Marc Fortier


Ontario Tech University


The traditional classroom has become a thing of the past as it lacks the ability to engage and motivate students. This paper seeks to bring forth ways in which gamification and Games-Based Learning (GBL) can be used to engage and motivate students while building and promoting 21st century skills. Classcraft (Classcraft, 2019), a role-playing game used to encourage positive behaviour through a gamified framework has been shown, when used properly, to enhance student engagement and motivation in an educational setting. There is also evidence that when there is a lack of support, students do not benefit from all its advantages. This paper highlights and compares two different classes that gamified their classrooms using Classcraft, while providing evidence to show that proper support and implementation of the program can lead to more positive results. This paper also looks at how Ananth Pai, a teacher from Minnesota, used web-based games to increase his slightly below level grade 3 class to a mid-fourth grade level in maths and language in just 16 weeks. Building communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills are amongst some of the 21st century skills that can be developed by gamifying a classroom.

Keywords: Classcraft, Engagement, Games-Based Learning (GBL), Gamification, Motivation, 21st Century Skills


Little Johnny is an average 10-year-old boy who goes to school and accepts this as his daily routine, as most students do. He sits in class as the teacher talks, does the work that he is given and attempts to show interest, but fails to truly pay attention. He sits there passively learning, memorizing facts, doing rote work, while counting the minutes until recess. After spending five hours at school practicing his multiplication and division, reading short stories while answering comprehension questions, and presenting a research project about Christopher Columbus; Johnny goes home where the real learning happens. He learns social skills, such as negotiating conflict, becoming independent and exploring “who he wants to be”. He builds a sense of community and fosters peer relationships, while developing his craftsmanship skills by building and creating structures. Above all this, he learns how to manage his time wisely and builds a sense of self-discipline, while collaborating and competing against dozens of people.

Johnny does not do this because his parents are forcing it on him. Quite the contrary. His parents often tell him to stop doing this and to complete his homework. How is Johnny able to develop all these skills and learn so much after school? The answer to this question is, he plays his favourite video game called Fortnite (Fortnite, 2019).

Although Fortnite would not be the type of game that would be used at a typical school, gamifying a classroom by incorporating gamification and GBL can motivate and engage students in a way that is similar to how Johnny feels when playing Fortnite. The world is changing, and education must change with it. We cannot expect to prepare students for the future using the same outdated educational system that has been used for decades.

This chapter compares the difference between gamification and Games-Based Learning (GBL), while giving examples of how Classcraft, a web-based gamification program can help in creating a gamified classroom. It also outlines how GBL can be used in a classroom to boost student motivation and engagement while increasing math and language ability by discussing how Ananth Pai, a third-grade teacher, used web-based games as a replacement to the traditional curriculum.

Background Information

Gamification was first coined by Nick Pelling in 2002, while attempting to apply gamification ideas to electronics as a way to make them fun and effective to use (Pelling, 2011). Although this term was first used in 2002, it did not gain much popularity until around a decade later. The concept of gamification is now used across a range of industries, ranging from government agencies that use it to encourage people to pay their taxes and use public transportation (Faghihi, 2014), to educational institutions as a way of increasing student motivation and engagement (Cheng, 2015, p. 269).

In an effort to prepare students for an ever-changing world and an unforeseen future, education specialists are looking at new ways of engaging, motivating and building 21st century skills in students. Gamification and Games-Based Learning (GBL) are amongst those strategies that educators are turning to. These two terms have become buzzwords in the past few years, but many people still confuse them with one another. Deterding, Dixon, Khaled and Nacke (2011) carefully define gamification as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts (p.2). The most commonly used elements in gamification in all areas are mechanics: points, badges and levels (Healey, 2019). Whereas most definitions of GBL emphasize that it is a type of game play with defined learning outcomes (Plass, J., Homer, B., & Kinzer, C., 2015). GBL gives students the opportunity to play games with goals that are typically tied to the curriculum, while building on 21st century skills. Through this process students decide on actions to take, while experiencing consequences when the wrong action is taken. It also allows them to make mistakes by experimenting in a risk-free setting. Well-designed games require its players to work on their problem-solving skills, be persistent, and to show their creativity by thinking outside the box (Scoular C, 2017).


Gamification and Games-Based Learning

Gamification and GBL are strategies that have been shown to increase student engagement, flexibility, competition and collaboration by adding a sense of fun to the classroom experience (Pho & Dinscore, 2015). In order for students to benefit from these strategies, the teacher must provide them with tasks that are neither too difficult, nor too easy in an attempt to keep them engaged and wanting more (Brunvand & Hill, 2019). Although considering the difficulty of the task is important, students quickly loose interest if they are not consistently provided with direct feedback. Brunvand & Hill (2019) state that students benefit from ongoing assessment and feedback, and when given immediately, they maintain a high level of engagement in the learning process (p.59).


Classcraft is a web-based platform that can be used to transform any classroom into a role-playing video game, by gamifying the student experience in a way that makes schooling meaningful to them while teaching to the whole student (Make School Epic, 2019). Classcraft is an Engagement Management System (EMT) that is designed to foster desired behaviours in students through a series of rewards and punishments. When students demonstrate good behaviour in class and follow classroom rules, they are rewarded with points which can help them in gaining levels, acquiring powers, advancing their avatar and supporting their team (Sanchez, Young, & Jouneau-Sion, 2016). Just as easily as they receive points for good behaviour, these points can be removed for inappropriate behaviour. Teachers are encouraged to customize the game in a way that is relevant to their school’s policy and classroom’s needs.

Two experiments were conducted with the aim of observing how Classcraft was experienced, while also recording information about how the game was implemented in both cases. The first one was done in a grade 10 History-Geography class (32 students) in Sain Bel, France; while the other was done in two grade 11 Physics classes (66 students) in Sherbrooke, Quebec (Sanchez, Young, & Jouneau-Sion, 2016).

In Table 1, there is a breakdown outlining how Classcraft was implemented and how it affected student behaviour and engagement (Sanchez, Young, & Jouneau-Sion, 2016).

Table 1
Implementation of Classcraft and its Effect on Student Behaviour and Engagement

Sain Bel, France Quebec, Canada
Method of Implementation
Grouping Students chose their own groups Groups were chosen by the teacher
Access to Technology Technical difficulties/students did not have a device/teacher used her mobile device to manage the game Each student had access to a personal computer, thus monitoring their success freely
Number of Games Played per Student Throughout the Year An average of 44.3 games were played per student throughout the year An average of 334.6 games were played per student throughout the year
Motivation Enhanced motivation, especially for low achievers Increased motivation and deeper engagement
Participation Oral participation increased More participatory behaviour
Student Behaviour Behavioural problems still existed Teams were more united
Collaboration Collaboration remained problematic Ability to self-govern
Individual powers were preferred over team powers Used points for the greater good of the team
Teams developed survival strategies

Just as anything else, the manner in which students experience and engage in learning depends on many factors. In the context of gamifying a class using Classcraft, there are some obvious differences in how it was implemented in both classrooms. The experience of the game seems to rely on a variety of variables, including institutional acceptability of the game, available equipment in class, how the teacher presents, implements and adapts the game, and the role of the teacher (Sanchez, Young, & Jouneau-Sion, 2016).

When looking at the data in Table 1, it is evident that when implemented properly and used frequently, the students start to self-govern, to work for the greater good of the team, and to display more participatory behaviour, which are examples of great communication and collaboration skills. These same students also displayed excellent problem-solving skills by working together to develop survival strategies.

Implementing a Games-Based Classroom.

GBL is an effective learning tool as it maintains student motivation, keeps them engaged, allows for some personalization and adaptability, while providing them with opportunities for graceful failure (Plass, J., Homer, B., & Kinzer, C., 2015). During Gabe Zichermann’s TED talk about “How games make kids smarter”, he refers to Ananth Pai, who is a grade 3 teacher at Parkview/Centerpoint Elementary school in Minnesota. Mr Zichermann stated that Ananth Pai replaced the standard curriculum with a video game-based curriculum of his own design (Zichermann, 2011).

As students typically learn at different stages and range in levels of ability, Mr Pai stated that it’s quite difficult for one teacher to help 25 students using human capacity alone (Pai, 2011). This realization led him to look at technology that would allow students to be independent learners using web-based games. Mr Pai found a number of games, including Timez Attack, Tutpup, Brain Age 2 and Flower Power, and connected these sites to his webpage, which the students would then navigate while listening to his guidance about how to go about learning. Some of these games focused on independent learning, while others allowed students to compete against their peers, as well as students from around the globe in real-time.

Mr Pai stated that his grade 3 class went from being a slightly below average third grade class, to a mid-fourth grade level class in maths and reading, which was done in a time span of 4.5 months (Pai, 2011).

Limitations and Barriers.

Gamifying a classroom takes a lot of work and an enormous amount of flexibility on behalf of the teacher and institution, while putting some extra responsibility on the students. Brunvand & Hill (2019) state, an effective way to implement a gamified class is to give students the freedom to choose from a variety of assignments (p. 61). This makes it difficult for teachers who prefer to have a structured set of assignments, while also putting more responsibility on the students. For teachers who find it difficult to implement a gamified classroom and are not provided with sufficient professional development, there are a number of social media communities in which teachers can join to educate themselves about gamification and GBL from others who are experts and professionals. These communities can then address the clear challenges associated with teacher learning and, in turn, enhance the quality of teaching and improve student learning outcomes (Goodyear, V., Parker, M., & Casey, A., 2019). Teachers who are not tech savvy and find it difficult to do basic troubleshooting when encountered with simple technical issues can also find it difficult when implementing a gamified classroom (Brunvand & Hill, 2019, p. 61). Points, badges, and other types of extrinsic rewards, although successful, have been shown to diminish the intrinsic motivation of some students. However, for low achievers, participation badges can be given to help counter this effect (Healey, 2019, p. 5).


As gamification and Games-Based Learning become increasingly more popular, teachers need to put the time and effort into setting up their classes for success. Gamifying a classroom needs the proper institutional support, available equipment, and a teacher that is willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone in order to present, implement, and adapt the game to their class’ needs. It should be designed in a way that allows for direct feedback, while providing clear learning objectives.

When used properly, Classcraft is a great tool that educators can use to increase student motivation, engagement and teamwork, while creating a sense of competition. Considering Ananth Pai’s method of using a variety of video games as a replacement to the traditional curriculum shows some encouraging results of GBL when done thoughtfully.

In light of these findings, there is clear evidence that gamifying a classroom can be a valuable addition to designing effective learning, when done thoughtfully. The key is in the manner in which gamification is incorporated into the lessons or class (Healey, 2019, p.7). Teachers must use knowledge of their students and the curriculum when deciding what games to use when implementing GBL, and how much time and effort they decide to dedicate to gamifying their classroom. However, further research needs to be done around gamifying a classroom and its benefits.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 Copyright © 2019 by Marc Fortier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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