Game On: Initial insights on gamification in practice

The teaching of research literacy has been known to suffer adversely from a lack of student engagement, high levels of learner anxiety, and a general failure to transfer learning across multiple situations. In attempting to address such challenges Dr Louise Hopper spoke at a recent ‘Sipping Point’ teaching conversation about how she incorporated gamified formative learning activities into a first year undergraduate psychological skills module. As part of the National Forum funded DSTEP project, Dr Hopper wanted to examine the impact of gamification on learning, motivation, and attitudes towards statistics.  She found that some activities were enjoyed by students and seemed to deliver good results, but that additional support (particularly on how to work in groups) appeared necessary among recent school leavers. The following is a short summary of the talk, the approach applied, and early findings.

Louise Presents at SP
Dr Louise Hopper is an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing and Human Sciences at Dublin City University (DCU), lecturing primarily in Psychology Research Skills. Pictured here speaking at The Sipping Point January 2019.

Dr Hopper started out this teaching practice-sharing session with colleagues by emphasising what her gamification approach was NOT – it was not about ‘Serious Games’ or a fully immersive or role-play approach such as Second Life. Instead it was about leveraging the mechanics of games that students find engaging and attempting to use those to address known issues such as students’ frequently low perceptions of their own abilities.

Debunking myths
Some of the myths about gamification – and the focus of this project

This gamification approach was designed such that a knowledge check quiz, which students were required to complete individually, was made available after the 2 hour lecture each week of the project. Students were also required to complete a 2 hour lab practical each week. A core goal was to avoid the use of “quizzes for quizzes sake” and ensure that all quizzes had clearly associated learning objectives. Students were able to choose their preferred feedback option (eg personal and/or normative feedback), learn from hints, retry, and make multiple quiz attempts.

Students were also assigned to groups and the idea was that progress was to be made by unlocking levels of content – all students within a group had to complete the quiz and achieve a certain standard ( 80-100%) before the next group activity could be ‘unlocked’. The intention of the group work was to encourage collaboration and peer learning.

That was the plan, at least. However we heard how problems emerged in week 1 when it quickly became clear that some students seemed reluctant to do anything that didn’t contribute to marks and didn’t want to “have to” meet peers outside of class time. However attitudes seemed to improve markedly upon introduction of a badge and a group leaderboard in the subsequent session, which generated a major buzz in the room, somewhat to the lecturer’s surprise at first.

Screen Shot 2019-03-04 at 20.37.06
Badges helped engagement with group activities

While the badges and leaderboard helped improve student engagement in some way, a number of other challenges became apparent over the course of implementing this approach:

  • There was insufficient time between the lecture and practical class for students to complete the individual task – this was due to timetabling challenges and is something Dr Hopper is going to try to address by enabling students to do more of the required work at home
  • There was a perception that weaker students and students who preferred to take time with each task struggled with the individual tasks and the time pressure to complete so that the next task for the group would be made available.
  • There was a general lack of motivation to work on the group tasks, perhaps as a result of a lack of knowledge in 1st years about how to work in groups (a familiar refrain in Sipping Point talks)

Based on this initial small-scale research, students seemed to respond very positively to the formative quizzes, the immediate feedback they received, the hints, and the badges. Initial feedback indicated that students wanted to do the quizzes ‘at home’ and do the group activities in class. They thoroughly enjoyed the ‘real world’ authentic links such as the behavioural profiling debates that emerged. The combination of gamified elements and psychology content seemed to go down well and students liked the idea of having control over their learning, including the freedom to make mistakes. Further developments on this project and its next phase will be released in due course. In the meantime, for more on the idea of ‘productive failure’ see the Innovating Pedagogy (2016) report referenced below (p16-18).

Positive Outcomes
Some learnings for Phase 2 of the project


Sharples, M., de Roock, R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C.K., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B. and Weller, M., 2016. Innovating pedagogy 2016: Open University innovation report 5.

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