Keeping students motivated has been an issue of the ages. I stumbled across this great article from The Converstaion by Dr. Vassilis Dalakas suggesting a fairly simple way to increase student motivation throughout the length of a course. In his class, he gave pop-quizzes, which weren’t required, on the assigned readings. However, each quiz answered correctly would earn the student a point, and each quiz answered incorrectly would lose the student a point. If five points were accrued throughout the semester, then the student no longer had to take the final exam. Dr. Dalakas implemented this across two different sections of the same course and found there was a difference in performance across the two sections. Why might this be?
In the first section, the final was presented as required, but the students could earn the right not to take it. In this case, not taking the final is framed as a potential gain. Only 43% of the students earned 5 points. In the second section, the final was presented as optional, but students could lose the right not to take it. In this case, not taking the final is framed as a potential loss. A whopping 82% of the students earned 5 points. Dr. Dalakas related these results to loss aversion: the amount of pain we feel for losing something is higher than the joy we feel for gaining the same thing.
This strategy of motivating students reminded me of a talk at NITOP on gameful design. Dr. Tom Heinzen discussed how higher education is already a game and how we can use principles of game design to create an experience for our students. The five main principles were the experience, onboarding, leveling up, failing forward, and stories. Some of these principles are already embedded in Dr. Dalakas’s approach. For instance, onboarding could be accomplished on syllabus day when you first explain the concept. Leveling up occurs throughout the semester as students accrue points. Failing forward can happen anytime a student loses a point; they’ll have another opportunity to earn that point back. Depending on how the course and lectures are structured, the remaining principles of game design could be incorporated.
Implementing this idea or something similar creates a class environment that’s motivating for students. Also, structuring the quizzes like mastery questions (explained here) shouldn’t be a ton of extra work for the instructor especially if an online polling software is available.
This article displays one way to use aspects of gameful design to increase student motivation. It also highlights an important factor of motivation: loss aversion. How students interpret and experience elements of our courses should always be at the forefront of our minds when determining how to design new features.
Written by Jen Blush