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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

Learn by Playing During a Lecture?

By Peter DeWitt — July 15, 2018 4 min read

Today’s guest post is written by Augustin de Walque, a student studying business at Virginia Tech University.

In the education field, teachers face an increasingly tough task of getting their students to pay attention and be engaged during lectures. Many teachers know that trying to ask direct questions or offer incentives can work. But these tactics tend to often fall short since students are pressured into participation and are usually reluctant to participate. For that, the use of instructional technologies, more specifically student response systems are revolutionary for both professors and students, due to its ability to integrate gamification in the classroom and engage students.

As a student, I admit that I’ve felt bored and uninterested in class numerous times. This isn’t uncommon since according to a video from the University of Paris Dauphine, students attention significantly decreases after 10 minutes during passive lectures. Whether it’s making plans for the weekend, or scrolling through social media too often, I end up using my phone and miss out on crucial information. It is thus important for instructors to change their pedagogical approach to revive students, attention and change this pattern that prevents an effective education. I have experienced the most success in classes that utilize student response systems as a form gamification.

Simply put, gamification describes the process of using games like strategies in a context that typically doesn’t feature games. I will try to focus on how teachers can establish an environment that ultimately creates organic engagement for students by captivating their attention in way that is familiar to them.

My experiences with gamification were great and turned out to be an effective method for my classmates and I to understand the material better. The platform that was most beneficial to me was Wooclap but you can find many others that can suit your needs. Such student response systems are usually used when a professor polls the classroom on the information being taught. The gamification part of the platform is presented in the “Competition mode”.

A common feature of these tools is the competitive mode that distributes points to students who get correct answers and displays a scoreboard between every question. This brought out my competitive nature during class. As a result, I would dedicate my undivided attention to the questions and try to rank the highest in the class. Not only did I pay attention in class, but it also helped me retain the information better, since I was applying what was still fresh from the lecture.

Using a student response platform is effortless (for both students and teachers), I could connect on my smartphone, tablet or laptop, and follow along and answer questions from the quiz as they appeared on my device. Not only was it easy to implement in class, but as a result I was forced to stay off the distracting apps on my phone since I was hooked to the competition and didn’t want to leave any points on the table.

However, one still needs to find a healthy balance when incorporating games within the classroom. Of course the game has to be based on class material and can’t be distracting to the point where students are only concerned with the scoreboard instead of the material. Not taking the time into account of the response distributing points, decentivies guessing as a fast as possible, and not working out the problem thoroughly. In addition, professors need to make sure to go over the information that was heavily missed among the students, and not get carried away with the competition.

Moreover, using gamification in the classroom must be beneficial for the instructors. Professors are able to teach an engaged class which makes teaching more enjoyable, and rewarding. In addition a competitive mode gives teachers immediate feedback on what questions the students didn’t understand as a whole, or which students are struggling with the material based on their score at the end of the competition.

Gamification can also be utilized at all levels of education. Throughout high school my teachers often used competitions to entice students to be motivated to learn. Gamification at the university level is fairly new concept, and turns the idea of playing, from a childish distraction to a useful tool.

Using gamification has shown to open up different parts of your brain when faced with a task. When simply listening to a presentation, students only use their working memory, which isn’t effective when trying to retain information. However, researcher Idriss Aberkane points to the fact that there is a direct correlation with animals who we deem smart, and the time they spend playing. This is due to the fact that playing opens up more parts of your brain, and therefore helps you retain more information.

In conclusion, with the help of student response platforms, gamification in the classroom adds interactivity to the classroom and gets students motivated to learn. Gamification ultimately is effective because we are all still kids at heart who enjoy games. For some including myself, the competitive aspect drives me to focus on the material. Overall the increased engagement allows students to retain the information better, which is ultimately a teacher’s goal.

Photo courtesy of Augustin de Walque.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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