Using Games In The Classroom To Increase Engagement

Classroom Gaming ETS #72

The UK press recently reported that, thanks to smartphones “we have ‘evolved’ to an attention span shorter than goldfish” and that people’s attention span has now decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds in 2016. It is not surprising that smartphones are getting bad press, but can they be used to actually enhance learning in and out of the classroom?

According to the Nielsen research centre, Australians spend 35 percent of the time devoted to their mobile devices playing games and using gaming apps. Therefore, it seems a good idea to leverage this focus on games to increase overall classroom engagement, lengthen the attention span of students and improve overall learning performance.

 The following outlines some ideas to use games in the classroom.

It is just Fun

Apart from gaming making the learning experience more fun, the competition and gamework involves helps to keep students’ brains alert and focused. Young adults particularly enjoy games and they receive specific and immediate feedback if they make a mistake. This enables them to know exactly where they went wrong, a feedback method which is lacking in most traditional educational methods.

Level Up the Game

Levels are the base of video, computer and smartphone games. Players usually start with a tutorial level and they move forward to more complex scenarios as they ‘level up’. Levels allow students to compete with each other in a healthy way while acquiring knowledge. They can also benchmark themselves against their past performance. Levels are fun, so why not introduce levels instead of modules? Level Up My Life is a software app that lets players track their achievements in real life with a game plan. It can be easily applied to any classroom experience and has character and quest-creating capabilities.


Badges are a classic method for recognising and rewarding accomplishments. They apply very well to long-term classroom gaming experiences. Most students already know how a badge system works – different activities earn a player ‘experience’ in different areas and a certain amount of points or achievement earns the player a ‘badge’ in that same area. The educational social media site Edmodo includes pre-made badges, as well as the availability for teachers to create or upload their own.

In-game Economy

This theme is very popular in hit games and often enables players to find money hidden around, pick pocket or loot other players. Players are often awarded points for being good citizens. One teacher improved engagement in her class by introducing a badge system that rewarded students for tutoring each other. Each student had badges to give away to others when they helped him or her with assignments and homework. The student that helped the most collected the most points, of course. This worked in two ways – students needed to know the material and explain it well, which reinforced learning. The other added benefit was the atmosphere of collaboration rather than competition. Another aspect is that students were empowered to decide who deserved more points, rather than the teacher having all the classroom power.

Modify the Experience

One of the main themes for engaging the new generation of Millennials and Gen Z is the personalisation of experiences. The biggest sin for the new generations is to be like everyone else. Modifying the gaming and learning experience is a way to help students ‘own’ the learning process, to make it their own. For example, offering students video, text and audio and allowing them to choose which method to use to go through a lecture is one way to do it.

Hidden Objects

These are commonly called ‘Easter eggs’ in the gaming industry. In video games, for example, there can be hidden treasures that are not crucial for levelling up, but give a much-needed boost. How can these hidden objects be used in academic education? One example is to offer a grade increase for those that find hidden quotes in learning materials. Students that collect all quotes get bonus points on their grade. Hiding them well in the text means that students have read the whole material carefully. And it is more engaging than just giving extra tasks for credits.

Games in the Classroom

Young adults are engaged in the games they play because they learn as they go, by doing. There is not an instruction manual for HALO or Candy Crash; gamers learn by playing. If the same concept is applied to the classroom, students will be more engaged and acquire skills and competencies without even noticing.

Business Plan Game

One very successful example, incorporated in the introduction year of the Hanzehogeschool Groningen in The Netherlands is the Business Plan Game. In it, students that have not yet had a single class on business, take roles and play ‘startup’. They learn as they make mistakes and are given relevant information in the form of textbooks and lectures to improve their virtual startup’s performance as they go.

Recent research has shown that the use of games in the classroom is becoming mainstream. And the reason is simple – the more teachers use games in the classroom, the more they see improvements in students’ engagement. The effect is especially noticeable with students who otherwise perform poorly. However, there is a minority of teachers not yet utilising the power of games because they are unsure of how to integrate them in the classroom. Hopefully this article has given those teachers a few ideas on using games to increase engagement. The discovery and preparation of games is a time and energy-consuming task, but the effort is worth it.

So, what do you play in your classroom? And what are you going to do to engage your students tomorrow? Jeopardy anyone?

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Katherine Hawes

Katherine Hawes

Director of Education and Training at Aquarius Education
Katherine Hawes is the founder of Aquarius Education. As well as running her own legal practice, Katherine combines her passion of law and education by lecturing at several universities across Australia. She is a popular speaker and also offers a range of legal training courses and workshops through Aquarius Education.
Katherine Hawes

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