Mohawk College 

Ahead of the game

Overview

Shaun Iles hated high school. He endured it for as long as possible then dropped out. But the experience stayed with him and over time he began to understand the source of his frustration: he had no control. He returned to his education, advancing again and again until he himself became an educator.

Now a professor at Mohawk College, Iles is driven to put education in the hands of learners. When he had the opportunity to take his Sustainability course online, he did something wonderfully unexpected: he turned it into a game.

Challenge

A Need for Differentiated Learning

The cookie-cutter approach to education didn’t work for Iles. It didn’t work for him when he was a student and it didn’t work for him as an educator.  “Back then I was constantly being told what to learn and how to learn it. I think the massive flaw in our education system is that there’s no differentiated learning,” says Iles.

Suddenly Education Stops Being Fun

Very young children learn through games and simulation. But, says Iles, “Somewhere around eleven years old, education changes.” He explains, “If you think about it, some of the biggest lessons we learn as human beings come when we’re ten years old running around the schoolyard playing hide and seek and cops and robbers and kissing tag. We learn our moral obligations while having fun.”

“Then someone tells us to sit down and listen, and that takes away a lot of that drive to learn. Suddenly students are forced into a one-size-fits-all rigid learning environment that doesn’t take into account each student’s unique learning needs. But I think we learn better when we’re having fun. When we’re having fun we’re increasingly engaged—it reduces some of the barriers to education.”

Solution

Set Your Own Pace, Just Like a Game

Iles saw the potential in the Brightspace platform and began researching gamification. He thought about what made games so much fun when he was a kid—succeeding at tasks, leveling up and collecting bonus points—and set about injecting the same thrills into his lessons.

“I use gating on Brightspace with the help of restrictions so students only see one module at a time,” says Iles. Each of six modules includes background readings, inter-activities, reflections and a quiz. “You can go as fast as you like up until the midterm. You can even play for seven hours straight and beat the game. If you can get the work done and accomplish the grades, why not? Students take their own personal learning paths to achieve the course outcomes.”

Iles explains that recorded lectures also help students learn at their own pace: “To get all the information from a lecturer in one sitting is impossible, so I post short fifteen-minute lecture videos. You can review them once or 100 times—as often as it takes until you understand.”

Prizes, Bonus Points and Silly Videos—Learning Has Its Rewards

As students work through the modules, they’re met with surprises and rewards. Iles says, “If you get 100 percent on a quiz, you get a bonus mark along with a silly video that comes with a congratulatory message.”

He also uses the Intelligent Agents tool, an automated email tool that springs into action when students hit specific criteria or conditions, to connect students to various areas of the college. “If you get 100 percent on every quiz on your first attempt, the Sustainability Office is automatically notified and presents you with a gift. It’s all completely automated so I don’t have to monitor 160 students. The Brightspace platform is like my own personal assistant that works in the background keeping students engaged, motivated and moving toward success.”

What the students really like, according to Iles, is that they don’t know which assignments come with bonus marks. He says, “And I think that really drives them. They also like the funny videos, which I change all the time to keep students motivated.”

Easy to Scale, Easy to Help Students

As gamification increased the popularity of the Sustainability course, Iles was able to scale it with minimal effort and even be of more assistance to his growing student cohort. “Using the tools we have integrated into the Brightspace platform, I was able to create a course that addresses many potential student questions. Embedding “quick info” Kaltura videos and the Intelligent Agents tool help to redirect students to resources so the course is easy to navigate and the content is much easier to understand.”


“Rather than a learning management system, I like to think of Brightspace as a learning enhancement system. A management system can lock you in. Brightspace comes with a hundred great tools but it can connect you to external tools as well. So I think it’s a really strong enhancing platform that makes your pedagogical approach to your specialty a hundred times stronger than it would be without it.”
Shaun Iles, Professor, Mohawk College

Result

Gamification Improves Student Engagement

According to Iles, the Sustainability course suffered a 50 percent student withdrawal rate before gamification. That number’s been reduced by 25 percent.[1]  Iles believes it’s because students are more engaged now. “They really take to the game elements, like the hidden unlockable rewards that lead to larger rewards later in the course. It’s really amazing what they’ll do for that funny video.”

Students Are Flocking to It—and Saying Great Things

Since taking the course online, the average class size has skyrocketed from 30 students to 160. It’s not just attracting students from across the college—it’s teaching them a thing or two. Iles says that before gamification the success rate was 63 percent and now it’s 83 percent.[2]

[1] Results courtesy of Mohawk College
[2] Ibid.