Gamification – a case study

by Kelly Blackwell


This chapter looks at how structural gamification of a specific unit within a larger course can be utilised to improve student learning and motivation in a unit that has school-wide implications.


Pakistan Day is an annual event at International School of Islamabad (ISOI), where the school celebrates our host nation. An embedded part of Pakistan Day is a series of seminars delivered by prominent Pakistanis to Middle and High school students about issues facing the nation. Over the last two years the organisation of these seminars has been undertaken by the 10th Grade students as a unit during Research class. During the unit students learn about formal communication through letter writing, hosting adults, the security situation under which ISOI operates and some aspects of event organisation. Consideration is being given to gamifying the unit in order to emphasise the event planning aspect of the unit and to mitigate the demotivating effects of being required to work outside of class time in order to successfully complete the planning of the seminars.

Why Gamify?

Gamification does not mean game (Buckley & Doyle, 2014, p. 2), gamification is “using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems (Kapp, 2013, p.336) and gamification can improve student learning (Buckley & Doyle, 2014). Gamification takes game elements from games to create a system that engages students in the content and motivates them to improve (Wood & Reiners, 2015, p.3044). Structural gamification is where the design of the system takes game elements and places it around the content without changing the content (Karl, 2013), this is what is proposed here because gaming students who find the “world too slow” (Zichermann; as cited in TEDxYouth, 2011) may benefit from the additional stimulus that mimics the games they play and allows them to challenge themselves.



The application of structural gamification to this unit is aimed at increasing students’ engagement, motivating them to action and to promote deeper learning of the planning process as a whole. This is a desired learning outcome as students will be expected in subsequent years to independently plan and implement a number of events on the school calendar. Gamification can be used to encourage desired behaviours (Deterding, 2012, p.14; Prince, 2013, p.163), therefore a key aspect of designing the gamification of the Pakistan Day unit is to identify the desired behaviours.

Much of the event planning aspects of the unit need to be completed outside of the assigned class time. Through a combination of gamification rewards, eg. badges, levels and “powerups” (Martin & Ewing, 2008), the plan is to increase students’ extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. For example,  for tasks that are crucial to the success of the seminars the students will be required to take part and will receive level up or power up rewards. For tasks that need to be done, but are not part of the learning outcomes or can be completed successfully by a few students, the rewards offered will be badges. In offering students some autonomy by allowing them to choose whether to take part in some non-critical tasks students may feel increased intrinsic motivation (Kapp, 2013, p. 340). According to Robertson (as cited in Deterding, 2012, p.14) “meaningful choices” increase game players pleasure in the game, so offering students a level of autonomy in Pakistan Day unit may increase their pleasure during their learning. Another area that is linked to intrinsic motivation in gamification is the self-belief that students can master the skills and content to be learnt (Kapp, 2013, p. 340). The power ups that students can earn throughout the unit can help provide this “clear path to content or skill mastery” (Kapp, 2013, p. 341) by offering tips and outlines on how to achieve the set task they are working towards (Martin & Ewing, 2008). An additional “visible path toward mastery” (Kapp, 2013, p. 342) is the flow chart of the entire planning process that will be introduced or created at the beginning of the unit that will help students see the unit in its entirety. This aspect of event planning has been absent when the unit has been implemented with previous groups. Through showing the students the entire process, they can see the levels and challenges they need to complete as a group in order to succeed, a further motivational tool in the gamification process (Kapp, 2013, p. 358).

The goal in gamifying this unit is not to hide the learning from the students, or to make them think that the learning will be “effortless” (Kapp, 2013, p. 73), as this would not be true. The goal is in fact to make the learning more visible by introducing the entire project from the beginning of the game.

Keys to Successful Gamification

Good design is important when gamifying a unit in this way (Prince, 2013, p. 167) because bad design can lead to promoting undesirable behaviours and create a “shallow experience” (Danforth; as cited in Prince, 2013, p.167) for students. Game rules structure the learning activities and set limits on the actions the students can take (Buckley & Doyle, 2014, p. 2). The game aspects added to this unit will involve students in a learning experience that may motivate students to persevere (Prince, 2013, p. 167) when faced with the less exciting aspects of event planning.

Good design involves aligning the interests of the game designer, in this case improved learning, with the interests and motivations of the players (Buckley & Doyle, 2014, p. 1). Observations of prior students behaviour during the Pakistan Day unit show that students are motivated to complete tasks for which a grade is possible. However, many of the tasks that must be completed to run the seminar series do not align with the curriculum standards and therefore are not eligible for a grade. Here is where badges would be utilised. The badges are a public acknowledgement that a student has completed a task and earned credit (if not a grade). Through the author’s experience playing Ingress (Niantic Labs, 2015), badges are highly motivating, especially when the badges are made known to players as well as the actions for which they will be rewarded. For example, for the Pakistan Day unit, badges will be awarded for suggesting suitable speakers to invite, advertising the speakers to other students, reflective blog posts about their learning experience. Badges in Ingress also have levels, which means that players do not complete the desired behaviour just once, but repeat the behaviour in order to attain the higher level badges. This will also be utilised in the Pakistan Day unit to promote desired behaviours.

A leaderboard to show “progress and success outside of the gamification space” (Kapp, 2013, p.358) may motivate or demotivate students (Buckley & Doyle, 2014, p. 5; Wood & Reiners, 2015, p. 3041) as some students may find this “distasteful” (Antin; as cited in Deterding, 2012, p. 16). A large gap between each student on the leaderboard can also be demotivating (Wood & Reiners, 2015, p. 3039) as students may think that it is impossible to advance from their current position on the leaderboard if the gap seems unobtainable. Therefore, it is important to monitor the leaderboard to ameliorate these gaps if necessary. It is also important to ensure that the wishes of the majority of students are respected in order to minimise demotivation. The following options will be offered to students:

  • An in-real-life leaderboard and badge display on the bulletin board outside the classroom with students’ names or pseudonyms.
  • A leaderboard and badge document kept as a shared Google Doc among class members only
  • Badges as icons that can be added to student’s blogs as they are earnt.

Students will be able to choose any of the above or a combination thereof through a Google Form voting platform. The options which gain the majority votes will be implemented.

A key aspect of gaming, and therefore a component of gamification, is that “failure is not seen as an end, but as a step on the journey to mastery” (Buckley & Doyle, 2014, p. 3). In order to build this into the gamified unit, students can resubmit work, such as letters of invitation, until they are of a quality that can be sent. During this process of trial and error, they will receive feedback from the teacher as to how they can improve, via tips. Their final submission will be the one that is graded and entered into the gradebook and the leaderboard.

Feedback is also a key aspect of gaming and gamification, specifically immediate feedback Dale, 2014, p.85). In order to ensure that students receive this timely feedback, students will be able to access classmates to peer edit their work. Students who peer edit another student’s work will earn a peer-editor badge. This is an aspect of gamification that may lead to students ‘gaming’ the system (Dale, 2014, p,85) by making deals with their friends without providing the desired feedback. This will require monitoring so that the badge does not result in undesirable behaviour.


Though the author has little experience as a gamer, the gamification of the Pakistan Day unit makes pedagogical sense based on the work of experts in the field. The author’s experience with Ingress has enabled a practical and emotional understanding of the value of levelling up and badges with regards to perseverance and motivation. The gamification of this unit attempts to marry this understanding with the learning in a specific unit in order to improve student motivation and learning outcomes.



Buckley, P., & Doyle, E. (2014). Gamification and motivation. Interactive Learning Environments, 1-14.

Dale, S. (2014). Gamification: Making work fun, or making fun of work? Business Information Review, 31(2), 82-90.

Deterding, S. (2012). Gamification: Designing for motivation. Interactions, 19(4), 14-17.

Kapp, K. M. (2013). The gamification of learning and instruction field book [PDF].

Martin, J., & Ewing, R. (2008). Power up! Using digital gaming techniques to enhance library instruction. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13(2-3), 209-225.

Niantic Labs, 2015. Ingress. Retrieved from

Prince, J. D. (2013). Gamification. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 10(3), 162-169.

TEDxYouth. (2011, June 9). TEDxKids@Brussels: Gabe Zichermann: Gamification [Video file]. Retrieved from

Wood, L. C., & Reiners, T. (2015). Gamification. In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 3039-3047). IGI Global.

Part 3: Invitation

Part 3: Invitation

Inviting organisations, systems or workplaces to meet, respond & adopt the challenge of game-based learning.

In this section:

Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation).
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