Gamification of gamification

One of the more interesting experiments of the Ensemble project was the turning of semantic data on education philosophers (as taught to students of education) into a Trumps style card deck.

Now that wacky idea has spawned an HTML5 app that allows teachers to manufacture decks of trumps cards for use in the classroom (so called gamification), or students to research and build their own decks to play against their friends (what might be termed gamification of gamification).

A long time ago, in an office at I.M. Marsh…

Print ready output, shown in Adobe Acrobat.

Suitable for printing: teachers or students can create their own trumps card decks, as a fun way of stimulating learning.

The experiment was initially just intended to demonstrate the flexibility of Exhibit lenses.  Ensemble was using an MIT produced open source framework called SIMILE Exhibit to create semantic web pages; having gathered data on various philosophers whose work impacted on education practice for one such semantic web page, the project’s PI, Patrick Carmichael, joked it might be possible to turn it into a children’s card game.

Naturally, by the end of the day, the team had a rough prototype deck of cards generated from the data (because that’s how the Ensemble project rolled!)

It didn’t take long before someone had ordered a one-off print run of the cards from LJMU’s central print shop, and with a set of physical cards to play with, colleagues began to see potential in the idea of using card games to smooth the introduction of knowledge in the classroom, using a more subtle technique than most gamification pedagogies.  The trumps card games wouldn’t let students practice a new skill (as, for example, a maths game might), but instead they would familiarise the students with the foundation knowledge of a subject area.

In effect, the trumps games could be said to be the gamification of flash cards.

But clearly there was more potential in this idea than just presenting students with a set of cards already created by the teacher.  Imagine if the students themselves were set the task of researching and building their own decks, based on a given topic?  This would be, surely, the gamification of gamification — learning through building games, as well as playing them.

Sadly other work got in the way, and the idea was never pursued by the Ensemble team.

More recently (but still in an office at I.M. Marsh…)

Trumps game

Trumps example: philosophical thinkers and their impact on education.

From time to time people would ask “what happened to the card game thingy?”, and shoulders would be shrugged and we’d have to admit the Ensemble team never really followed up on the idea.

But in early 2014, with a few days spare to devote to development, I decided to go back to basics and build a proper HTML5 based app for creating card decks.  The original code had used MIT’s Exhibit; the input came from spreadsheets that were turned into data files to be loaded into a semantic triplestore database — the new app did away with all that, by allowing users to build the deck from within their web browser directly.

As a storage mechanism I selected Dropbox.  The cloud storage provider is free and very popular; to access the app the user merely signs in with their Dropbox username and password (no other registration is required), and their deck data is stored to Dropbox cloud storage using the new Datastore feature that lets Dropbox be used as a database.  All data is stored on Dropbox, not on any LJMU servers — this makes it easy for other education establishments to take the app’s web files and host their own version of the app, without setting up any server side scripts or databases.  Just copy the files into some web hosting space, and register the app’s location using Dropbox’s software developer app console.

Trumps game

Test data deck: how green is my polar bear?

The main app screen is very simple: at the extreme left hand side there’s a list of current cards in the deck, plus a few buttons to add, delete, save and print.  Next to the list is the currently selected card itself; as the card data is edited, this updates to give a preview of how the card will look.  At the right hand side of the page, taking up most of the space, are the controls to edit the deck and the currently selected cards.

Images can be loaded using any image URL (a web link that points directly to an image file.)  The app does not store the image data itself; it stores only a link to that image on the web.  To aid the user, the spy glass icon can be clicked to search Picasa, or choose an image from the public photos in the user’s Dropbox account.  (Other image sites, such as Flickr, may be supported in future.)  Having selected an image for the card, it can be scaled up and moved around to ensure it neatly fits the bounds of the image area on the card.

Each card supports five ratings, between 0 and 100.  The user can label these ratings for the deck, and assign actual scores for each individual card.  A tick box shows the ratings as stars out of five, if desired.

The app allows a description and web link to be added for each card; at present these are stored but not used.  In future an option might be added to print the cards as straight flash cards, rather than trumps cards; as flash cards the game ratings area would be replaced by a box housing the description text.


The app is still considered a beta (work in progress), although it should be fit to use. It is available at the following link:

You’ll need a Dropbox account to access it.  It has mainly been tested using Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.  Only very recent versions of Internet Explorer are supported by Dropbox’s Datastore API, so the app hasn’t received much testing on that platform.

Obviously, because all the data lives on Dropbox and not at LJMU, we can’t see what people are creating with the tool.  So, if you do anything really cool, please drop us a note and let us know.



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