Home Educational Games & Gamification Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed

Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed


Continuing from last week's post about “The Gamification of Education”, this week we bring you a guest post from Justin Marquis, who examines the why's and how's of incorporating game based learning elements into the higher education curriculum.

The gamification movement is in full-effect with its fair share of proponents and opponents. Those in favor of the idea most often cite student motivation and the ability of games to simulate real world circumstances so that learners can safely explore these environments without endangering themselves or others. Those on the other side of the argument think gamification is just a fad and that there is no real transfer of what is learned in games to the real world. There is enough research on both sides to support either point of view, but perhaps those most opposed to the incorporation of games into their curriculum just don't know where to begin? For those on the fence, here is guide for getting started with introducing games into the higher education classroom.

Gamification of Education picture image

Why Games in Higher Ed?
Drawing on game designer Jane McGonigal's inspired thinking about using games to make the world a better place, there are four reasons that gaming is an excellent fit for higher ed:

  • Urgent Optimism: Incorporation of games specifically designed to align students with real problems centered in the discipline being studied, provides learners with a sense of urgency to solve the problems they encounter, and gives them a sense of optimism, both in terms of solving the immediate problem and any other problems they may encounter.
  • Social Engagement: Games provide the content, structure, and medium for focused social interactions aimed at solving problems. In the gaming environment, in the classroom, and all across campus, the injection of game-based problems provides students with a reason for learning, interacting, and working together in ways only rarely seen on the traditional campus by extending learning beyond the classroom and beyond the campus.
  • Blissful Productivity: People are happiest when they are working hard toward attainable goals. Gamification helps students to become blissfully focused on virtual problems by asking insightful questions and developing solutions to real issues.
  • Epic Meaning: Theory without application has little place in a world that is all about hands-on experiences, interacting with the world, and creative thinking. Students learn best by doing and college should be about helping students to change the world. The gamification of higher education bridges those two areas by providing students with the skills and knowledge needed to effect the changes they want to see in the world.

These are the big reasons to include games in the higher education curriculum, but they are not the only reasons. Having fun and being engaged are some of the most appealing side effects of a game-based curriculum on students. The question remains – where to begin?

Getting Started with the Game-based Classroom
Starting slowly is the key for those new to gamification in higher education. Trying to jump straight into a game-based curriculum is not only ill-advised, but probably impossible.  Introducing games into the classroom will require a conscious plan and a slow incorporation of game elements in the early stages of course design. Here's how to start:

  1. Determine the course objectives and do some basic searching to see if others are meeting similar objectives with games or if there are games that could be used to meet specific learning goals. An excellent place to begin both looking for resources and connecting with a community that will be happy to support gamification efforts is at Games for Change. This community dedicated to the use of games in learning provides F2F meetups as well as a wealth of options for connecting with others online.
  2. Once several suggestions for games that might meet the learning objectives have been found, sit down and play the games to determine if they meet the course goals. Keep in mind that it takes @40 hours to complete many games, so start planning and playing early in the process. There are also many smaller games that can be equally useful in the classroom and that don't take much time to learn – Angry Birds is one example that could provide an excellent introduction for physics students.
  3. While playing, start thinking about the logistics of using games in the classroom. Will students be required to purchase the game? Does the classroom have enough computers or is an appropriate room accessible? Will the campus IT department support the installation of games? If not, are there online options available?
  4. Also, begin to think about how to evaluate student success in playing games. Most games have built-in feedback and progress is easy to track. Will students be required to reach a certain level, fulfill certain game objectives, or just play for X number of hours? Decide based on actually playing the game, what best aligns with the course objectives.
  5. Finally, think about where the game best fits into the curriculum. Is it an introduction to a concept, a transitional activity, or a summative exercise? Remember that there will also need to be time allowed to either teach students to play or for them to learn on their own. Some games can have a steep learning curve, so be ready to help students at first.

These are some of the basic steps for getting starting in thinking about how games could support learning in the higher education classroom. Another option to consider is the possibility of having students make their own simple games. There are hundreds of free resources available for this and having students create the games themselves opens up a whole new array of learning possibilities. Either way, gaming can provide a refreshing spark in any field. Once gamification has started, it is just a short hop to creating an entirely game-based curriculum.

Justin Marquis, Ph.D. is a blogger for the OnlineUniversities.com blog Education Unbound, where he writes about education news, technology, and lifestyle. He holds a doctoral degree instructional systems technology and teaches educational technology at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
The Gamification of Education and Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Learning Benefits
7 Free Online Educational Game Sites (Help Kids Keep School Skills Sharp During Summer)

StickPick – An individualized learning app for the iPad and iPhone that leverages Bloom’s Taxonomy


  1. […] Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed Guest post by Jane Wolff. The current trend towards the increased use of games and game mechanics in instructional situations could probably have been foreseen quite some time ago. Stretching right back to the primitive gaming technology of the ZX Spectrum in the early 80′s, kids were hooked. As a wider variety and higher quality of educational games have been produced, it is really no surprise that educationists have gravitated towards further use of them as tools in the learning environment. Is this necessarily a positive development, however? A recent article on the subject makes for interesting reading. […]

  2. I really appreciate the framework of if/how to incorporate games into a course:
    1) WHY? Start by looking at course objectives
    2. TRY? Give the games a test drive
    3) IF? Consider if the classroom technology, setup and IT will support this game. Are online options available? Flipping?
    4) HOW? How will you monitor, measure and assess learning?
    5) WHEN? Is this game best as a transitional activity? A preview to a lesson? A summary?

    Nice article!

  3. Creating epic meaning for students is huge! Especially if by “epic” you recognize the creation of a story by and through the activity. Professional researchers do this daily…some of the most successful professionals are “gamify”-ing their work already.

  4. Dear Mr. Walsh, we also believe in gamification and appreciate any of your thoughts and ideas on that topic! Thank you for that post.

    Despite our love for technology we are wondering what people think about traditional games for kids and nannies to play outdoors and indoors. Does anyone have an idea how to combine smart phones and tablets and use them for playdates outdoors?

    How can we combine old games with new technology and include gamification not only in the learnig process but also into sports and childrens physical development?

    Ideas and help are much appreciated!

    http://enannygames.com- help nannies take better care of our future!


  5. Now, I’m not the one with a PhD, but I’d argue that “gamification” and “game-based learning” are two distinct phenomena, and that “game-based learning” is *not* part of the “gamification” movement. I’m interested in both, but I think it’s important not to confuse them.

  6. […] there are many cutting-edge educators that have recognized the value of a good videogame. Articles like this one, which offers a guide to integrating a game-based curriculum into higher educ…. But it’s still the road less traveled, and I think that’s a mistake. It means we’re not […]


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