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Home / Blog Post / Gamification: How Students React


By Lorenzo Brancaleon, Ph.D.
UTSA 2022-2023 Next-Gen Leadership Fellow
Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Whenever I develop or rethink a course, from content to delivery and organization, I keep the goal of improving student success in meeting the learning outcomes top of mind. In my blogs, I’ve discussed implementing gamification strategies in courses. Now, let’s get into how students have responded to gamification throughout the semesters of implementation.

As a reminder, the root of my decision to heavily gamify my courses was the goal of increasing students’ engagement with the courses. Thus, in collaboration with Academic Innovation and with Dr. Lima in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching, from the start, we have tried to measure the effects of gamification on student engagement. We deployed surveys that looked at the engagement of students with the gamified activities. Students used a Likert scale (from least positive, 1, to most positive, 5) to grade the individual elements of gamification: leaderboard, badges, interactive videos, concept maps, etc. Students were also asked to indicate the tool that they found most useful for their engagement in a free response question.

Remember, the gamified activities in my courses are not mandatory. Students choose whether to engage with them or not without fearing repercussions on their grade.

The results over six semesters in introductory and upper-level undergraduate courses show that 100% of the students engaged with at least one of the gamified activities, while approximately 10% engaged with all the gamified activities. About 50% of the students (regardless of the level of the class) remained engaged with the gamification activities until the end of the semester.

Sidebar: Gamified Activities included:

  • Interactive videos
  • Leaderboards
  • Badges
  • Contribution to the muddiest point Padlet
  • Surveys
  • Concept maps

If you’re interested in the difference in engagement between different activities – let me know. But for now, I’ll keep it brief: the engagement numbers are promising.

If we dive into other parameters of student responses collected from ad hoc surveys, we found that different gamified activities have slightly different efficacy on engagement and class level.

The experience in the introductory courses

In the introductory Physics course, over 85% of the responding students reported that each element of gamification was either somewhat or very helpful in maintaining their engagement with the course. More importantly, similar percentages applied to the same activities positively affected their understanding of the material. Only the online teamwork fared poorly, with less than 50% of the students finding the group activity as helpful. This data was collected for ~ 170 respondents over two different semesters.

The experience in the major courses

Gamification seem to be less effective, however, in upper-level undergraduate courses. Only the possibility of earning points through gamified activities was reported as somewhat or very helpful by more than 90%. The muddiest point Padlet was also considered useful or very useful by more than 85% of the students, whereas leaderboard, badges, surveys, etc., were considered useful or very useful by < 70 % of the students who responded. This was the result of the response of 30 students over three semesters.

Analyzing the results

Overall, the survey results show that most students at all levels do like the gamification approach. However, upper-division students with more experience and immediate focus on their major topics may view some aspects of it as a little gimmicky. 

The qualitative results extracted from students’ comments are in line with the quantitative data.

The junior/senior level students seem to particularly appreciate the muddiest point Padlet and the in-person format of the course that it creates, whereby the lecture time is spent addressing the questions in the muddiest point and developing problem solving skills rather than lecturing. Several students also encouraged with keeping the point system as a way to engage and earn extra credits.

The students who enrolled in the introductory Physics courses, instead, seemed to be tuned more with the leaderboard and the points systems that creates the extra credit.

A major challenge of any innovative higher education pedagogical approach, in my opinion, is that a very significant portion of students either expect or are still conditioned to receiving traditional modalities of instruction. Some of them even seem to be opposed to any form of active learning (or maybe, it was just my personality or my approach to it…maybe…)

Nevertheless, this issue may be more acute in STEM education.

In the end, although more data needs to be collected and analyzed, and despite some students who seem to like only traditional teaching styles, gamification is promising, and, by and large, students have reported it being a helpful tool to increase engagement with the course.

If you have questions, have tried this in your class, whether graduate or undergraduate level, or want to be featured for your engaging assignments or activities, innovative teaching tips, reach out to Lorenzo Brancaleon at lorenzo.brancaleon@utsa.edu. We want to hear from you!