How to help students be COVID-safe? Make a game of it (seriously)

As we head into fall and the return of students, Massachusetts faces a significant challenge in preventing an increase in disease. As a former professional software engineer, my recommendation for college and school administrators is to use gamification to motivate students to follow best practices in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Many studies have shown that punitive measures, such as threats of fines or suspension, may not be effective in changing young people’s behavior (in some cases it might even have the opposite effect). But marketers, computer game developers, and home exercise manufacturers, among others, have found that spurring competition and offering positive rewards can be effective in motivating people to work collaboratively toward positive ends. The value of the rewards doesn’t even have to be that great. But creating a spirit of healthy competition and collective purpose can be a powerful motivator — and fun.

I suggest that colleges and schools set goals of reducing or preventing infections for individual dormitory floors, sororities and fraternities, or classrooms. Measure progress and offer rewards, such as meals at local restaurants (takeout, of course) or even reductions in tuition or room and board fees for groups that meet or exceed goals. Local businesses could participate, and benefit, by contributing rewards.

In this way, we can enlist the positive spirits and ingenuity of school communities to help fight the pandemic.

Peter Dorfman


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