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The teaching craft is greatly dependent on metaphors and illustrations to convey new concepts.  Historically, illustrations are based on the existing knowledge of students.  Many ancient writings rely on pastoral themes as they were known to the adults and children of the time.  Today, a new metaphor is available for a wide range of students: gaming culture.  Games, including video games, can help to illustrate and understand the need for goals, rules, perseverance, practice, and grit.

The case study provides insight on application of motivational theories in teaching introductory college courses by including gameful thinking in the design of the course instruction.  While the course gradable assessments and content is outlined by coordinated curriculum in over 30 sections per semester of the class, gameful design of instruction includes The Expectancy-Value Theory (Atkinson, 1950; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975) and Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2002).  The case study addresses the uniqueness of the environment in college introductory courses.  They are unique from the perspective of students and faculty.  This mix of attitudes and experiences creates a conflict.

Students who participate in introductory course are often first-year students, or students who delayed the entry level courses in favor of preferred courses of their major or personal strengths.  This means, that students in introductory courses may have stereotype threat of being a good fit in the class, they may also struggle with many other difficulties associated with adjustment to the first year of college.

Students who believe that they are not good at computers often focus on what is required for passing the class with the best grade possible.  According to the Self-Determination motivational theory, this focus on grades may impact their enjoyment of the subject matter and serve as a catalyst to confirm their belief in not being a good fit for the subject matter (Deci & Ryan, 2002).  In these circumstances memorization for the test is the basic coping mechanism of a learner.  This often results in passing course grades, but in little knowledge retention and very shallow exploration of the subject matter.

Another face of this problem are the faculty, who teach introductory courses.  It is common to have full time faculty teach advanced courses and adjunct faculty teach introductory courses.  In addition to experience, the shear volume of introductory courses is the reason for part-time faculty being assigned to instruct them.  Fall semesters often have a much higher registration for introductory courses, therefore consistent assignment to full time faculty across the academic year is not feasible.

One reason why part-time faculty are often assigned introductory courses, is that full time faculty prefer teaching advanced classes.  Introductory courses represent limited intellectual challenge and they are based on wide field of exploration, which means shallow coverage.  Because the class sizes in introductory courses are larger than advanced courses, the amount of student accommodations and overhead of communication about relatively simple matters is greater than in advanced courses.

A good place to start in applying gamification to Higher Education environments is the work of Dr Stuart Brown.  In his Ted Talk he explains the relation of play and learning.  The capture of imagination and intrinsic motivation in introductory college courses are the foundation of diligent exploration of new subject areas and program retention of engaged learners.  When faculty signal with an academic “playful bow” that the learning environment is safe and encourages failure, the course becomes an inclusive catalyst for engagement instead of a gate-keeping obstacle of the curriculum.

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Atkinson, J. (1950). Studies in Projective Measurement of Achievement Motivation. University of Michigan Microfilms.

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (Eds.), (2002). Handbook of self-determination research. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior : an introduction to theory and research. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub.