by Rebecca Merrett

How gamification improved student engagement for Kaplan University

Jun 06, 20144 mins
Education Industry

With the majority of IT programming students who just to do their own thing in the classroom at Kaplan University, Dr David DeHaven – the dean of the university – wanted to change that and find a way to improve student engagement and have them work more collaboratively.

DeHaven turned to gaming techniques – such as leader boards, challenges, quests, badges, etc. – to make the course activities more fun and encourage group collaboration rather than siloed working.

The university has 54,000 students in total, with 3,500 in the School of Information Technology who are learning through online games. DeHaven is using Badgeville’s platform, which is integrated into the school’s learning management system, eCollege.

“We had a course where the failure or drop rate was fairly high. After we implemented this series of techniques, the failure rate dropped by 16 per cent,” DeHaven said, who was a speaker at this year’s EduTECH event in Brisbane.

“Their time spent in class went up 9-10 per cent, and students who use to post in the online discussion about three to four times [a week] were now posting between 10 and 15 times.”

DeHaven created a series of ‘challenge assignments’ that were designed to push students to excel in their work. The students were told that they were not going to get extra credit for completing a ‘challenge assignment’. By not offering extra credit, DeHaven wanted to test whether gaming would still motivate students and offer them an opportunity to produce their own outstanding work.

“Eighty-five per cent of the students self-selected the harder assignment, and even in taking the harder assignment the overall grades in the courses that have used these techniques are up about 9 per cent,” he said.

DeHaven said the learning management system can track how often students post, how detailed and informative their posts are, which activities students’ spend more time on, etc. He said this information is used to design the games and create reward systems for student progress.

“We quickly determine the profile of the types of responses that students – who understand the material – give and earn good grades. The system can recognise when you demonstrate a behaviour and will give you a first poster badge, for example, when you are an early participant in the week. It may also give you a badge for sharing resources and bringing provocative questions to the table. Those things can be automatically sensed by the system and immediately rewarded,” DeHaven said.

There is also skills competency-based badging for some classes, where students can prove they have mastered a subject, DeHaven said. Students can use this as a reference or to demonstrate their abilities when applying for internships or jobs.

“You’ll be assessed, and that badge or that competency will be displayable to your friends, employers via LinkedIn and Facebook in advance of earning your degree. You may not have your degree yet, but you can demonstrate mastery and competency and that can help you in your job search.”

From the success the games had in the IT school, DeHaven is now expanding it into other faculties such as general education, nursing, criminal justice, and business. He said each game will be designed for the unique outcomes of the courses.

Gamification has also helped lecturers or teachers give feedback more frequently as they are able to track students’ progress more easily, DeHaven said. “The students who are successful in their work as well as in their study are the ones who receive that feedback engagement early. It creates ongoing persistence.

“Currently, education is a flawed game. You have levels called classes, and you have an ultimate prize called a degree. But often you don’t get insight into the true community of your peers and what they are doing and how they are being successful. Having achievements, leader boards, games, and so on creates a more transparent environment to build community and collaboration so that all can be successful.”