Exploring the Impact of Gamification in Flipped Classrooms: Motivation and intervention

15 May 2024


(1) Eilidh Jack, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ (eilidh.jack@glasgow.ac.uk);

(2) Craig Alexander, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ (craig.alexander.2@glasgow.ac.uk);

(3) Elinor Jones, Department of Statistical Science, University College London, London, WC1E 7HB (elinor.jones@ucl.ac.uk).

3 Motivation and intervention

The pre-lecture activities were made available to students via the University of Glasgow’s virtual learning environment Moodle [2]. As such, it is straightforward for course instructors to check if students are engaging with these activities and crucially, given the flipped learning approach, whether they are engaging with them in advance of the in-person sessions.

As discussed in Section 2.1, the University of Glasgow Learning Analytics Policy allows staff to undertake learning analytics activities which enable interventions to assist students learning. From the year in which the flipped learning approach was introduced (2020-21) staff on the course were therefore monitoring engagement in pre-lecture activities through activity logs on Moodle.

For the purpose of this study, only engagement with the formative reading quizzes (pre-lecture quizzes) is measured, where activity completion can be indicated by certain conditions being met (e.g. whether a student has received a grade for a quiz), rather than students being able to manually mark completion (e.g. for link to reading from course textbook). This means that we cannot measure and compare engagement across all pre-lecture activities and we may be misrepresenting true engagement as some students may choose to read the textbook but not complete the reading quiz (or vice versa). However, this should give a more reliable estimate of meaningful engagement in activities since students have to engage somewhat with the activity (e.g. start and submit the quiz) rather than being able to manually mark that the activity is complete by checking a button. This does not fully guard against non-meaningful engagement (e.g. a student could begin the quiz, complete no questions, submit, and still be counted as having completed this activity) but performance in these activities (e.g. questions attempted and marks achieved) was also checked to understand the extent of meaningful engagement.

Despite students indicating that they enjoyed the flipped learning approach through course evaluation forms, when looking at the data it was clear that engagement in the pre-lecture quizzes was extremely low. For example, the average completion of pre-lecture quizzes in advance of the active learning session taking place was 6.88% in semester 1 of 2022-23. This was of concern to course instructors given the in-class sessions involved spending less time presenting material and more time engaging in active learning activities as per the goal of flipped learning. This pattern was persistent over a number of years. Given that the introduction of the new courses coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, it was also difficult to disentangle the lack of engagement with the flipped learning material, and the general lack of engagement HE institutions saw over the course of the pandemic ([Wester et al., 2021]).

Figure 1: Cumulative mean percentage of students engaging in weekly pre-lecture quizzes across each semester of interest. Figure (a) shows data for semester 1 in academic year 2022-23 before the Level Up! intervention was implemented. Figure (b) shows data for semester 2 in academic year 2022-23 after the Level Up! intervention was implemented. Figure (c) shows data for semester 1 in academic year 2023-24 after the Level Up! intervention was implemented.

The academic year of 2022-23 saw a return to campus for the majority of teaching but the issue of low engagement in pre-lecture activities persisted. This is demonstrated in Figure 1 (a) which shows the cumulative mean percentage of students engaging in the pre-lecture quizzes for each week across an 11 week period in semester 1 of 2022-23. Each coloured line represents the cumulative average percentage of students who have engaged in the collection of quizzes associated with one week of teaching over the course of the semester (an average is shown here since each week may have a number of quizzes for students to complete). Of most interest is the level of engagement in the pre-lecture quizzes for the week in which the material is covered in class, which is represented by the first point for each weekly line in Figure 1 (a). These figures are also presented in column 1 of Table 1. This figure starts off low (around 27%) for week 1 and continues to drop for each week of material, before reaching a point around week 7 where less than 5% of students have engaged with the pre-lecture quizzes on the week in which the material is covered in class. Another interesting feature of Figure 1 (a) is the pattern of engagement for each collection of weekly quizzes over the semester. Although the engagement in the weekly material does increase slightly over the semester, at most only about half of the students in the class have ever engaged with the material at all on average for week 1, and after week 8 this drops to less than 25%. Interestingly, for all weeks an increase in average engagement can be seen between weeks 10 and 11 and we believe this to be related to exam preparation as the exam takes place immediately after the course finishes. These features are clearly of huge concern to the course instructors as they indicate that not only are students not engaging with the pre-lecture quizzes ‘on time’ to benefit from a flipped approach, the majority of students aren’t engaging with the materials at all across the entire duration of the course.

Figure 2: The left-hand image shows the Level Up! block that students can see on the Moodle course page. The right-hand image shows the leaderboard view that students can see within the Level Up! block.

In an attempt to tackle this low engagement the decision was made to add an element of gamification to the course which would encourage students to engage in the pre-lecture activities. This was implemented through the the Level Up! Moodle plug-in[3] which was introduced to the course in semester 2 of 2022-23. Level Up! allows students to gain points by participating in the course via Moodle. Points were awarded for the completion for a variety of course activities including the pre-lecture activities, tutorial questions, lab materials, and assessed quizzes and points were awarded based on completion only, i.e. the points system was endeavour-based and not merit-based. In an attempt to explicitly tackle engagement in the pre-lecture activities, full points were only awarded if the activity was completed before the associated lecture/tutorial/lab with half-points being awarded thereafter. Figure 2 shows how this plug-in is integrated within the course Moodle page with the left-hand image showing the Level Up! block that students can see on the main course page and the right-hand image showing the leaderboard view which shows students where they rank individually on an anonymous leaderboard throughout the semester. There is also an option to view where the students’ tutorial group rank in a team leaderboard.

Level Up! was initially introduced in an attempt to increase engagement in pre-lecture activities in semester 2 of the 2022-23 academic year and, after initial success, introduced from semester 1 of the 2023-24 academic year. This allows us to make a number of comparisons which form our questions of interest:

  1. How do engagement levels in pre-lecture quizzes compare after the implementation of Level Up! between the same students across two courses.

  2. How do engagement levels in pre-lecture quizzes compare after the implementation of Level Up! within the same course across two academic years.

Table 1: Mean percentage of students engaging pre-lecture materials during teaching week across each semester.

This paper is available on arxiv under CC BY 4.0 DEED license.

[2] https://moodle.org/

[3] https://moodle.org/plugins/block_xp