Category Archives: Major Digitial Project

Major Digital Project 6: Gaming the Gamification

I’ve been meaning to dig deeper into the gamification aspect of Duolingo for a few weeks now, but I’ve been finding it also takes a lot of time to simply describe what I have been doing each week. So I’ll try to keep this summary brief:

  • I have continued using Duolingo, hitting a 30 day streak, making it into the Ruby league (more on that later), and just generally using it as my daily, baseline learning activity. It’s been an easy habit to maintain so far.
  • I watched another episode of Spanish for Beginners, this time about mastering the verb “Ser.” I found it less useful than the first episode; it is maybe challenging because my progress in Duolingo and the video series don’t match up at all so they feel a little disjointed. I don’t regret watching it, however.
  • I mentioned offhand in one of my classes that I was trying to learn Spanish and one of my students who speaks Spanish as their first language got really excited and wanted to talk with me. I was able to say “I need help in Spanish” and she replied “I can help you.” I was definitely flattered by their generosity.
  • A colleague of mine overheard me practicing with Duolingo over the lunch hour and said two of the educational assistants she works with speak Spanish as their main language. She volunteered to introduce us and said they would be happy to practice with me. Looking forward to it!
  • Lastly, I started playing with an Open Education Resource from MERLOT that someone shared with me in the chat last class. It’s a nice way to be exposed to actual native Spanish speakers. I’m trying to remember who shared it with me, but I appreciate it!

All in all, an exciting week! And with my committment to Duolingo unwavering, I’d like to unpack why it is so easy to remain consistent with. As someone who has, at times, struggled with commitment to things like the gym and meditation, I believe Duolingo is designed in a way to maximize interest. In essence, it’s gamified.

Gamification, for those unawares, is the process of adding game elements to something that’s not a game. Wikipedia has a surprisingly thorough article about it. The article lists some of the various game design elements that are common in gamification: points , leaderboards, badges, avatars, and performance graphs, to name a few. I will explore how these appear in Duolingo.


Duolingo uses a system of XP to track progress. You earn XP by completing an exercise, and bonus XP for getting streaks of answers correct. This XP is used to determine your ranking in each weekly league. The image to the right shows that I am in first place in my league for the time being.


As mentioned, Duolingo uses a series of leagues to track your progress. Each week, your XP is tracked against similar but randomly selected players. If you end the week in the top 10, you get promoted. If you end in the bottom 5, you get demoted. So far, I have been promoted every single week through bronze, silver, gold, sapphire, and now ruby. This incentivizes your progress each week, especially since the top 3 finishers get lingots, the Duolingo currency (I’d need a whole other post to explain the nuances of that system). However, the quality of competition also goes up with each league too. It’s like I’m in my own little English Premier (Soccer) League!


Duolingo has a set of achievements that are easy to unlock initially, but increasingly harder as you progress. I most recently unlocked an achievement for using the app for 30 consecutive days–no small task, in my opinion. Those who follow me on Twitter would know I was pretty excited about unlocking it. The Champion task shown in the image is definitely the hardest to achieve, as it requires unlocking and getting to level 1 of all 159 (!) skills in the course. I have achieved the Big Spender one, but a glitch has prevented it from registering properly. I sent in a help request because it’s annoying me and I’m pretty dedicated to fighting such battles.


Duolingo does have a system of avatars, as my last photo demonstrates. However, it seems that the majority of users don’t upload avatars, nor do they have any real impact on your progress. As far as I can tell, you can’t even message other users, so the value of avatars is minimal compared to other circumstances I have seen them used in, say, for example, on Twitter.

Performance Graphs

Duolingo presents you with a pretty basic performance graph, but only on the desktop version of the app. It’s something I wish I could have the raw data for because I like analyzing data, but it’s an interesting thing to glance it. It certainly shows that there are days that are more productive than others.


So there you have it. It’s pretty clear that Duolingo is indeed gamified, and I am far from the first person to write about it. In my experience, the gamification has helped me stay more committed to learning, and has been a net benefit. That said, many of Duolingo’s own users are critical of the system, and I do think it is always worth assessing whether gamification is adding value to a learning ecosystem, just like a teacher themselves would. If additional learning isn’t happening, it probably isn’t worthwhile. Am I being too black in white in judging it as such?

Major Digital Project 4/5: Hola YouTube!

On Twitter last week, I got a huge response (ok, 11 likes) to my tweet about leaving blog posts unpublished. Just my luck that a tweet highlighting my flaws would make it big. It was reassuring to hear that at least six of my classmates, and Dr. Couros himself, deal with the issue too. There’s something oddly heartwarming about not feeling alone in your struggles!

Well, here we are and I’m about to merge two long-standing incomplete posts (farewell blog posts 4 and 5, we hardly knew ye) into one mega post! I like to think of this as the blog equivalent of the omnibus bills used by our recent Liberal and Conservative federal governments to throw everything including the kitchen sink into a single piece of legislation. And like their process, no criticism of my method is allowed either! Read on, or don’t. There’s probably a hockey game on or something.

In all seriousness, it’s been a good week and a half. It’s been nice having someone else learning a language in the course. Daisy’s blog has been an interesting place to compare my progress to hers. While I definitely have much less background with my language than she does with hers, it gives me a sense of where a more advance learner would go. Thanks for paving the way for those of us in the back, Daisy!

I’m also getting more and more flashbacks (Dr. and Mrs. Vandertramp anyone?) to my days of Core French all the way from Grade 1 to Grade 12. Fun fact: I took a French course in my third year of university and dropped it because I felt so overwhelmed. This time learning Spanish has been much more manageable, largely because I can set me own pace. I’m also supported by my apparent addiction to Duolingo (yes, it’s a real thing). Please send help.

Seriously though, I made my way into Platinum League folks (trigger warning: ‘folks’ links to an image of Doug Ford). I don’t know what it means to be in Platinum League, but I am sure pumped about it. I’ve also completely maxed out my skills for much of the early levels, which has a strange similarity to my urge to be a completionist in video games (no, not that Completionist). I still think I might talk about gamification in Duolingo one week because I think it’s a fascinating topic.

In addition to my continued work with Duolingo, I have branched out into YouTube as a source for my learning. In order to find the best Spanish learning video I could, I used the tried and true method to find good videos on YouTube: sorting by most views.

What I found was the series Spanish for Beginners, hosted by Dr. Danny Evans. I didn’t do any background research when I watched it, but I did now, and I was surprised to learn this show is produced by the network, Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters or AIB. I felt that was surprising enough to mention.

Anyways, episode was 27 minutes long (that feels like 3 hours with how busy I’ve been lately). I watched it on my phone while on the treadmill, so there were ads as well, which reminded me of why I should do more stuff on my computer and probably stop using my treadmill.

When I started watching, I’ll admit I was pretty reluctant. A video that long seemed almost certain to be a bore, and I felt my Duolingo work was pretty comprehensive to begin with. By the end, I was definitely reconsidering that position.

The first episode really went into the mechanics of language in an accessible, yet thorough way. That is pretty much the polar opposite of Duolingo, which basically throws you into the language, as I learned when I first used it.

As the screencap shows, Dr. Evans did a lot of work explaining things such as the pronunciation of vowels in Spanish. This helped me moved past the simplistic mimicking I had been doing on Duolingo, which I could always tell was somewhat off, but never could figure out why. Knowing vowels themselves are pronounced differently has helped me navigate that better.

Another section of the video went into the pronouns of Spanish, with a chart that should look awfully familiar to anyone who knows basic French:

“can I copy your homework?”
“yeah just change it up a bit so it doesn’t look obvious that you copied”

I think one of my biggest realizations is how there are so many similarities between the romance languages and that I should try and leverage my above-average ability in French (I have spent a lot of time in that country…) to make the transition to Spanish a bit easier.

Next week, I’m gonna keep using Duolingo, which is my only no-brainer. From there, I’m undecided whether I should continue using the Spanish for Beginners series on YouTube, which was definitely good, or if it might be worth seeking out an even better video series to compare. Of course, using some other techniques to learn Spanish could also be worthwhile; someone mentioned on Twitter reaching out to the local Newcomer Welcome Centre. I think that’s a great idea, but also a bit intimidating.

If you have any thoughts about where to go next, leave them in the comments below. Otherwise, que tengas un buen día!

Major Digital Project 3: Duoling-whoa!

It’s rare for me to get addicted to an app, but that’s what has happened to me with Duolingo. Perhaps even rarer, it’s an app that’s educational! Or is it? That, and more, in this week’s update on my major digital project!

Last week, for those keeping score at home, I decided upon a direction for my major digital project and took baby steps in getting it started. The first step was to download and try the app, Duolingo (it’s also available on an internet browser, but I’ve moved to using it almost exclusively on my phone).

Well, here we are, one week, and not much else has happened beyond Duolingo, and I’m kinda ok with it. That’s because I’ve spent hours using Duolingo, with at least 30 minutes of time spent on it each day over the last week. This despite it being one of the busiest weeks of my life and career so far! So how’d it happen?

Duolingo embodies the principles of gamification. That is, it takes something that isn’t really normally considered a game (learning a language) and makes it into one. Very effectively I might add. I hope to research more into this for a future post, so if anyone has any resources or knowledge about gamification, I’d love to hear about it.

When you use Duolingo, you make your way through different levels focused on different topics and skills. In this image, you can see the first five skills: Intro, Phrases, Travel, Restaurant, and Family. I have reached level 5 (the maximum level) in intro and level 3 in the rest. You need to complete skills to make your way forward in the course, much like a game.

A screenshot of what Duolingo looks like on a Chromebook

When you click a skill, you get sent into a lesson. A lesson is basically a “stage” in Duolingo that you have to “beat” to move on. The stage consists of a variety of activities or questions based around language. Typically, it consists of: giving a sentence in the new language and asking you to translate it by dragging and dropping words into the correct order, having you read a sentence in the other language out loud (and it does a pretty good job of monitoring your pronunciation), identifying new vocabulary supported by images, and so on.

I learned about screen recording on Slack with help from Amanda and Brooke (thanks!), and found the App AZ Screen Recorder for my Android phone. Last week I did a very brief screencast of a desktop lesson in action; here I recorded an entire lesson from my phone, which is something I have never seen done before (seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a video recording of a phone screen before which is weird now that I think about it) and certainly nothing I’ve ever done. Watch a bit of it to get a good sense of what a lesson looks (and sounds) like.

I recorded this myself, but credit to Duolingo for the content!

Re-watching the video now really confirms how far I’ve come–like many skills, I suspect learning a new language comes with early gains followed by an eventual plateau. We will see if an when that point comes!

My goal next week is to expand my scope beyond just Duolingo, perhaps by exploring Spanish language learning resources on YouTube–this series looks like a decent starting point. That said, I think I’ll continue using Duolingo as my base learning tool. What do people think? Any suggestions for where to go next? I genuinely want to keep progressing!

Major Digital Project 2: Option B Underway!

Have you ever witnessed other people do something impressive and feel like you could never do it yourself? That’s how I feel about learning a second language. While I know it’s possible, my self-efficacy is apparently lower with this skill than with most. That made me want to challenge myself with learning Spanish for this project, as there are few opportunities that would push me to follow through with it quite like this. While that was the prime factor, I have a variety of reasons for why I wanted to learn Spanish.

  • I hope to one day finish my Bachelor of Arts degree, which requires a course in a second language.
  • I travel frequently, have visited several Spanish-speaking countries and wished I knew a bit of the language, and want to go to South America in the near future.
  • Spanish is the second biggest language in the world by native speakers, something I didn’t know until recently. So, there’s utility there.
  • I teach numerous EAL students, and Spanish seems to be the second most common language spoken, behind Tagalog.
  • This is clearly a learning task that others have tackled and challenged based on the great examples of student work provided.
  • It definitely meets the syllabus guideline of being “complex to learn, worth learning, and of great interest to you.”
  • The opportunity for face-to-face input in our Zoom session last week and comments on my blog helped me make my decision.
  • It’s sure to be a lot of fun!

Anyways, it has gradually become more and more clear to me that this was the best option. So now the fun begins…

What now?

What do I do?

Where do I go?

I did what any teacher would do: look at what others were doing and copy them (let’s be honest, this is a great way to learn that we sometimes discourage). I looked through the various example blogs listed earlier, sent out a message for help on Twitter, and benefited greatly from reading Daisy’s first post. So my first week of my project was one of exploration and, as you will see, apparent big, easy gains in knowledge.

Daisy mentioned challenging a proficiency test to gauge her working knowledge of Italian, so I thought I’d do the same, just for kicks:

Seeing that I received less than 25% on a four option multiple choice test confirmed that I have absolutely no background with the Spanish language.

Duolingo is one of the few language learning resources I had heard of before starting this project. I had used it for an hour or two five years ago to polish up my French and it was mentioned on Twitter and several of the blogs I read. Therefore, I decided to start there. After creating an account, I learned that Duolingo had its own aptitude test that is administered before beginning the course. What happened next might shock you…

I absolutely rocked the quiz! A combination of being an English teacher with a fairly strong grasp of sentence structure with cursory French made basic Spanish seem fairly intuitive. The website/app is also really impressive from a design perspective–it comes off as polished, accessible, and, frankly, fun. I actually enjoyed working my way through the first exercises.

I don’t full understand the structure yet, but after an hour or so of work, I had accomplished level three in the intro and started chipping away at the other categories too. I am on my way! I’ve embedded a sample YouTube video to just test out Screencastify and YouTube!

Major Digital Project 1: Options, Oh, My!

I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about my major project. Like a lot, a lot. Probably more than I’d like to admit. When my students were working on a writing assignment in class this week, several remarked that coming up with an idea was the hardest part. As I’ve worked through several ideas over the past few weeks myself, I think I agree wholeheartedly!

I think I’ll discuss my thought process chronologically, recounting where I was and where I am now at! I’ll note that I didn’t really favour Option A or Option B, having considered both as long as they would be valuable to me and/or my students.

Idea 1 – My Political Journey: My first idea felt like a great fit at first because I am effectively being forced to experience Option B on my own right now as a first-time campaign manager for my friend and fellow teacher’s federal election bid. I’ll keep the actual political side of things out of this because it’s not really relevant to the assignment, but I have already been learning how to use Mailchimp, scheduling and boosting posts on Facebook, and setting up digital events with Eventbrite. I was excited about this prospect and even emailed Professor Couros about it right when the course began.

Verdict: As much as I am indeed learning about social media in a hands-on, baptism-by-fire way, this wasn’t an ideal fit. The campaign will (thankfully!) be over soon so it’s perhaps not timely enough, and the proper documenting of my progress is very tricky. Confidentiality is important, both for voters and for the methods political parties utilize in running elections. Ultimately, I’ll have to settle for keeping my learning to myself with this one.

Idea 2 – Student Vlogging, Podcasting and Screencasting: This felt like another natural option, as I am teaching an online class for the very first time this semester. As such, utilizing these type of assignments seems like a no-brainer, and is realistically more of a necessity when I don’t ever get to have these students all in class with me. I’m indebted to a colleague and master teacher colleague who helped set me up for my first time teaching online, so I am already am in a framework that seems to be working so far.

Verdict: I love these ideas, but the course I am teaching is so heavily derived/stolen (this is the first time I think I’ve ever really used someone else’s work this much) from my colleague’s course that it would be dishonest to use it for my assignment in any way. I will note that the first module students are currently working through has a screen-casted small assignment and a video essay for the culminating task, while the next module has them pitch a TED talk and ends with a group podcast. Needless to say, I’m very excited to see what students create!

Idea 3 – Personal Learning Project: This week, I’ve taken Option B back to its roots by asking myself what I really would like to learn to do. Through brainstorming (with help from my girlfriend and others), I have narrowed it down to a manageable short list: learning basic Spanish, learning to run (couch to 5k, etc), or learning some form of basic coding.

Verdict: These are all ideas that appeal to me in that I want to learn the skills but probably otherwise wouldn’t make the time or have the discipline to do so.

I need to take an additional language course down the line to complete my Bachelor of Arts degree, so taking Spanish would help me prepare for that. It’s also a language that’s widespread and would help with future travel (30 countries and counting!), and might pair well with my better-than-average-but-by-no-means fluent French.

Running is something I used to do on occasion, but I have really found my fitness has declined since becoming a teacher (correlation = causation?), so that’s appealing, and I believe I would like seeing the visible progress day-by-day. Of course, winter means I’d probably be stuck on a treadmill, but that would make quantifying things super easy.

Coding seems to be all the rage these days, and, despite a background pretty heavy in both math and science and technology, it is something I know nothing about. I was once asked if I would teach Computer Science but wasn’t confident enough in my abilities to take it on. It was then predictably shuffled off to an unsuspecting new teacher (that tendency to happen in education is a whole other discussion), who seemed to get the hang of it quickly. I also could create an app and make millions of dollars–haha, I was joking about this part, but one can dream.

At this point, I’m happy I managed to narrow it down this far, but I’m not sure how to make a final decision between the three. I think considering applicability to the assignment, value to me personally, and value to me professionally are all criteria in my head so far. I’d be very interested to hear what others think and how they made these decisions themselves!

Idea 4 – Student Blogging: This one’s got a bit of history. I have used blogs with my students in the past, and the results have ranged from acceptable to poor–and for some individual students, very, very poor. Certainly never what I hoped for. So this choice would be for me to tackle Option A with the intent of using blogs with students so they don’t suck this time.

Verdict: This one’s really only been given recent consideration, and I have mixed feelings about it. Much like how those who have gotten sick off of certain alcohols can never drink them again, my aversion to blogging is fairly significant and perhaps just as irrational. I’d really need to find a purposeful way to incorporate them into my class (probably ELA 20 because it has strong curricular justification), and to carry it out so it goes well for students. I used to be a huge reader of blogs, especially in the hockey world in the proto-Twitter era (circa 2005), but I am not sure where they fit in our world now. My apologies if you’re reading this Professor Couros, but I sometimes even wonder if blogs are a bit of an outdated medium. For anyone reading this, I guess I’d need you to sell me on this option a bit too, because I’m obviously still reluctant!

So that’s where I’m at. I think I’m gonna keep this post old school without the barrage of links like my first one. I know that reading lengthy walls of text is not really common these days, but this blog post was as much for me as it was for you, trusty reader. So please excuse my barbarity; I’ll be sure to load my next blog post up on memes.