Using Gamification to Improve Student Engagement

Inserting gaming elements into instructional software has been increasing as an engagement strategy in recent years. Along with other emerging technologies, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, gamification can play a critical role in personalizing instruction and learning for students. The shift to virtual learning as a result of the pandemic presented an opportunity for college instructors to investigate whether gamified tools increase student engagement.

Ninety percent of the research studies analyzed in a comprehensive literature review showed that using gamified tools in instruction generated positive results. This research is timely as it revealed that gamification was particularly useful in virtual learning environments. It creates a sense of belonging to an online community and increases the interaction between students. This may explain the trendline of game-based tools increasingly incorporated into e-learning platforms.

The research demonstrated that integrating gamification into coursework increased both student involvement and the completion rate of course activities. Experts advise using elements such as levels, points, badges, and feedback to encourage participation. Incorporating these gaming elements helps generate positive student outcomes, such as increased attention and motivation to comprehend content.

Testing Gamification in COVID-Era Virtual Classes

Dr. Lorenzo Brancaleon is a physics instructor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. When his courses shifted to virtual last fall, Brancaleon and his colleagues decided to recalibrate the course content to make it attractive to a wider group of students in order to test gamification elements in physics instruction. They determined early priorities were to maintain the high quality course design while attempting to boost student engagement with gaming elements. This was essential as one of the initial experiences with virtual learning was that students significantly reduced their participation time with instructors and fellow students.

Brancaleon and his colleagues introduced gaming tools at that point into both instruction and assessment to decrease the number of tests and increase the number of low-stakes assessments. One feature they built into the program meant that if students did not participate during the scheduled time, the interactive content was replaced by non-interactive content at the end of each week. The instructors also:

  • Implemented groups to allow students to collaborate and maintain equity and solidarity. They allowed students to pair up but monitored activity so that no group or pair remained in the top or bottom 10%.
  • Groups were required to decide together how to use accumulated bonus points.
  • They established a leaderboard where students could ear five standard badges. At the end of the course, the highest ranking team would claim the “House Cup” badge.

Now that the course is over, Brancaleon and a STEM colleague are reviewing all the data to determine whether this gamified approach will benefit virtual learners and whether the course’s learning outcomes are still being met. They will share out the data at the end of the review.