To gamify, or not to gamify – Kyle Scholz

Gamification seems to be all the rage in higher education – the prospect of transforming the learning experience by amending game-based tools such as points, leaderboards, or badges, all in an effort to help students learn, certainly sounds intriguing. If all it takes to make students come to class and do the work is to give them a badge, then why not?

And yet however alluring the prospect sounds, it’s never that easy. I always go back to the famous words of Mary Poppins – “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. How are you treating the implementation of gamification into your course? Is it to act as a form of sugar to help the medicine (the course content) go down easily for students? Or is it intended to stand on its own and work in conjunction with the course content as to motivate and engage students?

When gamification is seen as sugar to the course’s medicine, what is likely happening is that course content that is perceived as dry or challenging is ostensibly remedied with gamification so that students are focused on achieving points or badges, instead of actually learning the content that is being taught. While yes, they may do the work more so than before gamification was applied, it’s difficult to say whether or not they are learning more.

What can be instead considered is applying game-based learning principles to new or already existing activities/task in the course, in order to find ways to motivate and engage students better. What are these game-based learning principles? A number of scholars have discussed the elements of games that are applicable to learning. Prensky (2001) for example, lists a number of elements of games that are meaningful for learning:

  • fun,
  • play,
  • rules,
  • goals,
  • interactivity,
  • outcomes and feedback,
  • adaptability,
  • win states,
  • conflict and competition,
  • problem solving, and
  • representation and story (Prensky, 2001)

Other scholars have constructed similar lists, but have also then made direct correlations between the game element and their benefits:

Important game elements and their presupposed benefits (Vandercruysse et al., 2012)

Game elements Presupposed benefits
fun or enjoyability enjoyment, pleasure, motivation
rules structure
goals and objectives motivation, stimulation
interaction/interactive being active, interacting with others
outcomes and feedback learning, informing about progress
problem solving/competition/challenge adrenaline, excitement, creativity
representation/story/fantasy/context emotion (enthusiasm), stimulation

Take a look at these game elements, and think about which ones you may already include in your own teaching practices – you may find you already are incorporating elements of game-based learning, and perhaps simply need to be more intentional about how they are adapted into your activities in an effort to motivate and engage students.

I’d encourage you to watch the following screencast. Mark Morton (CTE) and myself created this for a game-based learning/gamification workshop, and it provides a fairly concise overview of what gamification and game-based learning are, and ways in which it can be applied in your own teaching.

We also have a tip sheet that provides some practical examples of gamification tools that are (relatively easily) adaptable to your own teaching.

Stay tuned for an announcement of our upcoming 2018 Educational Technologies Week at the CTE. We’ll have a game-based learning/gamification workshop that will allow you to delve deeper into this topic and apply it to your own teaching.

Works Cited

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Vandercruysse, S., Vandewaetere, M., & Clarebout, G. (2012). Game-based learning: A review on the effectiveness of educational games. In M. M. Cruz-Cunha (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Serious Games as Educational, Business, and Research Tools (pp. 628–647). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Announcing new Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Seed Grant Recipients

Photo of lightbulb with tree insideThe Office of the Associate Vice President, Academic, the Centre for Teaching Excellence, and the Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education are pleased to announce that 7 LITE Seed Grant projects have recently been funded. We are pleased to note that LITE Grants involve collaborations across departments/units, faculties, and institutions.

Information about the LITE Grants

The LITE Grants provide support for investigating innovative approaches to enhancing teaching with a focus on fostering deep student learning at the University of Waterloo. Two kinds of grants are available: LITE Seed Grants fund projects up to $5,000, and LITE Full Grants fund projects up to $30,000.

The next LITE grant application deadline on October 1 is for the Full grants.

The annual LITE Seed Grant application deadlines are February 1 and June 1.

For more information about the grants, please visit the LITE Grant website. If you are considering applying for a grant and would like to discuss your project, please contact Crystal Tse or Kristin Brown at the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Important note: There have been a few changes to the LITE grant application process. Please carefully review the revised application guidelines and contact Crystal or Kristin if you have any questions.

Scholarly Teaching Library Research Guide

The Scholarly Teaching Library Research Guide (created by the Library, Centre for Teaching Excellence and The Office of Research Ethics) is a step-by-step guide and resource for individuals who are interested in and/or engaged in conducting research on teaching and learning. This guide includes:

    • Refresher on research skills and keywords related to teaching and learning to use in your literature search
    • Resources on getting started on conducting teaching and learning research
    • Relevant journals, organizations, websites, and blogs
    • Learning assessment tools used in the literature
    • Resources on ethical considerations on conducting research with students as participants

 

Light bulb image provided by Matt Walker under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license.

A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning

What drives curiosity in our classrooms? Can curiosity be fostered or taught? These were just a few of the questions on the table at the University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference on April 27. Our ninth annual conference, this year’s event brought together over 320 participants from across all Faculties at Waterloo and neighbouring universities to explore the role curiosity plays in teaching and learning. University of Waterloo’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, opened the conference with a territory acknowledgment and shared personal reflections on teaching and learning that highlighted the connections between this year’s conference theme, Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning, and last year’s conference, Learning from Challenge and Failure.

Curiosity is at the heart of inquiry and exploration and is a powerful motivator for learning. It speaks to our innate interest in seeking out novel ideas, and applies well to the learning process our students engage in every day. Curiosity also has real-life consequences—psychological research demonstrates that curiosity is linked to greater well-being (e.g., life satisfaction and expressing gratitude) and can also serve as positive motivation—studies show that curiosity can lead people to ask more questions, explore novel stimuli, and persevere when faced with difficult tasks. Continue reading A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning

Debunking the Learning Styles Myth – Crystal Tse

Photo of a person's brain outlined into aidfferent sections
Image provided by William Creswell under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license.

Franz Josef Gall was a neuroscientist in the 1700s who developed phrenology, a field that attributed specific mental functions to different parts of the brain (i.e., that certain bumps on a person’s head would indicate their personality traits). This field has since then been widely discredited as pseudoscience. It is often comforting to be able to categorize things and put people into neat boxes, and phrenology is one example of this tendency. Learning styles is another example.

The idea of learning styles began in the 1970s, where a growing literature and industry posited that learners have specific, individualized ways of learning the work best for them. There are many different theories of learning styles, including ones that classify people as visual, auditory, or tactile learners, or ones that outline different cognitive approaches people take in their learning.

However, there is virtually no evidence that supports that individuals have learning styles, nor that when taught in a way that “meshes” with their learning style that there is greater learning. A group of psychologists reviewed the literature and in their report on learning styles state that while there have been studies done on how individuals can certainly have preferences for learning, almost none of the studies employed rigorous research designs that would demonstrate that people benefit if they are instructed in a way that matches their learning style. In a recent study, Rogowsky and colleagues conducted an experimental test of the meshing hypothesis and found that matching the type of instruction to learning style did not make a difference on students’ comprehension of material. Furthermore, certain teaching strategies are best suited for all learners depending on the material that is being taught – learning how to make dilutions in a chemistry course, for example, requires a hands-on experiential approach, even if you have a preference to learn from reflection!

Instead of fixating on learning styles, I recommend we instead focus on engaging our learners in and outside the class (by using active learning strategies where appropriate – there is good evidence that active learning benefits learners in STEM classrooms, for example). As instructors we can also try vary our teaching methods so all students have a way into the material. Lastly, learning doesn’t always have to feel easy – research from growth mindsets shows us that feeling challenged and failure itself is important for students’ learning and growth.

Why It Seems Like Your Students Can’t Write — Stephanie White

Whenever I talk with instructors here about how my job is to support them in their writing and communication instruction, I hear some version of the same response: “My students are brilliant, but they can’t write a sentence to save their lives!” No matter whom I’m talking to, regardless of discipline, job title, teaching experience, linguistic background, educational background, or teaching load, nearly everyone has the same anxieties around the role of communication in their courses. But I’m always glad to have the chance to talk about these concerns. If you’re one of those instructors I’ve talked with about teaching writing and communication in your discipline, you’ve probably seen my eyes light up as I eagerly launch into my spiel about the research on teaching writing and communication across the curriculum.

You: “My students are smart, but they can’t write!” Continue reading Why It Seems Like Your Students Can’t Write — Stephanie White

Reflecting on Teaching Culture – Kristin Brown

(Photo by Peter Wolf, Queen’s University)

After working in graduate student programming at CTE for the past three years, this term I collaborated with Donna Ellis, CTE Director, on a SSHRC-funded project involving eight other Canadian universities. The project is developing and validating survey tools (the Teaching Culture Perception Survey) to measure indicators of institutional teaching culture. You can find out more about the project here.

The surveys have been conducted at four institutions over the past few Continue reading Reflecting on Teaching Culture – Kristin Brown

A case study of a new approach to a blended course — Meagan Troop, Centre for Extended Learning

Musical scoreI am an Online Learning Consultant (OLC) at the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo. As OLCs we pride ourselves on a scholarly approach to course design and, as such, 20% of my time is allotted to research. One of the research projects that I began in Winter 2016 is a case study examination of a blended learning opportunity jointly offered by Wilfrid Laurier University and UOIT. In this case, not only did I have the opportunity to conduct research, but also to teach and contribute design changes to the course being researched. Both the research and teaching dimensions of this experience have been invaluable, greatly enhancing my perspective as an instructional designer. Continue reading A case study of a new approach to a blended course — Meagan Troop, Centre for Extended Learning