Spicing Up Professional Development with Gamification and Interactivity: A Case of Maximising Engagement for an Advanced Higher Education Fellowship Programme in China
Imagine an online class where you just read and watch videos, and then post your thoughts on a forum for others to read. Boring and plain, right? Would you rather try your best to escape from peril, overcome an obstacle, or better experience curriculum while engaging in deep learning?
The pursuit of designing an engaging learning experience has long intrigued educators, and the task becomes even more formidable when it comes to asynchronous learning. A team of educational developers undertook the challenge head-on. Their goal? To recreate a personalised and interactive professional development programme that captivates learners at their own pace. By infusing gamified elements and embracing emerging technologies like HTML5 Package (H5P), they aimed to transform the learning experience into an immersive journey that promotes active participation, empowers learners, and enhances professional growth.
The Dilemma of Engagement in Blended Learning
Blended and hybrid learning has seen a surge in popularity since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, as it provides learners with increased flexibility and diversified methods to engage with the learning materials. Additionally, this learning mode enables learners to personalise their learning experience according to individual preferences and needs. However, designing effective blended or online courses that maintain student engagement and motivation can be challenging. In Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), a group of educational developers experimented with incorporating interactive learning content using emerging technologies such as H5P, along with the implementation of gamification elements, to make asynchronous learning experience more interactive, enjoyable, and engaging.
The Development of the Course
The course to be adapted is called Active Learning and Student Engagement and is part of the Advance HE Fellowship programme at XJTLU. In completion of the programme, participants (teachers in the university) will be awarded the Fellowship, which is often necessary for employment as an instructor in UK-style institutions. The course goal is to introduce a few active learning strategies and showcase how technologies can be used to make the activities more engaging, enjoyable, and inclusive. Furthermore, the course aims to encourage participants to reflect on how they may integrate these strategies into their own teaching practices.
In its previous format, the course was delivered through a two-hour workshop, during which the instructors would introduce the activities and technologies through hands-on experiences. However, choosing activities and technologies to include in a mere two-hour workshop proved to be difficult due to the abundance of options available and the diverse interests of the participants. To address this limitation, a creative solution emerged: transforming the workshop into an asynchronous course designed as a series of captivating digital escape rooms hosted on Moodle, XJTLU's Learning Management System (LMS).
In this revamped format, participants must navigate through various digital escape rooms, progressing from one room to another. Their ultimate goal is to collect the coveted trophy and the attendance code. To successfully move forward, participants must not only engage with their preferred learning materials but also demonstrate their level of acquisition of specific knowledge by entering the correct password for the next room. This innovative approach provides an immersive and interactive learning experience, allowing participants to explore at their own pace and actively demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the course content at the same time.
A snapshot of the first two digital escape rooms
A snapshot of students being prompted to enter the password for a digital room
Inside each room, participants can immerse themselves in a wealth of interactive resources. Engaging in animated videos where quizzes are seamlessly incorporated can promote active learning and provide a real-time assessment. In addition, a network of links serves as a guide to supplementary materials, unveiling comprehensive insights and fostering a deep understanding of the course topics. Students are given the freedom to explore interactive resources, which allows them to handpick and customise their learning experiences with the active learning activities that intrigue them most. Besides, they can interact and collaborate with their peers through an embedded Padlet, which offers participants a platform to collectively construct knowledge and share teaching practices, fostering a dynamic and enriching learning community.
A snapshot of the Padlet activity in which participants can share their ideas and experiences
A snapshot of the interactive book activity in which the learners will be able to click on the "+" to learn more about the activities of their choice, and scan the QR code to play with the H5P activity
To infuse excitement and enhance the visibility of learning progress, we used the "Level up!" function in Moodle. Upon completing activities, participants can earn badges and accumulate experience points, adding a sense of achievement and progression to their learning journey. Both participants and instructors can monitor their accomplishments and track progress through a leader board. This leader board fosters a sense of healthy competition, motivating participants to strive for excellence and showcasing their educational milestones.
A snapshot of the "Level up!" function with badges, points, and leader board
Within the course, the course development team at XJTLU incorporates meta-design tips to showcase the thoughtful construction of activities. These tips serve as a guide for learners who appreciate specific design elements and wish to explore and implement similar approaches in their own teaching practices. By sharing these insights, the team empower the participating educators to adopt and incorporate successful design strategies, thus cultivating creativity and innovation in their own educational endeavours.
A snapshot of the meta-design texts using the H5P Accordion activity. The text is collapsible
Achievement + Impact
Learners found that the use of H5P improved their performance, productivity, and effectiveness in learning. To evaluate the impact of this innovative approach, a survey was conducted among the 51 participants in the course. The findings with a 67% completion rate demonstrated a strong positive response from learners, with an 80% satisfaction rate towards the learning materials, 84% towards the activity design, and 76% towards the layout. Participants also expressed their appreciation for the interactive nature of the H5P activities and the escape rooms as they found the H5P features efficient in ensuring focused engagement with the learning materials. One participant wrote, "Finding the password to escape from one room is a very efficient way to make sure learners really pay attention to the learning materials." Another participant also wrote, "I like the interactivity and engagement that are afforded by H5P activities. For example, I can spend more or less time on any questions or activities in class or out of class depending on my preference and interest." The survey results also suggests that self-paced learning relieved the stress of a real-time workshop. "I can try many times for certain questions,” a participant said, “no pressure from peers or teachers when answering the question."
However, the survey also sheds light on a challenge in course design: the need to expand assessment beyond lower-order thinking skills to encompass higher-order thinking skills within the password-enabled escape room design.
Reflections + Lessons Learned
Designing an asynchronous course goes beyond simply compiling videos on a website or a learning management system. It entails a meticulous approach, involving the strategic chunking of learning materials, thoughtful content structuring, and the incorporation of elements to track learners' progress. Leveraging digital escape rooms, gamification elements, and H5P has proven highly effective in creating engaging and enjoyable self-paced learning experiences within asynchronous courses. These innovative tools serve as vehicles to enhance learner engagement, making the journey both captivating and fulfilling.
We will also look towards the future and introduce the concept of deep gamification (gamification considered along a spectrum as it embodies Webb's (1997) Depth of Knowledge) as a guiding principle of design for learning to ensure that digital learning activities are constructively aligned.
The idea is that gamification and competition are a starting point but insufficient for gamified curriculum and learning design, as some participants engage in competition for their own sake rather than for learning. Deep gamification calls for the game, scores, completion, and involves the demonstrations of stated learning outcomes, rather than merely the solution to puzzles or achieving high scores in competition. The essential aspect of this depth is that it reaches all learners through the game by requiring students to express their conceptual knowledge of learning outcomes as a component of game design for learning. A further step is to involve students in game design and test play.
Webb, N. (1997). Research Monograph Number 6: “Criteria for alignment of expectations and assessments on mathematics and science education. Washington, D.C.: CCSSO.

Olivia Yiqun Sun, Charlie Reis, Yezi Yang, Yexiang Wu,
Academy of Future Education

21 September 2023

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