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Annotated Bibliography

Aguilar, S., Holman, C., & Fishman, B. (2013). Leveling-Up: Evolving Game-Inspired University Course Design (pp. 46–52). Presented at the GLS’13: Proceedings of the 9th international conference on Games + Learning + Society Conference.

The study involves a high-enrollment political science course at the University of Michigan and a software project called GradeCraft. The metaphor of “leveling-up” is used in the experiment to showcase the nature of course design and research design as an iterative process. Gameful principals are applied to provide students with choices or autonomy in selecting a path of assignments through the course. Also, mini-credentials are applied as badges to track and reward the progress through the course. The results of the study suggest that students work harder in the course, when they feel in control of the interactions. In addition, a social connection element was investigated in terms of students asking each other within a network about the GradeCraft system, which indicated collaboration and desire to level-up. This is an excellent study showing well thought-out application of gameful design to an academic course. My concern is about courses and faculty, who do not have the flexibility of choosing the LMS, grading system, or modifying curriculum. Many introductory courses are taught by part-time faculty, who may have academic freedom and some flexibility in the teaching practices, but their courses are part of a curriculum program and certain examinations and conventions are expected and required. My approach in applying gameful practices will be in keeping curriculum and assignments as designed for other, non-gamified sections, and apply gameful thinking within the academic freedom of teaching practices.

Barata, G., Gama, S., Jorge, J., & Gonçalves, D. (2013). Engaging Engineering Students with Gamification: An Empirical Study. 2013 5th International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications (VS-GAMES), 1–8.

The authors of this conference presentation propose a study of engagement in advanced computer courses. They intend on building multiple version of a gamification system to measure the effectiveness of various game mechanics. This article contains a fair Introduction and Related Work sections with a good review of general concepts in gamification. Because this article is not a presentation of results of the study, it stresses the need to study student engagement.

Belman, J., & Flanagan, M. (2010). Designing games to foster empathy. The International Journal of Cognitive Technology,14(2)-15(1), 11-21.

Belman provides a good reason for using games as a tool for building empathy. “they allow players to inhabit the roles and perspectives of other people or groups in a uniquely immersive way.” Empathy in the classroom helps to build inclusive environment, which promotes learning. Stereotype threat and microagressions can negatively affect the academic achievement, especially of minorities. Therefore, in addition to adoption of gameful principals it will be important to monitor the level of inclusivity in the learning experience of students. Building empathy is necessary as more conspicuous competition is introduced into course design. Some studies indicate that even in introductory courses students may feel like holding other students back will be to their advantage in pursuing internships and other opportunities (Gasiewski, Eagan, Garcia, Hurtado, & Chang, 2012).

Black, A. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Science Education, 84, 740-756.

The study included 380 students in an organic chemistry class.   Initially 289 completed questionnaires, later 41 dropped and 137 provided feedback to comprise the primary sample of the study.   42 student instructors applied principles of self-determination theory in group work. The authors concluded that students who entered the course with more autonomous motivation had more positive experiences in the course and were more likely to adjust to the course and complete it. However, the correlation could not be made between initial autonomy and achievement in the course. The relative autonomy developed during the course did predict better academic performance in the course. The study provides an important distinction in initial autonomy and relative autonomy. The relative autonomy being granted to students during the course helps in promoting better grades.

Brown, S., & Vaughan, C. (2009). Play how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Avery.

Brown considers play in animals and humans as a basic communication method and learning technique.  He finds behavioral and medical connections with play.  He states: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression”. The book makes a good connection between enjoyment, motivation, and learning. However, Brown provides a vague definition of play, therefore making the identification and reproducibility of play more difficult. He states that play may involve finding novelty, embracing risk, using the imagination, or “play is a state of mind, rather than an activity”. A narrower definition of play will be more useful in designing classroom activities to balance rigor with learning objectives.

Burke, B. (2014, April 4). Gartner Redefines Gamification. Retrieved from http://blogs.gartner.com/brian_burke/2014/04/04/gartner-redefines-gamification/

Gartner continues to be an important source of research on various industries. In 2012 they predicted that majority of gamification projects will fail due to poor design. In this blog Burke provides a new definition for gamification based on Gartner’s publication. Therefore, gamification is defined as the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. This definition includes the goals of the players in the definition, which builds on previous definitions, which tend to focus on the use of mechanics or the design of activity. When the goals of players are considered first, gamification is likely to be more successful. This blog and Gartner’s research touches on the major flaw in gamification projects, which is surface approach and application of simple mechanics that generates novelty and excitement, but does not accomplish strategic goals.

Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., Macarthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). Computers & Education A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 59(2), 661–686. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.004

This paper examines the literature on computer games and serious games in regard to the potential positive impacts of gaming on users aged 14 years or above, especially with respect to learning, skill enhancement and engagement. Search terms identified 129 papers reporting empirical evidence about the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games with respect to learning and engagement and a multidimensional approach to categorizing games was developed. The findings revealed that playing computer games is linked to a range of perceptual, cognitive, behavioural, affective and motivational impacts and outcomes. The most frequently occurring outcomes and impacts were knowledge acquisition/content understanding and affective and motivational outcomes. The range of indicators and measures used in the included papers are discussed, together with methodological limitations and recommendations for further work in this area.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Rathunde, K. (1993). The measurement of flow in everyday life: Toward a theory of emergent motivation. In J. E. Jacobs (Ed.), Developmental perspectives on motivation (pp. 57–97). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Flow is a state of connected work, time when enjoyment and productivity peak.  Creating this state at a workplace is a key to high efficiency and productivity.  It is also a basis for enjoyment of games.  Csikszentmihalyi found that central to the flow experience were three factors: clear goals, rigidly defined rules of engagement, and the potential for measured improvement in the context of those goals and rules. According to Csikszentmihalyi flow can be produced in any activity, so I believe it may also be produced in a classroom. When activities increase with difficulty along with improvement in skill, the feeling of flow builds and increases the motivation of a student. The book outlines why students require clear feedback on their work and why more personalized approaches to learning are necessary in large introductory courses.

Early, D. M., Rogge, R. D., Deci, E. L., & Early, D. M. (2015). Engagement, Alignment, and Rigor as Vital Signs of High-Quality Instruction: A Classroom Visit Protocol for Instructional Improvement and Research, 97(4), 219–239. http://doi.org/10.1353/hsj.2014.0008

The study investigates the EAR Classroom Visit Protocol to measure the quality of instruction in the classroom. The data to confirm the effectiveness of the tool was collected by implementing the tool in 4 high schools with about 6000 enrollment total. 2,171 samples were collected during the study. The protocol is a in-person observation of student engagement and teaching practices. It focuses on three concepts: engagement, alignment, and rigor. The theory aims at teaching as being the primary force in creating student engagement. I think that the proposed tool for classroom observation is very powerful and helps to identify teachers who do a good job. As the authors suggest, in the era of standardized testing consistent teaching practices focused on covering material well are very important. Personally, I think the theory of the teacher being responsible for engagement levels in the classroom miss the research on reciprocal activity between students and teachers that generate overall classroom atmosphere. It seems that theories range from putting main focus on teacher activates, and even calling students aliens, as Prensky’s Digital Natives. Within this approach, students will respond to quality instruction, which properly adjust teaching to student expectations and abilities. However, another section of the body of knowledge on engagement suggests that students must reciprocate excitement and participation of the teacher to create engagement. Therefore, the faculty need to be a guide instead of gatekeeper, faculty need to be engaged and interested in the topic they teach to have students reflect the projected feelings. Beyond that, students need to find items of interest from a wide variety of basic knowledge, because different elements appeal to different people. So, the availability of autonomous assignments in a broad spectrum coupled with good teaching may help to create the engagement flow. There are responsibilities and actions required on both student and faculty roles to end up in an engaged learning environment.

de-Marcos, L., Domínguez, A., Saenz-de-Navarrete, J., & Pagés, C. (2014). An empirical study comparing gamification and social networking on e-learning. Computer’s and Education, 75, 82–91

The study compares the effect on academic achievement of three teaching approaches to an introductory college course in computer technologies including office applications. The three approaches are gamification (114 students), social networking (184), and hybrid e-learning (74). All three groups were in hybrid format and the third group was set as a control group. A pre-test was administered to establish general similarities in the skills and knowledge across the groups. Data was collected in form of assessment achievement within each group. The social networking group performed best in word processing and spreadsheet activities with the gamification group also outperforming the control group. Within presentation and database topics there were no significant differences.   However, the control group outperformed the experimental groups in final examination. Within the social networking group 59 out of 174 (38%) students actively participated and within the gamification group 27 out of 112 (24%) students actively participated. The study concludes that the design of gamification elements in courses does not promote engagement and even with social networking benefits, the control group proved most effective. This conclusion creates a weak connection between gamification design and the results of the study. With 24% of students in the gamified group using the gamification tools it may also be possible that gamification design was weak and students didn’t find benefits in engaging in the course game. In this case, the gamification tools might have been a distraction in stead of an aid.

De Schutter, B., & Vanden Abeele, V. (2014). Gradequest — Evaluating the impact of using game design techniques in an undergraduate course. Foundations of Digital Games.

The study applies to an undergraduate computer science course, which can be considered an experimental course. The innovative features of the course include student avatars with their own stories, course quests, a course story, and a game environment with leaderboards and trophies. There was also a control course present without the experimental features. The findings of the study were that there were no significant improvement in intrinsic motivation of students in the experimental course. The authors admit that the level of engagement of students may depend on the skill and experience with which the game mechanics are applied to the course. The relationship between the presence of game mechanics in the course and engagement results must include the consideration of the gameful design to promote engagement.

Feynman, Richard P. (2005-04-06). The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (Helix Books) (p. 20). Basic Books.

Feynman is a Nobel Prize winner who provides a strong contribution in sciences. This book is a collection of short stories like lectures, conference speeches, etc. The author makes clear his approach to the scientific process and to professional grit. He also comments on teaching, where he suggests that one way to hook students on science is by confusing them and providing many opportunities for optional details. This may help to appeal to them in some way. Gamification in courses may address this with a strategy of alternative, autonomous, and diverse missions for students. Such assignments would appeal to individual and unique interests and they would also help faculty stay engaged.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okorafor, N., Jordt, H., and Wenderoth, M. P., (2014).Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 111(23),8410-8415.

This foundational study to peer instruction and active learning covers 225 studies. It finds that active learning lecturing increases student performance by 0.47 SDs based on 158 studies, while traditional lecturing increased the odds of failing by 1.95. Further findings were that examination scores improved by 6% in active learning courses and students in traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail. This is important data, which follow my definition of a short game approach. Using peer instruction or other active learning techniques often means implementing gameful thinking in short periods of lecturing. However, the overall approach to the semester long teaching requires also the long game approach. This opens up autonomous student approach and availability of diverse content to invite students into exploration of the subject matter.


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

In chapter 5 of the book Understanding Gamification Kim suggests that designing research around gamification is very difficult.  There are too many variables to account for.  While many teachers and business people like the idea of involvement through using lightweight gaming principles, the data proving that it is effective is not evident. Kim discussed classroom and library gamification projects, which lack a clear purpose or goal of why gamification is implemented. Some projects use gamification to advertise the library or class, some use gamification as an experiment. Kim advocates recognizing the research of gamification in designing for various gamer personality types and for cultural backgrounds of participants. Kim points out that classroom gamification must go beyond engagement in order to support academic achievement. She mentions appropriate game dynamics and supporting game mechanics to promote repetition and association, which promotes acquiring demonstrative knowledge. This is exactly the main problem with many of gamification studies and experiments. While games are fun in general, creating games to promote specific learning goals require deep reflection and skillful application.

Gasiewski, J., Eagan, M., Garcia, G., Hurtado, S., & Chang, M. (2012). From Gatekeeping to Engagement: A Multicontextual, Mixed Method Study of Student Academic Engagement in Introductory STEM Courses. Research In Higher Education, 53(2), 229-261. doi:10.1007/s11162-011-9247-y

The article recognizes the problem of engagement in introductory college courses and identifies faculty attitude toward science by calling them gatekeepers. In this academic view, scientists are born, they are not made. Therefore, introductory courses are supposed to be difficult to filter out students who are not the right material. As a result, introductory courses are based on memorization and shallow application of knowledge, which discourages students and leads to their changing of majors. The article concludes that the instructor can adjust into an “engaging professor” by using student focused teaching. The author ties the lack of academic engagement in introductory courses as a primary reason for students to switch majors. This creates a business problem for departments and universities, but also deepens the STEM achievement gap for the US. The purpose of the article is to clarify the difference between a “gatekeeper professor” and an “engaging professor”. The benefit of being an engaging professor are in retention of students in STEM majors. Design: 2,873 students in 73 introductory courses of 15 organizations were surveyed. Findings: Student engagement was increased when the instructor “signaled an openness to student questions” and recognized the need for help in student success. Further, students who were comfortable with asking questions, following up with tutoring, and attending “supplemental instruction sessions” were more engaged.

 Günüç, S., & Kuzu, A. (2014). Factors Influencing Student Engagement and the Role of Technology in Student Engagement in Higher Education: Campus-Class-Technology Theory. Turkish Online Journal Of Qualitative Inquiry, 5(4), 86-113.

The study attempts to create a relationship between student engagement and the use of classroom technology. 45 student teachers were inquired, 25 through face-to-face interviews and 20 through written communication. Technology, which was well integrated into the teaching process, was found to benefit student engagement. However, when technology was poorly integrated, it was distracting. This study seems to follow a theme in measuring engagement in the classroom, while experimenting with tools. When instructors use the tools skillfully and with strategic design, the tools can be of benefit. Whether this is technology or gamification, the simple use of an experimental tool does not automatically create engagement.

Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive engagement methods in introductory mechanics courses. Retrieved from http://www.physics.indiana.edu/~sdi/IEM-2b.pdf.

This study considers an introductory physics course with 6542 students in 62 courses. Many techniques of teaching are considered with a strong focus on problem solving. These techniques are found to be very beneficial and with positive results on academic achievement. However, echoing Millikan paper of David Griffiths, the researchers conclude: “In my opinion by far the most effective thing we can do to improve the quality of physics instruction – much more important than modifications in teaching technique – is to hire, honor, and promote good teachers.” This finding aligns with the article on gatekeeping for instructors who are interested in students and put an effort in their work. The counter argument is given through a list of effective instructors, who further improved their teaching results by adopting innovative methods. One of the professors mentioned in the study, who used traditional methods and then adopted Concept Tests was Eric Mazur, who’s research is considered fundamental in the success of peer-instruction. The general finding of the study is that while traditional lectures can be reasonably effective, alternate methods were shown to teach twice as much.


Hakulinen, L., Auvinen, T., & Korhonen, A. (2013). Empirical Study on the Effect of Achievement Badges in TRAKLA2 Online Learning Environment. Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering, 47–54.


The gamification of this undergraduate computer science course involved digital badges. The goal of the study was to modify student behavior in curbing procrastination, improving attention to detail in assignments, and increasing retention of the material. The badges were granted based on academic achievement in the course. A control group was established with the same assignments, but without the badges. The findings demonstrated that the digital badges did have a positive effect in achieving higher grades in the gamified class. This was especially true for advanced badges within a declared major of the student. My reflection on this approach is in the desire of students to have an external evidence of their time investment and a mini-credential. Digital badges help to provide such credential and in that way are very loosely related to deeper gamification principles in intrinsic motivation.


Hanus, M. D., & Fox, J. (2015). Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers and Education, 80, 152–161.


Two undergraduate courses were selected for the study. One was a control group without gamification elements and the other with specific game mechanics applied. The gamification elements included digital achievement badges and leaderboards. The study found that the gamified courses did not improve general academic behavior of students and did not improve motivation of students in the course. The final exam scores were worse in the gamified group than in the control group. The authors concluded that the competition encouraged in the gamified courses left students unsatisfied and unmotivated. The gamification was also a required element, not an optional feature. This may be another study, which does not apply gamification based on gameful principals like the need for autonomy in play to be enjoyable.


Hamari, J., Shernoff, D. J., Rowe, E., Coller, B., Asbell-Clarke, J., & Edwards, T. (2016). Full length article: Challenging games help students learn: An empirical study on engagement, flow and immersion in game-based learning. Computers In Human Behavior, 54170-179. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.045


The article asks good research questions about student engagement and game-based learning. The questions are: Do challenge and skills predict engagement and immersion in game-based learning? _Do engagement and immersion predict perceived learning in game-based learning? _How engagement and immersion mediate the effect of challenge and skills on perceived learning in game-based learning? The connection of schoolwork to professional work and how the flow can help to create happy students and happy employees is very important. The state of flow is connected to conditions of the task. Using high level of skill to meet a difficult challenge produce the flow. This of course means that “high level of skill” will be different for each individual and the “difficulty of the challenge” will also continuously change. The other conditions to avoid, which produce boredom or anxiety are created by challenges, which are too easy, or challenges, which are too difficult and do not match the skill level of the student. Apathy can result from a low skill and low challenge. Relaxation could be a result of high skill, but low challenge. Anxiety could result from high challenge, but low skill. Flow results from a match between a high skill and a high challenge. The engagement generated by flow means a state of complete absorption in the challenging activity with “no psychic energy left for distractions”. The authors mention a dearth of studies that investigate immersion and learning in game-based environments, which could be used as a reason for future qualitative research. The disengagement of students is qualified as pervasive. 20-25% of students are identified as having low participation or low sense of belonging. Since games assess the player skill level and provide tasks, which are always on the edge of abilities, they provide scaffolding for learning. The author calls this “layered learning”. The connection then is made to Csikszentmihalyi concept of flow and how students benefit from this condition of the mind. Design: 134 high school students in 11 classrooms played Quantum Spectre as part of physics class. The students were surveyed afterwards. In another location 40 undergraduate mechanical engineering students played Spumone and provided survey feedback. Findings: The study suggests that video games can engage students in a learning activity. Engagement in the game had positive effect on learning. However, immersion in the game did not have a significant effect on learning. The match between skill and challenge levels generated flow.


Hauge, M. R., & Gentile, D. A. (2003, April). Video game addiction among adolescents: Associations with academic performance and aggression. 2003 Society for Research in Child Development Bien- nial Conference, Tampa, 24-27 April 2003.


The study investigates the effects video games may have on 8th and 9th grade students. The study uses a self-reporting approach by 607 students. 52% were male and 48% is female. Addiction was identified in students as positive responses to four or more questions. The study found that males were significantly more likely to be addicted and those who were addicted were more likely to be part of a physical fight within a year. Also, addicted adolescents reported lower academic grades. My concerns about this study is lack of the specific questions in the published material. The article contained the abstract, short sections for design, conclusions, and graphs, but not the specific questions asked of 8th and 9th graders. Since only 4 answers put the players in an addicted category, I would question the ability of young people to understand addiction related questions and a large margin of errors.


Huizenga, J., Admiraal, W., Akkerman, S., & ten Dam, G. (2009). Mobile game-based learning in secondary education: engagement, motivation and learning in a mobile city game. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25, 332–344.


The study applied a mobile app approach to teaching history. It included students from 5 schools and 20 classes, total of 458 students. Half of the classes were a control group with traditional project-based lessons. The gamified class was learning through quests in a virtual medieval city. The study was relatively short in the span of a single day. The authors suggest that the students learned more in the experimental group and were more engaged in the lesson. While some technical difficulties were present during the game and the game process included working in small groups to present the material studied, the findings attribute the main difference to the game based approach. It seems to me that while it is clear that students enjoy games and are interested in novelty, generating initial interest in the activity does not influence the overall engagement, motivation or learning. In order to affect those core behavioral elements lot more gameful design is required.


Huizinga, J. (1971). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Beacon Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=1ZADAQAAQBAJ


Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga demonstrates in the book that play is a core activity in flourishing cultures. He covers various backgrounds from politics, law, business, art to religion. Huizinga uses the term Homo Ludens to contrast the focus on Homo Sapiens (“wise human” or the thinking man), and the more recent focus in industrialization of Homo Faber (“man the maker”), to Homo Ludens as Man the Player. The book makes a powerful statement of play’s contribution to civilization. In education the element of play has often been diminished by pursuit of rigor and discipline. In times, when memorization is no longer a key professional skill play may be the method to teach the skills and subjects of complex nature to people, who are not interested in learning them or scared of them. The principle of play is at the core of gamification and it fuels the learning process.


Juul, J. (2013). The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games. MIT Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=5sC1knAj_isC


This book is a careful and detailed study of failure in computer games. While most people may think that we play computer games for fun, Juul submits that we play to seek out failure. Humans desire the feeling of competence and success, but only when it feels deserved. Games create the environment, where grunt work or increase in skill allows the player to have a satisfaction and fun as a result of handling failure well. In gamification of education this is a key strategy that in traditional courses makes for a poorly designed game. Failure in courses is typically discouraged and avoided. However, failure is how we learn. If a student submits assignments and always get an A, are they really learning new things? We don’t know. What if a student could submit the same assignment many times and slowly increase competency and skill? This would make a course feel more like a game. The multiple submissions can be accomplished by leveraging existing technology. Juul’s connection of failure to art is masterful. In art catharsis helps us to purge of negative feelings, but in games we generate and live them. These experiences can therefore be far more emotional than other teaching encounters. Games set us up for failure, allow us to experience it and experiment with it. Games create the feeling that we are escaping failure, escaping inadequacy by continually trying to get better at the task. That’s the method, which can drive engagement and academic results in the classroom.


Juul, J. (2003). The game, the player, the world: Looking for a heart of gameness. M. Copier and J. Raessens(eds). Proceedings of Level-Up: Digital games research conference. Utrecht. University of Utrecht: 30-45.


In this conference keynote Juul creates a new definition for games. He skillfully includes very important definitions based on literature review. He inventories the following definitions for games:


Johan Huizinga 1950, p.13.

[…] a free activity standing quite consciously outside ”ordinary” life as being ”not serious”, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means.

Roger Caillois 1961, p.10-11.

[…] an activity which is essentially: Free (voluntary), separate [in time and space], uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, make-believe.

Bernard Suits 1978, p. 34.

To play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favor of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity.

Avedon & Sutton Smith 1981, p.7.

At its most elementary level then we can define game as an exercise of voluntary control systems in which there is an opposition between forces, confined by a procedure and rules in order to produce a disequilibrial outcome.

Chris Crawford 1981, chapter 2.

I perceive four common factors: representation [“a closed formal system that subjectively represents a subset of reality”], interaction, conflict, and safety [“the results of a game are always less harsh than the situations the game models”].

David Kelley 1988, p.50.

a game is a form of recreation constituted by a set of rules that specify an object to be attained and the permissible means of attaining it.

Katie Salen & Eric Zimmerman 2003, p.96.

A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.

Juul provides a new definition to include 6 game features: rules, variables, outcome, effort, player attached to outcome, and negotiable consequences. In his definition a game is a real rule-based system that players interact with in the real world. This definition fits well my research, which focuses on identifying introductory college courses as games and then using gameful thinking to improve them to the point when they are games worth playing and the student experience becomes a well played game.


Kuo, M., & Chuang, T. (2016). Full length article: How gamification motivates visits and engagement for online academic dissemination – An empirical study. Computers In Human Behavior, 55(Part A), 16-27. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.08.025


Online education is a big business and applying gamification poses a number of challenges. Play, however, is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities, which can affect learners. As play is molded into games, by applying rules and rewards, humans can be directed into certain behaviors. Gamification is a process of applying playful components with a non-game target. This allows for non-game applications of the mechanics in order to make activates more enjoyable and engaging. Gamification can be applied in a commercial environment to enhance organizational performance, or in an academic environment to help students focus on the course content. Games can be considered as tools to provide joyful, intrinsic motivation. Gamification attempts to parse those characteristics in order to apply it to non-game environments. Problem: The creation and dissemination of new knowledge may be challenging and gamification could improve the effectiveness of sharing research and consuming it. Purpose: To apply gamification to online academic context of promotion and dissemination. Design: A system was developed called LOPUPA (lopupa.npust.edu.tw) to allow faculty, students, internet visitors, business members to collaborate together on academic research. Findings: The results of the project were assessed by using Google Analytics and the engagement with the online system. Instead of using surveys, the quantitative approach was taken to measure engagement with the system. The platform access behavior of users was used as the metric of engagement. These reports show high retention percentage, low bounce rate, longer visit duration and page views. This demonstrates a positive impact of gamification on academic dissemination.


Midgley, C., Maehr, M. L., Hruda, L. Z., Anderman, E., Anderman, L., Freeman, K. E., Gheen, M., Kaplan, A., Kumar, R., Middleton, M. J., Nelson, J., Roeser, R., & Urdan, T. (2000). Manual for the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales (PALS). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.


PALS is a way to measure engagement in a class.  More specifically, the paper provides tools to measure the relationship between the learning environment and student motivation, affect, and behavior. Five main assessments are used: 1) personal achievement goal orientations; 2) perceptions of teacher’s goals; 3) perceptions of the goal structures in the classroom; 4) achievement-related beliefs, attitudes, and strategies; 5) perceptions of parents and home life. The paper provides a set of surveys, which are to be issued to students and teachers to measure the level of engagement. This paper, and other papers which focus on measuring academic engagement, are important to gamification research. When applying gamification it is important to measure the desired results and design gamification to encourage the strategic behaviors of players. A clear distinction needs to be made in players being excited about the novelty of the environment or excited about the idea of game entertainment versus the institutional objectives. Objective tools to measure such objectives, like the PALS system with sample surveys, is a key to staying on track.


Nelson, C. (2010). Dysfunctional illusions of rigor: Lessons from the scholarship of teaching and learning. In L. B. Nilson & J. E. Miller (Eds.),To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development, 28(177-192). San Francisco: Josse-Bass. Major sections of this article available at: http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=1058


Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Biology Dr. Craig Nelson is the author of “Dysfunctional Illusions of Rigor”.  These illusions are reflected in difficulties of adoption of gamification teaching practices the same as any other alternative approaches to undergraduate teaching. The following misconceptions are the illusions: “1. Hard courses weed out weak students.”  When students fail it is primarily due to inability, weak preparation, or lack of effort.

Finding: When students fail it is often due to inappropriate pedagogy. “2. Traditional methods of instruction offer effective ways of teaching content to undergraduates”.  Modes that pamper students teach less. Finding: While lectures teach something, alternative methods teach on average twice as much as traditional lectures. “3. Massive grade inflation is a corruption of standards”.  Unusually high average grades are the result of faculty giving unjustified grades.

Finding: There exists bad and good grade inflation.  Good inflation happens, when grades measure improved achievement.  University administration’s job is to reward good grade inflation and punish bad grade inflation. The balance of rigor, academic integrity, and respect for the institution of teaching and learning must be matched with playful learning, which keeps our mind open for exploration and new experiences.  Playfulness does not mean lack of respect.  We recognize games as being important, worth the effort, and sometimes deserving of more integrity than other areas of life.


NPR. (2015, March 27). How Can Playing A Game Make You More Empathetic? Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/03/27/395039920/how-can-playing-a-game-make-you-more-empathetic


NPR produced a TED Radio Hour program called Press Play. In this episode the host, Guy Raz, interviewed Jane McGonigal. The research of Jeff Mogil from McGill University on reducing stress and creating empathy was mentioned. In 15 minutes of playing “Rock Band” the participants can build empathy. This means that simple game activities can address major academic objectives in building inclusive learning environments. While many aspects in games is based on deep problems like sexism and bullying, some research does indicate that gameful design can be used to mitigate these attitudes.


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


The article attempts to validate gamification as meaningful for engagement and provide evidence of effectiveness as a tool for motivation. Games, like the elephant test, are easy to recognize, but difficult to define. Gamification is the use of game elements and mechanics in non-game contexts. Gamification is criticized as focusing on pointisification, badges, and leaderboards even though they are the least essential game concepts. It is also called exploitationware, because it uses game approach to take financial advantage of consumers.   While gamification is a popular subject of blogs and conference keynotes, the theoretical definitions are poorly defined and require clarification. Applying theoretical definitions to gamification will help to stabilize the research of gamification and fuel the development of the practice. The survey was designed to explore the concept of gamification, examine available research on gamification, provide links between theory and practice of gamification. Survey of literature was performed with meta-synthesis approach. The rigorous search included EBSSOhost, JSTOR, Ovid, ProQuest, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Knowledge. Findings: Average age of gamers is 30, 45% are female, 62% of population play games socially. The terms have been clarified and supported by peer-reviewed references. A number of important follow up research questions have been also asked.



Ong Chao, X., Teh Tuan, A., Chan Ying, H., & Lee Tse, Y. (2014). Effectiveness of Gamification in Vocational Technical Education. Proceedings Of The European Conference On Games Based Learning, 2636-644.


The study is based on 450 students enrolled in a technical university in Europe. Two courses were selected for the gamification project. One at the undergraduate level, Computer Organization, and a master’s level course on Cloud Computing. The results of the study showed 75% of students passing on the first try. The study concludes that the increase in the percentage of passing students and participation in voluntary activities and challenging assignments is caused by the gamification efforts. The teacher is identified as coach, motivator, and facilitator. Gamification made the revision of content more interesting. The study has a fair amount of students, but the comparison of students who were passing could have been attributed to other factors like the excitement of the instructor, who was awarded the Teacher of the Year recognition.


Padgett, D. K. (2004) The qualitative research experience, Revised printing (1st ed.).


Padgett presents a series of qualitative research reports. By example, the qualitative style of research is described and the reader encouraged to apply it. The theories on qualitative research include the criticism from the quantitative research camp of scientific value and reproducibility perspective. However, the strengths of the qualitative research are many and they speak to the value of reflection and reasonability. An important feature of the book is the contribution of many authors in order to provide clarify on the methods from different perspectives. I plan to pursue the qualitative approach in the application of gameful thinking in introductory courses, because quantitative approaches tend to be affected by the researcher zeal or by the student diversity. Both elements are moving parts in engagement theories therefore quantitative measurement often make correlations instead of reflecting on causation.


Papert, S. (n.d.). Hard Fun. Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/HardFun.html


Papert advocates for “hard fun” in learning. His concept acknowledges the need for rigor and academic integrity, but it also clarifies that fun is necessary to engage in learning. This concept is a foundation for gamification of activities in a classroom. Understanding advanced concepts is often not difficult. Memorizing boring terms and reviewing basic content, that’s the difficult part in many introductory courses. Therefore, the application of fun in grunt work is the basis for many games that track progress, enable competition, and create environments that promote practice.


Pavlus, J. (2016, March 7). Why We Love the Games That Enrage Us Most. Scientific American. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-love-the-games-that-enrage-us-most


The article in Scientific American connects attitudes toward games with academic activities. The scaffolding present in games, the opportunity and encouragement to fail, the practice that produces progress, they all can be applied in school. The author discusses a balance needed between tasks that are too easy and tasks that are too difficult. Easy tasks can create boredom. Too difficult tasks can create frustration. To instill competence instructors, need to find a balance by “easing players up the learning curve with early levels that act as self-guided tutorials for mastering basic moves and controls”. Introductory courses run the risk of applying curriculum of assignments created with a single student in mind to a large and diverse group of students. Tasks that are easy and tasks that are too difficult, when disconnected from each other, can turn an introductory course into an ongoing quest for boredom and frustration. Application of gamification to an introductory course must include an automated way of matching the task difficulty to the student ability.


Pink, D. (2011). Drive The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. S.l.: Penguin Group US.


Pink argues that traditional rewards like grades for students or salary for employees do not build motivation, but at certain point actually decrease performance at school or on the job.  Pink suggests the fulfilling inspirational needs of students or employees helps them to perform at higher levels and helps them to excel in the long run.  Rewards can be used, but instead of if-then approach, they should be provided without an expectation afterwards.  For students, grades would become more of a feedback than the goal. This book is important to gamification designing projects with well throughout goals. At first glance, better grades seem like an appropriate goal for a teaching and learning goal. However, especially in introductory courses, I believe that grades should be a secondary goal. They do not reflect the affinity to the subject matter or the inspirational value of STEM content.


Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning. London: Sage Publishers.


The book is a pedagogical exploration of a teacher dilemma associated with teaching with technology: What elements of traditional teaching should be retained and what elements of technology should be adopted to be most effective in education? The author agrees that an overwhelming majority of teachers love and want to help students. With these good intentions, there is a body of knowledge, that may help to better identify the methods adapted to a new generation, Prensky called Digital Natives. A major difference being the focus on a new reward system, which focuses on building passion in students instead of applying demotivating punishments. The learners who are Digital Natives are different from former generations. School is boring to kids, who grew up with games and know what engagement feels like. Teachers need new ways to motivate this new generation of learners.


Ripley, A. (2013). The smartest kids in the world: And how they got that way. Simon and Schuster.


In this book Amanda Ripley follows three exchange students to South Korea, Finland, and Poland.  She documents their experiences in the new educational systems.  She also provides many examples of studies to qualify the effectiveness of the US educational system.  She points out that the general attitude toward the school and teachers is a big determining factor in the learning success of students and academic achievement. The book touches on international comparisons of achievement and differences in top-down approaches to education in selected countries. The lessons learned for the US educational system include the teaching profession as having lower educational requirements as compared with other professions. This is driven by lower income of teachers and fewer qualified individuals desiring to pursue the career. Connected to job availability difficulties and many problems connected to standardized testing with complex influence of parents on the process, the classroom pedagogy becomes a low priority for teachers.



Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.


Self-determination theory is an important foundation in applying gamified projects. In order to enjoy games the activity of playing needs to be autonomous. This follows the main three elements of Self-determination theory: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When conditions are created to support individual’s experience in these three categories the results are more likely to be evident in enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity. The opposite is also theorized. When any of these three element are not supported or thwarted within a social context, a negative impact on the wellness of a person in that setting will be realized. This organismic dialectical approach applies well in the classroom to both the teacher and the students. Many experiments involving teachers, who implement new teaching techniques, cater to the teacher’s autonomy, possibility of improved competence, and more relatedness with research collaborators and students in the classroom. Therefore, the theory does explain why the teacher may be more engaged in the classroom during teaching experiments and it also outlines the expectations of students.


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


This survey of literature provides a good theoretical foundation for research in gamification. Many theories and definitions are considered to summarize new taxonomy. A good example is in the term of a game: “Huizinga (2000) defines games as non-serious but intensely engaging voluntary activities structured by rules and secretive social boundaries. For Avedon and Sutton-Smith (1971), games are voluntary activities bounded by rules, but further require conflict between equal parties and an unequal end result. Crawford (1984) requires games to be representations of some reality, be predicated on interaction between the system and the user, and provide conflict but also safety through simulation. In their influential work, game designers Salen and Zimmerman (2004) define a game as “a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome” (p. 80). Juul (2003) proposes that all games have the six main features: rules; variable; quantifiable outcomes; value-laden outcomes; player effort; player investment; and negotiable consequences, with respect to real life effects.

A number of common threads run across these definitions – rules, structure, voluntariness, uncertain outcomes, conflict, representation, resolution – alongside subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Games emerge from a variety of combinations of these criteria in different proportions, and whether an experience is a game or gameful is determined by participant perception.”

The paper provides a fair section of criticism of gamification. It provides views of academics and industry specialists including Bogost, who identified it as exploitationware. A major critical point in putting the negative views on gamification into a perspective is that many gamification projects focus on surface elements like points and leaderboards, instead of taking time to thoughtfully design the goals and appeal to intrinsic motivation of players to accomplish strategic goals.


Sheldon, L. (2012). The multiplayer classroom: Designing coursework as a game. Boston, MA: Course Technology/Cengage Learning.


Lee Sheldon writes about his course being changed into a multiplayer classroom experience. This is a good case study for practical application of gameful principles. The design makes great use of characters and stories. Students are engaged in a playful learning experience. The gamification takes place throughout the course and modifies the standard approaches. Presentations are turned into quests, fighting monsters is taking quizzes, and crafting means writing game-analysis papers. The class is made out of 40 students divided into six zones for group activities. To this end, this practice is not applicable to all academic environments, such as coordinated courses, where curriculum and assessments are inflexible. Many faculty do not have permission to modify course milestones. This book and practices work well for faculty who are in full control of the course and course outcomes.


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.


The study considered 144 children in grades 3-5 with 14 teachers. The reciprocal effects of engaged students on the teacher were noted. Teachers who sensed engagement from students displayed more positive behaviors, which in turn built engagement. However, when student disengagement was signaled, teachers sent responses that further undermined student motivation. Three elements in teacher engagement were measured: involvement, structure, and autonomy support. This research further stresses the difficulty of measuring engagement and determining the root causes for student engagement in the classroom. When the instructor is testing new tools or studies hypothesis they are invested in, they are more likely to be engaged in their teaching, which in turn generates engagement in students.


Swap, R. J., & Walter, J. A. (2015). An Approach to Engaging Students in a Large-Enrollment, Introductory STEM College Course. Journal Of The Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning, 15(5), 1-21.


Educators are sometimes pessimistic about the possibility of engaging students in large enrollment introductory courses. This is due to difficulties in engaging students and especially doing so in large enrollment sections. The term “engaged” may be understood in many ways. Starting from the concept of interest, through applicability of the course content, to a broader conversation outside the classroom. Another view on engagement is a positive influence on educational outcomes. The challenge of large enrollment courses is that, while they are favorable in terms of organizational profit, they can also carry a risk of limited engagement. Large enrollment means wide variety in knowledge and experience of students, challenges in assessment and classroom activities. Such courses seem necessary as the goal is the exposure of students to the subject matter. Large enrollment courses (160 – 250 students) suffer from lack of engagement of majority of students. Purpose: Provide a hybrid approach of teaching in a large enrollment introductory course to generate engagement. Findings: The study documents how engagement can be generated in large enrollment courses by integrating traditional lectures, with student-centered social constructivist pedagogies. These include use of small group activities, diversity of instructional media, leveling of the classroom hierarchy to invite broader participation, creation of cognitive dissonance, high instructor availability.


Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.


The book provides a number of theories connecting play to learning. Play and imagination are mechanisms children use for making sense of things they discover in the world. For children the discoveries are always many. The authors believe that “In a world of near-constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change, rather than a way for growing out of it”. These are important principals for gamification in education. Play is viewed by many as not serious and something that schools should teach out of kids. Today play may be the necessary skill to teach and to use in teaching in order to embrace change.


Zichermann, G., & Cunningham. C. (2011). Gamification by Design. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.


This book is a refined theory of gamification by an early pioneer of gamification Gabe Zichermann. The concepts of fun quotient, evolution of loyalty, human motivation are all foundation of both enterprise gamification and gambling establishments. Included are case studies of Nike Plus, Health Month and others. While aiming at enterprise application the book provides good theory of gameful thinking. The thorough discussion of game mechanics and application into business processes helps to adopt gamification into academic application.