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  • Writer's pictureAngela Slate

How Effective is Gamification in K8 Classrooms?

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Photo of a row of students happily working on computers in their classroom

Video Presentation

The following is a video presentation of my research about gamification. It is also a sample of my narration, although I have learned to not keep the microphone so close to my mouth!

Slides and Transcripts

It’s no secret that kids would rather play video games than go to school. Game designers manage to keep players glued to their seats for hours, trying to beat challenge after challenge, determined to overcome their failures, and then begging for more (Prensky, 2003).

Video games are now a $30 billion worldwide industry (Prensky, 2003). And it’s not just for kids anymore. In fact, 58% of the U.S. population play video games, the average age of a player is 30, and there are actually an equal amount of males and females (Fadhli et al., 2020). Kids currently play over 10,000 hours of games before they turn 21 (Prensky).

While many educators accuse this generation of having a short attention span, the multiple hours kids can spend gaming prove that they have the attention span, they are just not as engaged by traditional schoolwork. In fact, studies show that video games help kids learn how to multitask, take in information and make decisions quickly, learn by doing instead of being told, create strategies to overcome failures, and collaborate over gaming networks (Prensky, 2003).

Here’s a quote that summarizes the disconnect between kids and school:

“Today's game-playing kids enter the first grade able to do and understand many complex things--from reasoning, to building, to flying--that the curriculum they are fed in school often feels to them like a depressant.” (Prensky, 2003).

Recently, educators have begun gamifying their classrooms in hopes of using video game strategies to increase student motivation and engagement in school. However, gamification is not easy and requires quite a bit of pre-planning from the teacher. It has made me wonder if the effort put into gamification is worth the outcome from the students, not just with motivation and engagement, but also with knowledge gained. This has led to me to do some research to answer the question “How effective is gamification in a K-8 Classroom?”

There is no one agreed upon definition of gamification, but if you combine them all, you’d get something like this…

Gamification is motivating people to meet non-game objectives by incorporating game design elements that make the experience more fun and engaging (Al-Azawi et al, 2016; da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015; Fadhli et al., 2020; Kim, 2015).

Gamification is often confused with Game-Based Learning.

GBL is when you use a stand-alone game to enhance learning. The game has a clear beginning and end. Engagement only occurs while playing the game and ends when it is over. And they are mostly used for review and reinforcement (​​Al-Azawi et al, 2016; Fadhli et al., 2020). Some examples of successful GBLs have been “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and “The Oregon Trail.”

Gamification, on the other hand, turns the entire learning process into a game. It uses the most effective elements of games without committing to any one specific game. In fact, the entire course becomes the game. Gamification also aims to have long-term effects that go beyond the course (Al-Azawi et al, 2016; Fadhli et al., 2020).

Let’s look at some of the issues of a traditional classroom. In a traditional classroom, there is

  • Little opportunity to think outside the box (Al-Azawi et al, 2016)

  • No chance for practical assessments (Al-Azawi et al.)

  • A tendency to teach to the test (Al-Azawi et al.)

  • A disconnect between teachers and students (Prensky, 2003)

  • A lack of motivation and engagement (Fadhli et al., 2020)

  • Evaluation is based on final test scores (Fadhli et al.)

Prensky quoted one student as saying “Every time I go to school I have to power down” (2003).

By incorporating gaming elements into the classroom, you can

  • Attract students of all demographics (Al-Azawi et al, 2016)

  • Keep students engaged with curiosity, fun, and challenges (Al-Azawi et al)

  • Teach students how to set goals and work toward them (Al-Azawi et al)

  • Provides students with instant feedback (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015)

  • Allow students to tap into their own individual strengths (Al-Azawi et al)

  • Rewards students based on effort even if objectives are not met (da Rocha Seixas et al.; Fadhli et al., 2020)

  • This encourages students to keep trying (Fadhli et al.)

To successfully gamify your classroom, you need

  1. Avatars are important because they get eliminate gender, race, or cultural barriers. Kids get to design their own, which is usually based on how the child would like to be seen. By playing as an avatar, students also get a sense of freedom to take risks (Fadhli et al., 2020)

  2. Quests and Challenges is where the learning happens. You can ask players to use critical thinking skills to solve a mystery or create a storyline with a time-sensitive objective. Make sure there is no one right answer, so students are encouraged to think outside the box (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015; Fadhli et al., 2020). Encourage students to take risks and if they fail, let them keep trying (da Rocha Seixas et al.). Also, allow students the choice to work as a team or individually. Even if they work alone, they will naturally interact and collaborate with others as they try to beat the same challenges. (Fadhli et al.)

  3. Badges which are given to students when they make an accomplishment. Unlike traditional school grades, there should be a variety of ways to earn badges that reflect different types of learners with different motivation and capabilities. Badges have been shown to promote self-competence and self-efficacy (Fadhli et al., 2020).

  4. Points and levels. Students should have a path to mastery. This could be achieved by creating different levels with a point system. Just make sure not to make the points seem like a traditional letter grade (ex. 85 should not equal a B) (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015; Fadhli et al., 2020).

There are three main goals when gamifying a classroom: increase engagement, stimulate motivation, and make learning more fun. So, how do we know when we have achieved these?

Fadhli et al. defined engagement as “the passion and emotional involvement in participating and completing learning activities” (2020).

Here is a list of observable characteristics that show engagement:

  • Autonomy (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015)

  • Time spent staying on task (Fadhli et al., 2020)

  • Completion of activities (da Rocha Seixas et al.)

  • Quality of effort (Fadhli et al.)

  • Participation in group/class discussions (da Rocha Seixas et al.)

  • Collaborating with peers (da Rocha Seixas et al.)

  • Asking questions (da Rocha Seixas et al.)

  • Retaining the information (da Rocha Seixas et al.)

There are 5 factors that determine someone’s motivation:

  1. Intrinsic - Do they have an inner desire to accomplish this task?

  2. Extrinsic - Will they be rewarded for completing this task?

  3. Task Value - How important is this task?

  4. Ability Belief - Can I even do this task?

  5. Expectancies of Success - What are my chances of succeeding? (Fadhli et al., 2020)

Challenges and quests should incorporate as many of these as possible. The more components that are present, the more motivated a student will be (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015; Fadhli et al., 2020).

It should be no surprise that research shows strong relationship between fun and engagement (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015).

Researchers have identified 4 specific types of fun a player experiences during a game:

  1. When a player accomplishes a goal (Al-Azawi et al., 2016)

  2. When something unpredictable happens (Al-Azawi et al.)

  3. When a player faces a challenge (aka “desirable difficulties”) (Al-Azawi et al.; Fadhli et al., 2020)

  4. Satisfaction when a player receives praise or an honor (Al-Azawi et a.l)

In 2011, Sheldon gamified a college course by assigning points and levels to students’ academic progress. Since those are extrinsic motivators, he also created guilds where students could collaborate and he referred to knowledge as “intrinsic rewards.” He considered his experiment a success since he saw increased engagement and retention despite seeing little difference in overall performance (Fadhli et al., 2020).

Unfortunately, he was criticized for focusing too much on points and levels similar to a traditional classroom. They added that gamification is not simply adding game elements into your existing classroom. Gamification requires educators to recreate their course completely (Fadhli et al., 2020).

Quest to Learn is a 6-12 school in New York that has adopted gamification and game-based learning for their entire curriculum. Assignments are in the form of challenges and quests. Students are immersed in gamification from the moment they wake up to after they finish their homework (Fadhli et al., 2020).

While students were more engaged in schoolwork and gave their school high ratings, the school scored below average on tests compared to other New York schools (Fadhli et al., 2020).

An Arabic teacher gamified his classroom by integrating points, time pressure, levels, badges, rewards, feedback, and leader-boards. The students in his class showed a significant increase in learning outcome and motivation compared to a traditional class. Overall scores were higher (Alshammari, 2020).

However, there was no difference found in regards to attention level and student confidence (Alshammari, 2020).

There are some cautions and considerations when gamifying a classroom:

  • Engagement should always be based on education. Don’t get so wrapped up in the game mechanics that you lose sight of the learning objectives (da Rocha Seixas et al., 2015; Fadhli et al., 2020; Prensky, 2003)

  • Over complicating challenges can damage self-esteem and make it more difficult to re-engage (Fadhli et al.)

  • Because gamification is relatively new, there has not been research done on the long-term effects (Fadhli et al.)

  • Students who were already intrinsically motivated have been shown to disengage and lose motivation when forced to use gaming features. This is why it is important to include choices and self-directed learning opportunities (Fadhli et al.)

  • Do not put too much emphasis on extrinsic motivators as this may cause students to focus too much on rewards (Fadhli et al.)

  • It takes a lot of time to properly gamify a classroom which most teachers don’t have. Although, apps like Classcraft can help (Fadhli et al.)

Let’s revisit my research question: How effective is gamification in a K-8 classroom?

If effectiveness is defined by engagement, motivation, and fun, research has shown increases of all three of these in gamified classrooms.

However, if effectiveness is defined by knowledge gained, my research did not uncover enough evidence to conclude that gamification increases learning. In some cases, no academic improvement was shown.

So, considering the time and effort it takes for teachers to convert to gamification (even with the help of ready-to-go apps), I am still not convinced that the effort is worth the outcome.


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