Using Gamification to Engage Higher-Order Thinking Skills

Using Gamification to Engage Higher-Order Thinking Skills

Brian Bourke (Murray State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6331-0.ch001


Critical thinking and other higher-order thinking skills are key objectives of higher education. Through the development of higher-order thinking skills, students are able to discern information from multiple, often competing sources, make sound judgements, draw conclusions, and enact creative solutions to complex problems. However, faculty can struggle with how to help students develop higher-order thinking skills, relying instead on transmission of knowledge, focusing on what to learn instead of how to learn. In this chapter, the author provides insights into the connections between using gamification as a pedagogical approach, and the development of higher-order thinking skills. The chapter addresses perspectives on higher-ordering thinking, approaches to gamification in college courses, and concludes with recommendations for faculty in approaching gamification.
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The development of higher-order thinking skills is a primary goal of higher education (Behar-Horenstein & Niu, 2011). Through higher-order thinking, students are better able to make judgements about competing perspectives and generate their own solutions to complex issues. However, many faculty struggle with structuring their courses in ways that help students develop such critical thinking skills. Instead, faculty structure their courses to transmit knowledge, and help students learn “what to think rather than how to think” (Daud & Husin, 2004, p. 478 as quoted in Behar-Horenstein & Niu, 2011, p. 215). There are various approaches to addressing the development of higher-order thinking skills in higher education. Gamification of learning is one such approach that has gained increased attention in recent years.

Games can serve as powerful learning tools (Kapp, 2012; Nordby, Øygardslia, Sverdrup & Sverdrup, 2016). Today’s students almost expect something like gamification, due to their comfort with technology, and their expectations to be engaged beyond traditional lecture approaches (Lister, 2015). Learning comes about through game play because games designed around educational outcomes require players (e.g. students) to learn in order to progress in the game (Ke, Xie & Xie, 2016).

The approach of using games to promote learning is not new. Dewey (1938) emphasized the importance of experience in learning. Piaget (1953) observed children at play as he began theorizing cognitive development. Vygotsky (1978) considered play (particularly cooperative play) quintessential to children’s cognitive and emotional development. Gamification in education offer a means for students to experience something they might not otherwise experience (e.g. via simulation), approach learning tasks through play, and engage with other students in novel or unique ways. It makes sense that games are used for learning. Games and courses share similar characteristics: a goal, rules/guidelines for reaching the goal, voluntary participation, and feedback systems (Kulpa, 2017).

At its base level, gamification is about taking something that is not ordinarily approached as a game, and turning it into a game (Lopez & Tucker, 2017). Gamification can function as a motivator, serving as a tool to nudge students to engage in particular activities (Tan & Hew, 2016). In the context of college-level courses, faculty work to accomplish this in a variety of ways. The desired outcome of gamification is often to increase student motivation to engage in the course (Plass, 2017). When attempting to increase student motivation, faculty are often pursuing a deeper goal: promote students’ use of higher-order thinking skills. Gamification represents one possible strategy faculty can draw upon to help students progress from simplicity to complexity (Langehdahl, Cook & Mark-Herbert, 2016).

Some differentiate between gamification and game-based learning (Tan & Hew, 2016), but the author of this chapter uses gamification and game-based learning synonymously. The author uses the term in this way for two reasons. First, the author has been careful to use terminology as reflected in cited texts. Second, the author makes a point throughout the chapter that faculty borrow ideas, concepts and approaches from gamification and game-based learning in ways that suit their educational aims, teaching styles, and individual preferences and tastes. From the author’s perspective, gamification and game-based play are both about turning something into a game (e.g. a lesson on economics or a full history course) that was not originally conceived as a game. They share the common goal of using gamed elements to make learning more engaging and fun (Kapp, 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Deep Learning: Deep learning is a level of learning that reflects an individuals’ commitment to learning for the purposes of subject mastery, demonstrated by application and integration in future learning endeavors.

Gamification: Gamification reflects the use of game elements in a context that was not originally intended to be a game.

Motivation: Motivation represents the process by which individuals feel pushed or pulled to engage in a task or work to achieve a goal.

Social Presence: Social presence reflects the ability to establish and engage in purposeful relationships.

Cognitive Presence: Cognitive presence is the process by which individuals learn through educationally-driven engagement with peers.

Game: A game is a structured experience consisting of a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation, all built around an interconnected system.

Creativity: As a component of higher-order thinking, creativity is about students creating solutions to problems that go beyond what they have read or experienced directly.

Student Engagement: Student engagement represents a combination of the time and effort students expend toward educationally purposeful opportunities, along with the ways in which an institution positions supports for student learning.

Higher-order thinking: Higher-order thinking represents students’ ability to make judgements about competing perspectives, and to generate their own solutions to complex issues.

Cooperative/Collaborative Learning: As a component of higher-order thinking, cooperative or collaborative learning reflects students’ abilities to engage with peers in educationally purposeful ways toward shared learning objectives.

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