Wading Gently into Gameful Waters Online: One Small Step at a Time

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

This session will share recent online course experiences in which elements of gameful design have been integrated. The expectation is that participants will learn from the authors’ successes and challenges and offer constructive criticism so that all contribute to a collective learning experience and leave with useful takeaways.


Mark Simpson is an Associate Professor, ESOL in the College of Education at Florida Gulf Coast University. His research interests focus on online instruction and the use of existing and emerging technologies for student success. He can be contacted at msimpson@fgcu.edu.
Sheila Bolduc-Simpson is an Instructor III with the Department of Language & Literature at Florida Gulf Coast University. She has an M.A. in Theatre Arts, M.S. in Multicultural/Multilingual Education, and an M.A. in English. She teaches online composition courses to first year students, and digital storytelling and sustainability courses in the Integrated Studies Department. Her research interests include the integration of technology into online courses.

Extended Abstract

This session will share recent online course experiences in which elements of gameful design have been integrated. The expectation is that participants will learn from the authors’ successes and challenges and offer constructive criticism so that all contribute to a collective learning experience.

Relevance to the Conference and the Field: As the title of the proposal suggests, this Emerging Ideas session focuses on the integration of gameful design elements in the presenters’ online courses. The title also suggests that the presenters are new to gameful learning and are going to share what they did, why they did it, how they did it, and what they learned from gradually integrating these gamefully designed elements into their online courses. They will discuss their successes and areas that required improvement in the online courses. Their ventures into gameful learning are works in progress with the aim to deeply engage learners with the content of the courses, challenge them with the materials, allow them to take risks without fear of failing, attempt new learning opportunities, and empower them with learner autonomy.

Timely & Appropriate Topic: Gamification and gameful learning have been trending for some years now and continue to be discussed and researched. Empirical studies in an educational context conducted between 2012 and 2013 have demonstrated that gamification had positive learning outcomes in terms of increased motivation and engagement in the required learning tasks (Hamari, Kovisto & Sarsta, 2014).

This presentation is aligned to OLC’s mission “to advance education innovation” and the 2019 focus “Moving Mountains in Digital, Blended, and Online Learning.” As early adopters of new technologies, the presenters have explored and conducted scholarly teaching research on best practices in online teaching and learning. The latest endeavor is to pilot two online courses: an integrated studies course on the Living the Earth Charter, and a Foundations in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course. The instructors of these courses (i.e., presenters of the session) are getting their feet wet with designing gameful experiences for their learners and are incrementally adding components (e.g., gamefully designed assignments, badges, leaderboards, levels of mastery which use Experience Points (XPs), optional tasks, XPs rather than grades, tasks that offer opportunities for students to fail and redo, etc.). Moving mountains may be an overstatement. The endeavor is more like moving hills.

Session Outcomes: By the end of each of the 10-15-minute Emerging Ideas sessions, participants visiting the presenters’ Emerging Ideas table should be able to:

  • Describe a gameful learning experience and the rationale for designing gameful online learning courses.
  • Discuss ways to gradually incorporate gameful learning elements to promote a sense of learner autonomy, belonging, and competence in online courses.
  • Discuss benefits and challenges of designing and delivering a gameful learning online experience.
  • Contribute to the discussion so that presenters and participants learn from each other.

Session Takeaways: Participants will leave the session with:

  • A list of resources in digital format that will include gameful learning pedagogy, gameful learning design, implementation, and assessment.
  • A one-page tip sheet of some DOs and DON’Ts for those who would like to wade gently into the waters of gameful learning design.
  • Access to the presenters’ 5-10-point slide deck presentation.

Interactivity & Engagement: The 5-10-point slide deck presentation will serve as a framework for a lively discussion and brainstorming session with attendees on reasons attendees may want to consider gameful learning in their courses; reasons students may be intrinsically motivated and engaged to participate in a gameful course; and, how to begin to design a gameful course/assignment using game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts.  The presenters will briefly show attendees their gamefully-designed courses in progress in Canvas and share their successes and their challenges. They will share formative and summative feedback from their students on the experience and elicit ideas from participants on how the presenters can expand on the successes that they have had and, more importantly, address challenges as the presenters incorporate more gameful-design elements in their next iteration of courses.

Audience Appeal: This Emerging Ideas session should appeal to blended and online educators who seek an alternative to traditional instructional models based on little learner autonomy, student fear of failure, lack of second chances, and an extrinsically-motivating grading system. It will attract educators who wish to explore ways to re-engage learners, particularly millennial and post-millennial learners, who are bored with the “game of school”, are not engaged in the learning process, are risk avoiders, and are afraid to fail. This session will appeal to educators who are themselves willing to take risks, fail, and learn.

In addition to appealing to faculty members who teach blended and online courses, this session will also target curriculum designers and developers, instructional support individuals who work with faculty who use a learning management system, technologists, and researchers who are investigating aspects of gameful design in online courses.

Finally, this session will engage those educators who are looking for ways to promote diversity and inclusion in online learning and higher education. Because gameful learning is about learner autonomy, the presenters’ courses incorporate game elements that incorporate use of Universal Design of Learning (UDL) principles. Course assignments offer multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement.

Session’s Contribution to the Conference & to the Field: Although gameful learning has been around for some time and educators have been intuitively incorporating game design into their blended and online courses, many educators hold misconceptions of what gameful learning pedagogy is or are hesitant to implement gameful learning experiences in their online courses. Karl Kapp, professor of instructional technology and author of Gamification of Learning and  Instruction demystifies this emergent approach to instruction by outlining four myths about what gamification is and is not (2018). The presenters of this session plan to discuss these myths with attendees and sift through the hype and misunderstanding around this emergent learning delivery method.  Subhash and Cudney (2018) conducted a systematic review of the literature on gamified learning in higher education identifying how gamified learning systems have been used. They also categorized their use in higher education. They attempted to identify the most widely recognized benefits and components of gamified learning. Their review found encouraging support for gamified learning in higher education. The most significant benefits they found in their literature review were improved student attitudes, engagement, and performance. The presenters of this Emergent Ideas session plan to contribute to this research by publishing on the topic of their initial experimentation into online gameful learning.

Appropriateness of Format: The format for this Emerging Ideas session seems ideal for this “work in progress” pilot project focusing on incorporating game elements, game mechanics, and game-based thinking into two different courses: Foundations of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and an integrated studies course, Living the Earth Charter. Participants will have the opportunity to visit both courses as there are two presenters. One laptop will display the 5-10 slide deck presentation, and the other will demonstrate the presenters’ courses. The 10-15-minute repeated electronic presentation will encourage active involvement because the participants will be brainstorming how to build on the success of the presenters’ gamefully designed courses, discuss and come up with ways to overcome the challenges of implementing gamefully designed courses, and have access to websites and other information on gameful learning pedagogy and best practices. The repetition of the session also affords more opportunities to generate questions, ideas, and insights as three different groups join in on the 45-minute session.

Alignment of Session Track and Type: This session is directly aligned to the Teaching and Learning Practice track with a focus on student engagement methods, practices, and approaches and pedagogical practices (gameful learning pedagogy) that support, encourage, and enhance student success and persistence.

Gameful learning design in online higher education courses and research in the area of gameful learning is relatively new and appropriately fits in with the Emerging Ideas session type. Gameful learning involves a dramatic pedagogical shift in the way educators traditionally design and deliver instruction online and the way students learn.

Sharing of Assessment Information: The presenters will share formative and summative student feedback collected in their gamefully-designed courses. Because the student population is relatively small, most of this will entail qualitative survey data. Interestingly, formative and summative data from previous-semester, gamefully-designed courses will be presented, discussed and contrasted with more recent, current-semester formative feedback in courses that have included changes in gameful design.