This blog previously demonstrated conflicting research views on gamification and a limited knowledge of the phenomenon.  Granic et al. (2014) suggests that playing video games is beneficial to teaching new forms of thought and behavior.  However, many studies suggest a negative link between video games and behaviors including addition, aggression, and depression (Anderson et al., 2010; Ferguson & Olson, 2013; Lemola et al., 2011).

Attempts have been made to create an empirical body of knowledge on the use of gamification in education.  Hanus and Fox (2015) found that gamification decreases motivation and negatively impacts academic performance.  In contrast, Barata et al. (2013) found that gamification of an engineering course increased participation levels and students reported the course to be more motivating, interesting, and easier to learn.  Further, Barata et al. (2014) attempted to identify clusters of students in relation to their participation and academic achievement to create student types, similar to player types.  Such types as Achievers, Disheartened, and Underachievers were identified.  The study suggested that even in a gamified environment, various individuals or even groups respond in different ways.

There are studies that suggest that grades are not improved through gamification (Dominquez et al., 2013).  Instead, student affective domain can be influenced in a positive way and social behavior.  This is a significant finding, especially for application of gamification in introductory courses.  While grades are generally important to students, the organization may hope for a positive first-year experience in terms of emotional response as well as creating mentorship relationships or group study relationships across introductory courses.  The current literature on gamification in education tends to measure grades as the success-determining factor.

However, the reported problems in STEM college introductory courses go far beyond academic performance.  Such problems as low achievement, student boredom, and alienation, along with high dropout rates are linked to engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Swap & Walter, 2015).  Especially in the STEM fields those problems are escalated by high attrition rates. Between 2003 and 2009, 48% of bachelor’s degree students left the STEM fields according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education. (Chen & Soldner, 2013). A White House report shows that students leave STEM for many reasons including experiencing an uninviting atmosphere, having to weed-out classes, and having discovered courses demonstrated no relevancy (Lander & Gates, 2010).  Student engagement is shown to be linked statistically to the rate of student graduation (Price & Tovar, 2014).

Therefore, a gap in research of gamification in education is in the application of gameful design to introductory courses with a goal of increasing engagement of students and faculty.  As suggested by Skinner & Belmont (1993), the reciprocal nature of engagement is also affected by the level of engagement on the part of the instructor.  The expression engaged professor was developed to signal a positive change in the class, which led to increased student engagement (Gasiewski, Eagan, Garcia, Hurtado, & Chang, 2012).  Gamification studies should focus on the affective domain of students and creation of gamification tools to engage instructors as well as students during the course.

A gap in existing research of classroom engagement and games for learning is expressed as “dearth of studies that investigate the relationship between immersion and learning in game-based learning environments,” especially as it involves fantasy or storification in a course (Hamari et al, 2016).  Also, Consalvo & Dutton (2006) mention that “more qualitative studies have been less forthcoming about how games were studied.”  Researchers call for more qualitative studies to “extend our understanding of the nature of engagement in games” (Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey, & Boyle, 2012). A gap emerges in qualitative studies of sufficiently complex practical solutions to address both faculty motivational needs and student needs to produce engagement without deep modifications to the academic structure of the introductory course.

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