#EduPLAYtion Incubator Project – Reflections on pushing the playful learning agenda

this is not going to hurt

Last year, Joe Francis and colleagues designed and implemented a multi-faceted educational intervention exploring playful, games-based learning and its impact on student engagement and satisfaction. Here’s what they found …!

When I was studying towards my PGCE in Higher Education, one particular online resource really stuck out for me. It was a simple video of an oral presentation passionately criticising the current provision of higher education and, in particular, the exceptionally poor rates of engagement and knowledge transfer observed when using unimaginative virtual learning environments and didactic teaching styles. Ever since then I have been on a journey to find innovative, student-centred teaching and learning styles and platforms fit for the learners of this generation. One such learning style, playful learning, borrows heavily from concepts that have been employed for many years by the gaming industry AND are evidenced in physiological studies on both humans and animals – so why re-invent the wheel!

This incubator project focussed on exploring ways to implement playful learning strategies through digital platforms, focussing on a pilot group of medical students whilst also acting as a springboard to promote playful learning in the wider education system.

Faculty Learning Communities and Workshops:

poster march 2019

The initial idea to host a Faculty Learning Community to discuss playful education actually turned into a rotational, monthly workshop series taking place across Exeter, Penryn and Truro. Each month groups of driven, passionate educators and students from transdisciplinary backgrounds gathered to discuss playful pedagogical interventions and strategies. Topics covered included:

  • Digital badging strategies
  • Playful software implementation in the classroom
  • Using exquisite corpse, beer matt and general board game design for learning
  • Art as an education intervention
  • The Physiology of Play
  • Playful virtual learning environment design

The faculty learning communities were well attended, developing a community of practice for further collaboration and, solely from an individual purpose, hugely transitioned my practice from my singular department to cross-discipline collaborations that are still ongoing now!

imagesDesign and Procurement of Digital Learning Tools

In tandem with the rotational ‘playful’ workshops, informal action research was undertaken to gain student perspectives of the current virtual learning environment with the intention of finding an area of the curriculum that could justifiably be enriched through a trial of a digital, playful learning intervention. Co-design in this way outlined that an area within the Year 5 curriculum would be a perfect host for just such a pilot.

This is the point at which the enormity of gamification became exceptionally apparent. My perspective was that, on the surface, introducing a playful intervention into a specific curriculum area seemed simple – the reality however, was very different. There is a plethora of playful learning platforms, tools, apps, websites, and software packages available on the market ranging from simple quiz based platforms to full gaming systems. Whilst secretly my desire was to develop an entirely new gaming software package to turn the year 5 curriculum into an augmented reality fantasy saga … the hard reality is that

  1. I had no idea about software design
  2. I still had to pay attention to my teaching role in the medical school and couldn’t lose myself in testing out all the games in the world
  3. Amazing results can be gained by effectively employing simple playful strategies without the need to develop the next Halo 3 game …!

Here’s what we did:

  1. We filmed clinical scenarios and gamified the videos using H5P.
  2. We procured an automated, quiz-based software package called Redgrasp that sends out a single ‘Question of the Day’ on Monday/Wednesday/Friday of each week to selected students’ e-mail inboxes. The questions are mobile phone friendly and are designed by the teaching team and constructively align to the required learning content
  3. The students answer the questions in teams and gain points, places on leaderboards and digital badges, working towards an eventual ‘End of Campaign Prize!’
  4. The feedback from each question direct the student to the interactive videos and other online learning content on their VLE.

FLC process

What have we found in piloting this simple, playful intervention? …

So far we’ve had some excellent feedback from the Redgrasp technology, the interactive clinical skills masterclasses and our Half Hour Homework pages on the VLE continue to get increased engagement in comparison to last year. What has stood out for me is the ability to use the gamified ‘Question of the Day’ software as an attractive ‘opener’ for students to engage online through playful competition. Once attention is achieved, direct hyperlinks guide the learners through to a constructively aligned UEMS interactive clinical skills masterclass or our year 5 Half Hour Homework sections, creating a loop of learning. I’ve seen week on week an increasing engagement with the resources, informal feedback from students is really positive and in the last couple of weeks I’ve had e-mails with comments such as the below:

‘A lot of us are having fun with the quiz platform so far.’
These are so brilliant. Thank you so much for organising these.’

Here is a typical journey through the gamified software platform:

student journey 1

student journey 2The reaction from students has been fantastic. Week on week we are achieving 80% or more engagement with the platform, which is leading to better overall engagement with our virtual learning environment. We aim to further this in the future, based upon feedback gained from our initial pilot programme, and hope to incorporate similar strategies to wider cohorts of students.


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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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