Gamification and closing the feedback loop

Newcastle College

This project intended to study and develop rich feedback within the classroom using the tool of gamification. The project set out to assess how gamification can develop the teachers’ activity toolkit and create fulfilling, deep and rich feedback which empowers the students.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


This project started off as two projects, one focused on how feedback was developed within the classroom to encourage student autonomy and the other angled towards using game mechanics to motivate students.

This merging of projects was ideal for our organisation, a large FE inner city college. We realised there was a theme occurring within our staff reflections that feedback felt ‘meaningless’ and students didn’t engage with the process. We had to consider how we inspire our staff to become more proactive and reinvigorated, especially with the ever-changing hybrid delivery models of continued imposed lockdown measures.


Our project intended to develop engaging and meaningful feedback and decided to use gamification as the tool to help with this. We felt this was important for three reasons:

  • to introduce feedback approaches which could be applied within blended delivery
  • to develop staff CPD to support students
  • to challenge a ‘fail mentality’ evident in students having to re-sit a core subject.

We had to consider what would be effective in hybrid delivery because originally our project intentions considered multiple forms of feedback and was heavily reliant on face-to-face delivery. This focusing in of the research was responsive to our colleagues and students who felt the disconnect between online learning and the class meant a lack of continuity in topics and feedback. Our rationale then became to engage and develop that immediacy to get rich learning experiences back in the classroom and we chose gamification as the vehicle of this change.


We broke the project into a cycle similar to that of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1984) See Appendix 7.

Phase 1: Conceptualising/trialling
The two project leads found activities and approaches that would fit into the gamified feedback approach, including:

  • card sorting activities that could you used in a variety of level challenges
  • ‘Collaborate Boards’ (Nearpod) where learners could share their ideas in either work or image form and instant feedback can be given from teacher and peers
  • polls
  • ‘Draw It’ (Nearpod) – a useful tool for annotation of texts
  • ‘Time to Climb’ (Nearpod) and quizzes – gamified quizzing in the class where the students could pit themselves against each other.

We intended to use this phase to encourage our staff and students to lead the research and feed back which concepts would work. Instead, due to COVID-19, we only tested immediate feedback approaches which allowed our project to be manageable in the circumstances. We used Nearpod, an online interactive student engagement platform, to support our hybrid delivery model. Examples of such activities can be found in Appendix 2 and 5.

We were moving our practice from ‘here’s everything you don’t know for your grade’ to one of ‘here is where you are on your journey’ and staff and students tackled learning as an experience or ‘level’ rather than an end goal task. This shift in learning dynamic transcended digital delivery and started integrating within classes and teams as an expectation.

One student noted, “my classes feel more energised lately”.

They also seemed to become more independent in a home learning situation with feedback such as,

“I don’t need my teacher for this”.

Phase 2: Reviewing and finalising
The leads invited staff who would ‘buy in’ to this process to help lead and develop the research. Activities were then trialled in a range of classes. The reason we wanted a spread of vocational aspects and ages was to allow us to tackle some perceived challenges of gamified feedback. It was felt this would only work with more artistically inclined students so picking a spread of staff and cohorts to deliver gamified learning to allowed us to see if these initial thoughts were warranted.

Phase 3: Implementation and experimenting
The project team delivered our proposed activities to the students. We wanted this to be with the students and encouraged them to shape the project as our intention was to empower the students and not merely impose ‘sanctions’. For us to be able to evaluate, we carried out student polls using Likert scales on approaches, learner voice activities and polls to see which activities were perceived successful. (See Appendix 3 and 4.)

Phase 4: Feedback and reflection
This led to collection of data and deciding next steps. Immediate feedback from learners enabled us to choose approaches that resonated with our classes. From the results of the tally chart (Appendix 5), we focused on tracker bars, timed competitions and classroom roles. From here, we then looked to our own classes to assess whether the approaches used have made a quantitative improvement to the class and used other teachers to support our findings.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

Role playing games

Role playing games

We knew the gamified feedback approaches described above would require staff development. We felt our staff might be sceptical about gamified feedback due to the many adjustments they were already making especially with the technological ‘boom’ that March and the lockdown created in the education sector. However, instead of this being a barrier, lockdown seemed to have a motivational effect on our staff. They were excited and open to new concepts, especially techniques that would tackle the student/teacher divide on digital platforms. This educational ‘reset’ led to our teams being proactive in self-led CPD and actively experimenting in the classrooms. This shift in staff perception wasn’t just within our team; we were lucky enough to deliver cross–curricular CPD around gamified learning and found many teams and areas excited by the process. Some examples of comments from the training are found in the Appendix 6.

The change in staff behaviour and openness to technology led to a change of student perception and an adjustment of power dynamics within the classroom. Resit classes which had been taught using a didactic, teacher-led approach became a collaboration between staff and student which further created a change in how planning and assessments occurred within classes. Assessment planning moved towards a ‘skill developed’ approach for instance, an experience point system. In this example, an experiential point system is a mechanic found in role playing games- starting a learner or ‘player at 0, with tasks giving experience points which equate to a level/mastery of the subject.

Nearpod gamified feedback

Nearpod gamified feedback

Staff are adapting and redesigning their approaches within a classroom. Staff engagement with gamified feedback is going beyond the methods trialled in this project. Staff are working interdepartmentally, such as an LDD and English project, to create approaches and resources that fit their learners’ needs. Colleagues are showing ownership of the techniques and a playfulness to trying new approaches within the classroom.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

Although our project intended to focus on the learner and how they engage with feedback, it has been a wonderful benefit to our project that staff and departments seem motivated to develop and engage new technologies with one another. As stated in the previous segment, the enforcement of online delivery benefitted us greatly as it changed staff mindsets to one of experimentation and engaging with new approaches. This can be seen in staff being proactive in CPD sessions where sharing best practice was the focus. Previously, teachers’ delivery model of lecturing to students encouraged learners to behave passively in classrooms. The use of new approaches seemed to invigorate the staff who took the onus of creating their own ideas and began actively sharing documents and approaches with other teachers within these sessions. This can be seen in Appendix 6 as well considering ideas such as classroom charts for points and ‘de Bono Hats’ (de Bono, 1992) for roles within classrooms.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Gamified learning has led to an improvement to the students’ work both in a quantitative manner of scoring/attendance and qualitative feedback from the students’ experiences. Here is an overview of the results of the study thus far:

  • Classes show higher levels of ‘success’ via measures. The classes reviewed for this project showed increases in attendance, notably online engagement and have achieved better standard testing results. For example, one class of adult Level 2 learners showed an average of 20% improved attendance online and have more students through their qualification then compared to a similar class last year.
  • Classes show proactivity in their own learning. Creating a learning experience with ample gamified learning has put the onus on the learners. Learners feel motivated due to constant commentary on their progress and feel they can successfully evaluate where they are achieving. This, coupled with student access to gamified tracking and progress (such as level design, scoreboards), means the student is in competition with themselves and appears more driven to improve.

Quantitative measures:
Attendance: The classes that engaged most with gamified feedback had the biggest increase/maintained level in attendance, especially within online lesson delivery. As a hypothesis, those who engaged well with the project had classes that tended to attend more and more regularly. This was seen within the apprenticeship provision and the creative art classes; however, certain provisions, such as heavily ESOL based classes did not seem to be affected by gamified learning principles as activities such as ClassDojo are regularly integrated within their learning experience.

Student quotes

Student quotes

Results: We have seen some students make progress that might be related to gamification; for example, a student demonstrated a 15% increase within his functional skills writing assessments via working independently with gamified feedback. (We used Nearpod, timed activities and student-led open-ended questions for this). In mini assessments and Functional Skills, like for like comparison of classes at this point are showing a general increase in results from the same time last year despite a prediction results would be lower due to on/off lockdown regulations. In conversing with the staff and colleagues, this is perhaps due to the two-fold effect of consistent praise/awareness of their current standing as well measurable actions for the students to engage and develop. It could also be noted that these new approaches themselves may be the invigorating factor as discussed in the previous segment.

Qualitative measures:
“I finally know where I’m at; I’m not a failure, I got this”; a quote from one FE resit student that resonated with us during this project when collecting feedback from students and staff (More examples of quotes can be found in Appendix 6). By redeveloping the feedback, the class itself feels ‘different’ and more student led. Many students commented that the teacher was ‘there to support them’ and not merely ‘going over the same topics from school’.

This was a welcome consequence of the project; the students experienced a method not seen in their school which created a platform for a fresh start, a fresh FE English and Maths. Students stated they felt ‘a reason for being in the lesson’ and that ‘everything was to make them better’; a departure from the sometimes-perceived fail mentality resit classes can create. Not only this, but students in learner voice activities knew what their current progress was and had suggestions on how they could improve. This was an improvement over the passive nature of some resit classes.

Learning from this project

Even better if:

  • Considered the strands of project at an earlier date. In reflection, although we designed our first part of the cycle to be a filtering process to focus our research, it was probably too large scale to filter multiple activities as well as multiple forms of feedback. If we considered just one strand of feedback, as we did within the project, then perhaps our class selection and move to class trials would have been smoother.
  • Retrospective consideration of COVID-19. The wealth of knowledge and skillsets we were developing within our project are just the beginning. It would have been ideal to have more time to develop these further in contrast to more time dealing with all the issues of working in a large college during COVID-19.

Knowledge taken forward:

  • Features of immediate feedback. I think we, as colleagues and a college, are really developing strength in our immediate feedback and how we can make the process more engaging. Moving forward, it would be interesting to apply these theories to more extended feedback models.
  • Strength of gamification in English and maths. At this point in our action research, teachers are hitting their stride with using gamified learning within English and maths where we are seeing growing strength and confidence in using the strategies. Moving forward, it would be interesting to apply these principles and see if they fit in other segments of the educational setting; does gamified feedback transfer to vocational learning or non-FE based settings?
  • Skillset applied to a training procedure. As colleagues and a team we are gaining skills in adapting existing tasks and methodologies and applying them as gamified feedback. Moving forward, is this something that we can create and design as a toolkit? Is this something we could create as an induction toolkit or help develop with our teacher education provision?