3 ways to use gamification to engage students

Gamification can help students overcome some of the troubles that accompany virtual learning–here’s how

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of K-12 and college students have transitioned to online learning. However, not all teachers have received the adequate resources and training needed to teach remotely.

One of the major issues teachers are struggling with is effectively engaging students. In a study of 554 teachers in the San Antonio area, 60 percent said that students turned in assignments less frequently during distance learning, and 65 percent believed that there were significantly fewer lessons that grabbed the attention of students. Because online learning cannot easily foster the social and emotional connections that in-person learning does, students have a more difficult time staying motivated in classes.

Gamification, defined as using game-like elements in non-game contexts, can help motivate online learners and solve this issue. In the context of education, gamification elements typically include digital badges, leaderboards, progress bars, and more. Integrating these elements within an online learning environment can provide students with an intriguing, immersive experience.

Here are a few ways teachers can gamify their virtual classrooms to engage their students:

1. Offer digital badges and rewards

Offering digital badges and rewards is an excellent way to motivate students. Teachers can give badges for a variety of accomplishments such as completing assignments, excelling in assessments, and mastering skills. Badges can also measure more unique abilities, rather than just academic performance, to make classes more exciting. For instance, a math teacher might distribute badges to students who make a creative poster to explain a mathematical concept, while an English teacher might give them out to students who write a short story. Teachers can experiment with the different criteria for earning badges so that they match course and learning objectives.

To maximize the effectiveness of badges, teachers should aim to have a large variety that students can choose to pursue. This allows students to feel in control of their learning. In addition, teachers should ensure that badges are specific and meaningful. If students do not understand why it is valuable to complete a task associated with a badge, the badge will not be as effective in achieving its purpose.

2. Make progress visible

A multitude of games track a user’s progress in achieving a goal through progress bars, levels, and/or points. Such visual representations of a user’s success encourage them to continue engaging with and progressing in the game. Not only are progress indicators effective in games, but they can also be used in an educational setting to increase student motivation. With each new assignment completed, teachers can add to a progress bar, update the number of points a student has, and/or accordingly move students up to new levels.

3. Add competition

Many students enjoy friendly competition and find it motivating. Therefore, teachers may find it beneficial to add competitive gamification elements such as leaderboards to their classrooms to enhance student performance and engagement. In fact, many studies that have implemented leaderboards in educational settings have found positive results. One study found that leaderboards increased the time students spent on tasks, which was positively correlated to academic performance. Another noted that leaderboards led to higher motivation and accuracy when used in an educational game.

When provided with leaderboards, students are likely to attempt achieving the top or near-top goals presented, even without explicit instructions. Thus, it is important teachers design leaderboards that provide specific and worthwhile goals. If the purpose of leaderboard tasks is not clear, students may not alter their behavior.

Along with leaderboards, teachers can add competition in their classrooms through free and engaging educational games. The platform Kahoot!, for example, allows teachers to create multiple choice quizzes that students can answer in real-time to review concepts and lessons. As the game progresses, students are given information regarding how well they are performing compared to their peers, which adds a competitive element to the experience. Research has found that using Kahoot! for learning can positively affect student performance, attitudes, and classroom dynamics.

Ultimately, gamifying learning is a great way to motivate and engage students. Through following the suggestions and guidelines outlined above, teachers can successfully integrate gamification within their classrooms.

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