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Majors & Degrees

Gamification in Education

May 9, 2023

This article by Brandon PachDavid Leichner was published on govtech.com on May 5, 2023.

With U.S. colleges and universities battling enrollment declines, many student affairs officials are turning to gamification platforms to meet students where they are and keep up with the evolving expectations of new generations regarding classroom engagement, credential opportunities and other aspects of campus life.

Among those platforms is Modern Campus, which includes gamification tools through features such as its student engagement program Presence. According to Amrit Ahluwalia, director of strategic insights at Modern Campus, a major focus of Modern Campus’ student affairs solutions is helping colleges and universities attract and retain more students amid the enrollment crisis. He said gamification in higher education can get students more involved with their campus community and allows them to earn points or “badges” for gaining new skills along the way. He noted that gamification can help to retain students, adding that many postsecondary students today drop out of courses within their first 12 months of enrolling.

“We know that students are incredibly diverse and have so many different areas of focus and areas of knowledge and goals for their postsecondary experience, and for higher ed institutions it can be difficult to serve all those at scale,” he said. “The concept of gamification is valuable at a much wider level, because what gamification does is create a more innate connectivity between the learner and their engagement, so what we’re facilitating in terms of gamification is allowing institutions to find creative ways to engage students to keep them retained.

“It’s really more around how to get students more engaged in campus activities that support their retention, how to facilitate the easy development and delivery of micro-credentialing programs that allow students to earn credentials on route to completing a full degree,” he later added. “We’ve seen different institutions do it in different ways, leveraging different elements of the software suite.”

Meghan Hakey, senior director of sales for Modern Campus’ student engagement tools Presence and Signal Vine and former student affairs adviser for Castleton University, said universities have used gamification in order to create “incentive-based activities,” where every event includes opportunities for students to gain “points” in categories such as leadership and career skills, among other metrics.

“The whole concept [in creating these tools] was that we were student affairs professionals building this for student affairs professionals, and one of the hardest issues we had is student affairs has always been looked at as the pizza party planners … but our students have changed so much, and the kinds of events and opportunities they want to participate in are the ones directly connected to their career goals,” she said, noting that the trend of gamification of learning has started to converge with micro-credentialing in higher ed.

Hakey and Ahluwalia noted that universities such as Valdosta State University have used Presence to encourage students to participate in more campus activities per semester, which has helped to increase their retention rate to 95 percent. Meanwhile, schools like Utica University have used Modern Campus' tools to allow students to redeem points for prizes by attending programs and campus activities.

“Students are just earning them because they want to have the most, and I think that’s increasing engagement across the board, as well as a great way to publicize events,” said Devlin Daley, Utica’s assistant director of campus engagement.

While higher ed institutions have used gamification to increase student engagement more generally across campus, gamification has also been used in K-12 schools to increase classroom engagement via programs such as Discovery Education’s digital learning platform, which features games and activities designed to boost student participation in STEM and language arts courses, among other subjects. According to Discovery Education’s Chief Product Officer Pete Weir, “student engagement consistently ranks among the top challenges facing educators today.”

“The gamification of learning can help educators close the ‘engagement gap’ and provide the avenue educators need to reach students with instruction. Discovery Education, as well as ed-tech companies across the sector, have embraced gamification as a way to help educators spark student curiosity and drive instruction,” he wrote in an email to Government Technology.

Dakota State University College of Education professor Kevin Smith said gamification of learning in both K-12 and higher ed revolves around this concept of incentivized participation, despite K-12 applications being mostly inside the classroom. For example, he said that during his years as a high school math teacher, he created games with leaderboards to encourage students to strengthen their math skills.

Smith and Weir added that they expect future gamification-based ed-tech programs to make more use of AI, partly due to its potential to help educators formulate lesson plans and other activities to personalize learning.

"If you look at the body of research on this, [gamification] has shown that it can be a very powerful tool of motivation and engagement of learners across all levels: K-12, college, adult learners,” Smith said. “I can definitely see [AI] playing a role in gamification, especially as you think about finding challenges that are appropriate at the right level … AI could allow systems, courses and programs to adapt.”

Weir noted that ed-tech developers focused on gamification of learning in general are watching AI “very carefully."

“AI is a very much an emerging technology, and we will be looking for ways to integrate it into our services in a way that will better support student success,” he said.