Press Start to Play: Faculty and Student Reflections on Gamification

Concurrent Session 12

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will provide an overview of gamification and its relationship with learners’ motivations. The details of the implementation in a graduate-level course will be presented along with student performance and course satisfaction data. Faculty reflections, lessons learned, and plans for revision for the next course offering will be discussed.


Dr. Penniston has been involved with online and blended learning in different capacities, including as a student, instructor, builder, and administrator, for the past decade. He has extensive experience with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods designs. He provides consultation to faculty and staff on working with institutional data, gathering data, and conducting data analyses. Dr. Penniston also evaluates DoIT outcomes and survey feedback to inform empirically based best practices, spearheads and administers screencasting use at the university, collaborates on institutional predictive analytics projects, and supports faculty course hybridization in alignment with Quality Matters Standards.
Dr. Sherri N. Braxton is the Senior Director of Instructional Technology at UMBC where she is responsible for leading the Division of Information Technology’s (DoIT) strategy for end-user support of instructional technologies including online, hybrid, and traditional, “face-to-face” technologies. With over 20 years of experience in traditional classroom instruction and adult education strategies grounded in instructional design models, she also possesses over 17 years of experience using learning technologies in higher education settings, including the design and facilitation of online and hybrid courses. Dr. Braxton is a dynamic presenter known for her ability to engage audiences and capture their attention, even for highly complex topics. She collaborates with her staff to devise learning opportunities delivered in multiple modes that meet the varied and shifting needs of both UMBC faculty and students. Dr. Braxton is also the DoIT representative on the University System of Maryland (USM) Academic Transformation Advisory Council, a group spearheaded by the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation. Dr. Braxton has crafted a national presence through her participation in educational technology associations like EDUCAUSE, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), and the IMS Global Learning Consortium; in addition to presenting at national, regional, and local conferences, she serves as a proposal reviewer, constituent group leader, leadership institute faculty, and both task force leader and working group participant. Dr. Braxton earned a Doctor of Science in Computer Science with Minors in Educational Leadership and Management Science from the George Washington University. She also holds a Master of Science in Computer Science with a Math Minor from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science from Wake Forest University.

Extended Abstract

Gamification, the application of game elements in non-gaming settings, continues to be a topic researched to determine its level of impact - if any -  on student motivation, engagement, satisfaction, and academic performance (Hanus & Fox, 2015). Determining how these methods can be applied specifically to graduate-level courses and the impact of gamification on the learning experience has also been empirically examined (Barata, et. al., 2013).

Education 771, Research Design in Education, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)  is a hybrid, 15-week, graduate-level, research design in education course for K-12 STEM teachers. To accommodate teachers’ time commitments during the term, the course alternates between face-to-face and online delivery by week. Gamification elements were integrated into the course design during the Spring 2017 term to examine to what extent these modifications might impact student engagement, satisfaction and/or motivation during the session. Unique to this course is the background of the faculty member; he not only serves as an adjunct faculty but is also a full-time instructional technologist at UMBC. His expertise in the latter role enables him to provide insights from two important perspectives of the teaching and learning space when implementing these strategies.

Achievement-based and gamified learning are institutionally-supported means by which faculty and instructional designers might enhance student learning management system (LMS) interactions. Student interactions within the university’s LMS, Blackboard, have been used as a proxy for student engagement, and, in turn, a metric UMBC’s Instructional Technology group has considered in evaluating online and hybrid faculty course redesign (Fritz, 2016).

Online assignments for the course included discussion board activities, reading quizzes, a peer review for the main course deliverable, and a literature review to ground an action research project.  Gamification rewards were embedded in the course for students’ outstanding performance on the online orientation quiz and weekly reading quizzes, major assignments including human subjects research training and two tests, final grades, as well as “Easter Eggs.”

At the end of the spring term, this course ranked 34th by Blackboard use of the more than 2400 courses with Blackboard shells (i.e., including undergraduate and fully online courses) and ranked 3rd amongst all graduate-level hybrid courses. An end of course survey was administered to students to gather their perceptions of the impact of the gamification elements on both their engagement in the course and their motivation levels.

During this presentation, basic terminology related to gamification will be defined.  The concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation will be discussed as well as the specific strategies used to incorporate gamification elements into the course design. Qualitative data collected from the students in the end of course survey related to the gamification implementation will be presented. The faculty presenter will also reflect on his experience implementing the gamification elements, lesson learned, and plans for future course offerings. The presenters will seek best practices used by other institutions represented in the audience and will address audience member questions. Anyone involved in course design focusing on improving student engagement or interested in implementing gamification in their courses should attend. Slides, handouts, and related website links will be provided during the presentation and posted on the conference web site.


Barata, Gabriel, Gama, Sandra, Jorge Joaquim, & Gonçalves, Daniel (2013), Engaging Engineering Students with Gamification An empirical study. 2013 5th Int. Conf. Games Virtual Worlds Serious Appl., pp. 1-8.

Fritz, J. L. (2016). Using analytics to encourage student responsibility for learning and identify course designs that help (Ph.D.). University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Retrieved from, pp. 168-169.

Hanus, Michael D, & Fox, Jesse  (2015). Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers & Education, 80152-161.