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Gamification: Spice Up Your Syllabus with Some New Activities


A new buzz word in academics, right? At its core, though, educational gamification is simply the use of a game or aspects of a game to make classroom material more engaging and memorable for students. What’s more important is that it works. While some instructors might find games more appropriate in the K-12 world, I’ve found that a combination of “modern” and “traditional” gaming methods in my college classroom has helped my students improve their comprehension and better relate to the material we discuss in class.

So, what are the best ways for instructors to “gamify” their classroom without losing the educational integrity of their lessons? Here are a couple of ways I’ve managed to balance game-based learning and classroom pedagogy:

Group work can be used to create teams and compete for small rewards (traditional)

Many students dread having to do any type of group work. One way I’ve found to make it more enjoyable is to add an element of competition by breaking students up into teams and having them compete for a small reward. Typically, the small reward is some light and easy – candy or a couple of points of extra credit. This type of gamification works particularly well for reviewing material from previous class sessions or engage in hands-on practice using techniques.

Classroom-wide group quizzes can replace traditional reading assessment homework (traditional)

Let’s be honest, instructor to instructor, undergraduate students will typically (almost always!) avoid reading assigned material unless there is some incentive for them to do so. One tried and true method of assessing students’ reading is to have in-class quizzes. However, the natural downside to this is that students loathe them and grading them just makes more work for the instructor. So as spin on this approach, I conduct quick review session at the start of the class , where my students as a collective group have to answer a certain amount of questions correct. Some rules do apply, one student can’t supply more than one of the answers all the and if I don’t get enough correct answers in the time allotted (i.e. no one read the assigned material) then it’s back to a traditional, graded classroom quiz.

If I’ve assigned quite a bit of pre-class reading or I think my students need a more detailed review I’ve also tried incorporating a simple coin flip element in to the classroom. We’ll flip a coin to see which reading material we should quiz ourselves on or even if we should do an in-class quiz at all. As simple as it seems, this can add an element of suspense that keeps students on their toes.

Try using a polling program to assess student knowledge and generate interest in the material you are teaching (modern)

The most common “modernized” way that I use games in my classes is by using polling or surveying programs in my classes. I think there are a lot of really great and free polling systems that can be easily used. Many of the polling systems have fun game elements to them like timers, fun images/colors, and buzzers. One of my favorite programs to use in my larger classes is Kahoot.

PollEverywhere is another great program that’s perfectly suited for smaller classes (40 students or less) as a quick way to get students to participate in real time.

Try out Connect’s Interactive Activities (modern)

A few years ago, I was introduced to the Interactive Activities that are available in McGraw-Hill Education’s online program, Connect. These are computerized activities that have game elements and are based around the content in my course. Students must read material, click on different answers, walk through scenarios, or do other engaging computerized, game-like behaviors in order to learn the content of the class material. These have been a wonderful addition to my online and hybrid courses. Since the online learning environment provides less opportunities for me to show content to the students or have them engage in hands-on practice of content, these have filled that particular void. It also has helped in-person students to get more practice with content.

Gamification is a great and easy way to make an academic environment more engaging and fun. And the best part is these simple and relatively quick changes can be incorporate in a classroom with minimal disruption to your overall syllabus.

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Grewe is currently a Lecturer with the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. Dr. Grewe has taught and mentored thousands of undergraduate students via the undergraduate psychology program at Utah State. Dr. Grewe is the co-advisor for the local chapter of Psi Chi and is the Department Honors Advisor. She is an active member of the Connections (first year student program) Faculty Advisory Committee and Department of Psychology Undergraduate Steering Committee. Dr. Grewe is a regular supporter of undergraduate student services programs and is regularly asked to serve on various faculty panels. Dr. Grewe enjoys working with undergraduate students in all levels of their career.

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