Using games in teaching ‘boosts grades and student satisfaction’

Moving beyond ‘chalk-and-talk’ can have significant benefits, but many lecturers remain wary

April 21, 2024
Snakes and ladders board with one counter at the top of a snake, another at the foot of a ladder
Source: iStock/Nattawat Jindamaneesirikul

Using games to study numbers-based subjects such as maths and economics could help to boost a student’s exam grade from a low 2:1 to a near-first, a new study suggests.

Research from the University of Warwick found that, by including games in learning, student achievement and satisfaction could be significantly increased, with the number of students failing their courses falling significantly.

The study highlights that 83 per cent of courses in economics and business undergraduate statistics courses are taught exclusively using the traditional “chalk-and-talk” methods – just as they were in the 1990s.

Joshua Fullard, lead researcher on the study and assistant professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School, said that educators had not changed how statistics are taught because the old way was the most cost-effective method, and because their courses were over-reliant on textbooks.

In the research, two groups of students went through their studies, with one incorporating games into their learning and the other receiving traditional teaching methods only. The study found that the median student in the group with the games achieved a 69 per cent grade on their exam – just shy of a first – compared with 60 per cent in the control group.

The findings suggest that games benefited students of every level in a class, even those who did not get a higher grade, because the group had a significantly lower rate of failure.

Students who used games also had a much higher rate of student satisfaction, as well as higher attendance figures for lectures and seminars.

“The effects of games on students are not small or limited to some people in the class,” said Dr Fullard.

“Applied across a college or university, the increased rates of student success would result in hundreds of students not failing, achieving higher grades and being more satisfied in their learning at the same time.”

Previous evidence has suggested that both gamification and role-playing can help to improve students’ learning outcomes, but it appears that many courses are yet to embrace this innovation.

The new research suggests that even a small change in how teaching is delivered, such as adding a 10-minute activity to the end of a few seminars in a term, can have major benefits for students.

“This is an important finding for educators across disciplines because it shows that even small adjustments in our teaching can have large benefits both for our students and ourselves – educators in HE are often evaluated by student satisfaction scores,” said Dr Fullard.

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