Gamifying College Academic Writing Class—A Case Study

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

This case study shows how gamification tools are used in college academic writing class. The presenters will talk about some use cases in both online and face-to-face settings and explain how they improve teaching in a writing class. The audience will be invited to join us to experience some games. 


Yingzhuo Quan is an Instructional Designer at Purdue University. She has been teaching film study courses at Communication University of China (Beijing) for six years before she continued her education at Indiana State University. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Technology. Her research interests include online teaching and learning, learning from gaming, and online learning assessment.

Additional Authors

Sheree Buikema is an instructional designer working on the Course Design and Development team at Purdue University. Prior to that, Sheree taught in the K-12 system, where her focus was in language arts and high ability education. In addition to earning several teaching certifications, Sheree holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Psychology, with an emphasis on Curriculum, Technology, and Education Reform. Over the past 15 years, she has designed and taught multiple face-to-face and hybrid courses. She has also designed, developed, and moderated a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for K-12 high ability students. She has recently won Purdue’s Digital Education MVP: Instructional Design and Support Award for her work in hybridizing the Weekend MBA program. She has presented on several aspects of online learning and instructional design at national and international conferences.

Extended Abstract

Gamifying College Academic Writing Class—A Case Study

     Gamification refers to the process that applies game mechanics to non-game settings in order to promote motivation and increase engagement (Brian, 2014; Li, Dong, Untch, & Chasteen, 2013). In recent years, many tools were introduced to gamify learning in all kinds of educational settings. Among these tools, digital badges are considered as an achievement-based gamification tool (Grouling, et al., 2014), and have been adopted in higher education (Abramovich, 2016; Grouling, Hedge, Schweiger, & sinder, 2014).

     Although the existing literature discussed the advantages and disadvantages of gamification using digital badges in higher education, the research studies on the effectiveness of gamification tools, especially digital badges, are still limited. On the other hand, educators are looking for efficient ways to improve college writing class and some have called for future research (Grouling, et al., 2014). To respond to the existing studies, this case study will discuss how the digital badge tools were being used as an inspired professional learning method in a college level academic writing class at a large research university. Our study will also investigate the effectiveness of gamification, student perception of gamification, and the impact of gamification on student learning behavior.

Background and Purpose of the Study

     A large research university in the Midwest designed and developed two gamification tools, which provide digital badges, online quizzing, and real-time learning analytics. In the past three years, the number of users (students) gradually increased. In the 2018 spring and fall semester, these tools were used by more than 10,000 students. However, we noticed that none of the academic writing classes are using these tools. To investigate whether or not gamification can improve teaching and learning in writing classes, we adopted the aforementioned two tools in a college level academic writing class. One was used to complete assignments, and the other one was used to deliver online quizzes. The purpose of this case study is to investigate student perceptions, learning behavior, and the effectiveness of these gamification tools in writing class.

Research Design

     A 2019 spring semester undergraduate level academic writing class at the aforementioned university was chosen for this case study. The class contained 20 students aged from 18 to 20. The syllabus and the class activities were redesigned to adopt the two gamification tools in the class. All of the participants were trained to use these tools at the beginning of the semester.

     Specifically, one of the tool was used for students to earn badges for each of the assignments. Students received a badge once they submitted the assignment on time and met all the requirements that listed on the syllabus. Students can choose to show the earned badges to their peers or not. They can also communicate with the instructor or their peers using this tool. A total of 5 badges were designed for the 5 assignments in this class.

     The other tool was used for in-class quizzes and collaboration. To take the in-class quizzes, each of the students/group were asked to access to this tool to choose an avatar and starts the quiz. Students received a badge once they completed a quiz. The instructor showed the quiz results on the big screen. The top 5 scored students’/group’s avatar were displayed on the big screen. A total of 3 online quizzes were designed for this class.

Research Questions

     This case study will be conceptualized to answer the following two questions:

  1. How do students perceive the effectiveness of applying gamification tools in the writing class curriculum?
  2. Do gamification tools improve collaboration between students?
  3. Is there any relationship between student perception of gamification and their performances in meeting each of the learning outcomes?

Data collection and analysis

     Before the end of the 2019 spring semester, the students were invited to take an online survey and a face-to-face interview. The survey includes several 5 point Likert scale questions and an open-ended question, which focus on student perception of effectiveness of gamification tools. The interviews focus on student specific experience of gamification tools. The researchers are also interviewed the instructor of this class to get more information from an instructor perspective. Both the survey results and the interview records were used to answer research question 1 and research question 2. Both of these data and each of the assignment grades were used to answer research question 3.

      A total of 18 students took the online survey and participated the interview. Both students and instructor gave positive feedback on the gamification tools and the class activities that were designed with the tools. Students claimed digital badges helped them to track their work and remind them to finish the assignments on time. They also think gamification activities increased communication between each other in group work. Most students expecting to use these tools in other classes. On the other hand, although all the students were trained to use these two tools in the beginning of the semester, some students still complained the technique issues when using these tools. In addition, since these tools were not integrated in the learning management system (LMS) that the students are using, a few of them complained using one of these tools create confusions when they were asked to submit assignment outside the LMS. Our presentation will report more detailed results associated with our findings and suggestions for future studies.


Abramovich, S. (2016). Understanding digital badges in higher education through assessment. On the Horizon. 24(1). 126-131.

Brian, A. (2014). Gamification in Education. Proceedings of ASBBS. 21(1). ASBBS Annual Conference: Las Vegas.

Li, C., Dong, Z., Untch, R. H., Chasteen, M. (2013). Engaging Computer Science Students through gamification in an online social Network based collaborative learning environment. International Journal of Information and Education Technology. 3(1).

Grouling, J., Hedge, S., Schweigert, A., Snider, E. G. (2014). Questing through class: gamification in the professional writing classroom. in deWinter, J., & Moeller, R. M. (2014). Computer Games and Technical Communication: Critical Methods and applications at the Intersection. Routledge.