The ongoing progress in technology generated a number of surprising phenomena exposing how little we know or appreciate about what makes people pursue activities with excellence.  The success of open source technologies like Linux over commercial software is surprising.  The success of Wikipedia over sponsored electronic encyclopedia, Microsoft Encarta, can hardly be explained in traditional economic terms.  At the same time, students in American schools are “politely bored” according to Amanda Ripley in her recent book “The smartest kids in the world and how did they get this way”.

The traditional motivation approach of business management is that of a carrot and a stick (Seaborn & Fels, 2015).  Given rewards, people do better.  Students work harder for an A grade.  Bad grades are to discourage unproductive behaviors.  Employees are supposed to perform better for a bonus or higher salary.  Merit pay is to encourage productivity and discourage lack of efficiency.

A book by Daniel Pink, the Drive, cites a number of studies, which indicate that traditional system of rewards does not promote meaningful motivation and it may even prevent high levels of performance.  Students study for an A, but after the exams are over they are not engaged in the subject.  They may even detest the subject matter.  Employees work harder for the increase in salary, but they may feel forced to reach the goal in an unethical way.

Why do open source programmers contribute their time for free?  Why do editors of Wikipedia lead projects and provide their expertise without traditional rewards?  Why do we see this spontaneous emergence of philanthropy in technology and can we generate it in other environments including the classroom?

When students are inspired during lecture time to contribute their attention and time, they can use time outside of the classroom to learn the content details.  Faculty need a list of activities and field examples as building blocks of this instructional approach.  Often the list of what not to do is more important over the list of what to do.  It is the bad experiences that people remember much better than the good ones.

The instructional design of introductory courses should include a focus on growing interest and engagement.  One way to accomplish this is by using gamified activities in the classroom.   The activities are aimed at increasing engagement in three major areas: behavioral engagement, emotional engagement, and cognitive engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, and Paris, 2004).  The engagement is linked with academic success, retention of students in the program, and exploration of subject matter outside of personal comfort zone.  It covers long-range goals of the organization and the goals of the students.

Behavioral engagement focuses on attendance and participation.  A student may have good work ethics or diligence, which will cause them to complete all assignments in a class, even when the student is not engaged in the class and the class is boring.  However, completing extra credit activities and especially activities, which are not graded at all, demonstrates behavioral engagement.  This is linked with achieving positive academic outcomes and preventing students from dropping out of school or program of study (Connell & Wellborn, 1990; Finn, 1989).

Emotional engagement describes the reactions of students in the classroom or outside of the classroom to the teacher, other students, and the organization in the context of the class.  Positive emotional engagement is further linked with creating ties to the institution and building the willingness of students to work (Connell & Wellborn, 1990; Finn, 1989).  This engagement type can be measured by surveying students throughout the class and by surveying the faculty.  This engagement can be noticed in the class and it can also be self-reported.

The cognitive engagement means the level of investment in learning that students demonstrate.  It includes being thoughtful and purposeful in assigned tasks.  It means exerting the necessary effort to comprehend complex ideas or master difficult skills (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, and Paris, 2004).

Skinner & Belmont (1993) offer another view on the above three aspects of student engagement:

Engagement versus disaffection in school refers to the intensity and emotional quality of children’s involvement in initiating and carrying out learning activities…Children who are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone.  They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.  The opposite of engagement is disaffection.  Disaffected children are passive, do not try hard, and give up easily in the face of challenges…[they can] be bored, depressed, anxious, or even angry about their presence in the classroom; they can be withdrawn from learning opportunities or even rebellious towards teachers and classmates. (p. 572.)

Introducing individuals to new ideas is difficult, especially when the population has trepidations about the subject area.  Such introduction can quickly turn into a one sided presentation and become boring to the listeners.  Boredom then prevents engagement and creates negative feelings towards the subject matter.

The traditional approach to create motivation is to use rewards like the promise of a better job, or good grade.  These incentives are a form of payment and motivate without a deep reach into the mental state of a person.  When the reward is stopped, the individual has no reason to continue the activity.

In order to motivate individuals intrinsically, it is necessary to engagement them during the introduction of the new ideas (Designing Gamification in the Right Way, 2015).  This may be accomplished through gamification of a lecture by using a peer response system or by turning a lecture into an interactive discussion.  While some improvements to a standard lecture/presentation have already been identified in previous research about active learning, there is a need to provide more alternatives and examples to connect the engagement methods with positive experiences of learners.

Increasing engagement in introductory courses through methods of gamification will promote student contribution of time and commitment.  If students can be inspired during lectures as to why the topic is important, they can learn outside of class the dry details. Knowledge transfer itself is more accessible today than at any other time in history.  This is through the power of the Internet.  Motivated students would make the best use of their time to learn at their own pace.  Faculty time in the classroom should be focused on guidance and generating interest, not on traditional knowledge transfer.




Designing Gamification in the Right Way. (2015). Library Technology Reports, 51(2), 29-35.

Finn, J. D. (1989). Withdrawing from school. Review of Educational Research, 59, 117–142.

Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., and Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept: state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59–119.

Gamification in Education and Libraries. (2015). Library Technology Reports, 51(2), 20-28.

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Corwin Press.

Ravitch, S., & Riggan, M. (2012). Reason & rigor: How conceptual frameworks guide research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Seaborn, K., & Fels, D. I. (2015). Gamification in theory and action: A survey. International Journal Of Human – Computer Studies, 7414-31. doi:10.1016/j.ijhcs.2014.09.006

Skinner & Belmont (1993).  Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behaviour and student engagement across the school year.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581.