Layering game mechanics on top of a Civil Air Patrol summer encampment, Part 1

Over the past couple of years, there has been significant discussion about the impact of gamification on education and learning. I decided to layer game mechanics on top of a Civil Air Patrol summer encampment and see the results. Based on feedback from the participants, the majority were pleased with the experiment and the outcome. Before I explain what I did, I would like to explain what a summer encampment is and how it is typically run.

Summer Encampment

Summer encampments are week long camps conducted as quasi basic training for Civil Air Patrol cadets. Cadet typically vary in age from 12 to 20, and they must have completed their first achievement − earned their first stripe. Encampments “challenge cadets to develop self-discipline and teamwork while broadening their understanding of aerospace. Most encampments are conducted on a military installation.” A cadre of cadets who have previously attended at least one encampment lead new cadets through the encampment experience.

In this environment, cadets are held to a strict timeline. They get up at 6 am to the yells of their cadre and move directly to the parade field for physical training. The cadets then march to breakfast. Cadets will march from place to place while at the encampment. While waiting for breakfast, cadets are expected to memorize a number of quotations from their cadet handbook. At previous encampments, the cadre would be continuously chastising cadets and quizzing them relentlessly. This creates a highly stressful environment, one not necessarily suited to learning.  After breakfast, cadets moved to the dorms where they had to prepare their living areas to inspection standards. They typically had one hour to change uniforms and prepare their rooms. For the rest of the day, cadets would attend classes, eat meals, and participate in sporting activities all under the watchful eye of their cadre. In years past, cadre often felt they were there to be seasoned drill sergeants without really understanding the role. They often took the more undesirable aspects of what they believed to be correct role modeling.

Because I had extensive experience in military basic training environments, and because I also had been a cadet and worked with cadets for approximately 30 years, I felt their was a need to change how the Wyoming Wing conducted its encampment. The approach changed but the demands did not. We still got up and did physical fitness. Cadets still ate, attended classes, participated in sports, and even maintained their living areas. What we did remove was the drill sergeant mentality and introduced a coaching and mentoring mentality through the use of game mechanics. The cadre had a more direct role in the cadets’ success.

Game Changes

The Air Force provides Civil Air Patrol with a curriculum that they want used atencampments. They also send representatives to encampments to ensure the curriculum is followed. The curriculum has a tremendous amount of latitude for implementation. There are many elements of a typical encampment that are not specifically required by the curriculum but are implement regardless. For example, there is no specific requirement that cadet learn how to make a bed to Air Force standards but it is taught nonetheless. The Air Force will reteach bed making at basic training or at the Air Force Academy or ROTC field training. It was through most of these additional elements that we layered game mechanics onto the encampment system.

First time cadets, also known as in flight cadets, and their assigned flights were assessed based on a point system. The top cadet and top flight were ultimately selected based on this point system. It is important to note that cadets did not have to earn any points at all and still could graduate from the encampment as long as they successfully participated in 80% of the Air Force assigned curriculum. I am pleased to report that all cadets did participate in the game elements at varying levels.

Here is a break down of what was measured as part of the game:

  • Individual participation
    • Knowledge book memorization
    • Room Inspection
    • Uniform Inspections
    • Cadet physical fitness test
  • Flight participation
    • Knowledge book memorization
    • Room Inspection
    • Uniform Inspections
    • Cadet physical fitness test
    • Sports
    • Flight News
    • Flight Guidon
    • Flight Patch
    • Open Ranks Inspections
    • Aerospace Education quizzes

I will describe each of these items in more detail in the next post. First, I would like to describe the cadet cadre and how points were assessed.

The cadet cadre was divided into three distinct groups: cadet leadership, standardization evaluation and training (SET) team, and mission support. The cadet leadership were identified by yellow badges, the SET team by orange badges, and the mission support by green badges. The cadet leadership included the cadet commander, deputy commander, flight commanders, flight sergeants, and first sergeant. The SET team was comprised of members with the same role and one officer in charge. The mission support included logistics, administration, and public affairs. The cadet leadership were responsible to help cadets learn and carry out their tasks; they were the coaches and mentors. The SET team assessed whether or not results met standards and recorded the results on the spreadsheet built to track game results. The public affairs team produced a newsletter that reflected daily point earners. Additionally, daily high achievers were recognized in front of the corps of cadets.

In Layering game mechanics on top of a Civil Air Patrol summer encampment, Part 2, I will detail each of the game elements, how they were implemented, and how they were assessed.

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