about this, when people hear about eco-movements, they usually imagine urban crazies signing petitions and organizing demonstrations, and not themselves, taking into account the fact that other generations will come after them.”

“And here it is, our business goal:

This term has nothing to do with commerce; in gamification, we use this phrase to talk about a concrete goal with a concrete KPI. Let’s think about how to motivate people into cutting down on overconsumption. Name any context in which you could use gamification, and think about how to make the conservation of resources appealing to people.”

The October 26th, 2013 Gamification System

As soon as they get their assignment, participants have 40 minutes, divided into three stages, to come up with a solution to the problem. Maksim Korobtsev announces the first stage: a game called ‘Remembering the Future.’

“Imagine that today isn’t April 26th, but October 26th.

It’s been six months since we at Digital October came up with a gamification system to help people realize how important it is to monitor their consumption. Tell one another how you’ve acted over the past six months using our hypothetical solution.”

Participants enthusiastically begin to describe their future lives as careful consumers: some people started buying fewer things they didn’t need, others developed an interest in energy conservation…Experts in the room make sure that the dozens of scenarios being described simultaneously are written down.

The time passes quickly, and Maksim announces a new phase:

“You’re still in October 26th. Now, describe not your actions, but what it was about our gamification system that made you change your habits, your behavior. Use the ideas that you’ve already heard at your table as a starting point.”

Once again, we hear a wide variety of options: some people realized the importance of smart consumption by watching a video, others realized that smart consumption would earn them respect on social networks, and so on.

The time comes for the third step. Twice as much time is allotted for this step, 20 minutes, but the assignment is more difficult. At their tables and in chat rooms, the Moscow and international teams are charged with picking out the ideas that would fall into a complete, logical system and preparing for a ‘boss fight’: a two-minute long presentation of the solutions that they’ve prepared in front of Kevin Verbach. At the same time, they had to account for how their system would interact with the different types of players that exist in society.

Coursera Meetup Solutions

The Russian teams presented in order of preparedness, and we tuned into the virtual groups of foreign students between those presentations.

The first solution was presented by Team 8.

“We are Game of Chairs, a project geared towards stimulating competition between companies of 30 or more employees. Their task is to change the behavior of their office workers. For instance, encouraging people to switch from cars to bicycles, motivating them not to buy things that they don’t need, litter less. We use the PBL system of encouragement: giving points for achievements, for instance.”

Next came a presentation from Team 5, which was made up of online participants.

“The Food Game Changers Program: we want children to learn how their food choices affect their environment. Our target audience is children 4-12 years old. We’ll have different tasks for different age groups: we’ll create clubs where children can share healthy recipes and plant school gardens. We’ll have badges, levels, and we’ll have a separate task for the oldest kids: teaching the younger ones in order to end up on the leader boards of their schools or of their country, even.”

Team 1.

“We use a lot of things, gadgets: why not share them via a game with your neighbors, for instance? You create a list of the things that you’re willing to give away, and a wish list of things you need. You get points for each exchange. If you help a few people, you’ll get a badge. By receiving social reinforcement, we’ll consume less and communicate more.”

Virtual group, Team 7.

“Our idea is to host an Eco-Olympics on the community level. We’ll record your successes in creating local gardens, repurposing trash, and at the same time, we’ll create a map like you’d find in SimCity. On one hand, this will create competition between communities, having them vie for badges, and on the other hand, it will allow us to track our common progress.”

Team 2.

“A big goal for a little car’: we’re going to promote the idea of using more eco-friendly cars, hybrids, and we’d like to cut down on the number of cars on the road and on harmful emissions, as well. In order to motivate people not just to switch over to eco-friendly vehicles, but to give rides to others, we’ll calculate ‘people kilometers.’ In our system, participants will also have the opportunity to receive titles, points, and go on interesting adventures.”

Virtual group, Team 4.

“We came up with a game called ‘Captain Planet’: in this game, you can save the world by only purchasing products from companies that don’t harm the environment. When you make these kinds of purchases, you will receive badges and virtual money for responsible behavior. We also managed to work out the criteria that companies will need to comply with in order to be eligible for Captain Planet status.”

Team 6.

“We’re called 100 Eco-Days. This is a program to motivate people to lower their consumption levels by using a mobile app that is synced up with social networks and, if you have them, ‘smart houses’. We’ll give out awards for every indication that people have lowered their consumption: by conserving electricity, or purchasing fewer leather products and bulky food. To motivate users, we’ll utilize elements of PBL, and avatars, too, not just for individual program participants, but for whole families, as well.”

Team 4.

“We propose a global strategy game called ‘Eco-City’: each player has his own city, and you collect points for taking certain actions towards its development, towards turning it into an ideal place. Moreover, you’ll be encouraged by your employer so that they can receive government grants.”


After the presentations, Kevin Werbach took a ten-minute break to consider the solutions that had been put forward and to select the winning team. At the same time, participants and experts had the opportunity to discuss existing digital solutions from RIA Novosti, WWF, and others.

“I’m truly impressed by the number of good ideas you came up with in such a short time. The majority of your ideas were connected with PBL, and you have to understand the shortcomings of that kind of solution. For example, what kind of behavior are you going to encourage, exactly? You have to clearly articulate the kinds of actions you have in mind. Furthermore, we all know how easy it is to trick those kinds of systems: they just have to rely on community work, on the ‘horizontal pressure’ of society.

Gamification is a complicated thing, really.”

“I liked the teams with the exchange system and Eco Olympics ideas best of all. I like your ideas about community-level socialization. Team 7 referenced SimCity in a very successful way: it’s wonderful when you create as many opportunities as possible for feedback. Congratulations, you are the winners!”

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