Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Author: Andy Taggart

A different way of welcoming students

For both staff and students, the start of a new academic year is, even in normal times, an exciting (and sometimes stressful) occasion. With this year being far from normal, departments are having to adapt to a more virtual environment and for some degree apprenticeship courses, this is going to mean welcoming new students online. On top of the barrage of information all new students have to deal with, our apprentices have additional requirements to meet such as creating an ePortfolio. Indeed, degree apprenticeship applicants to the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying had an online welcome to the department in mid-August while applicants to Business and Law Leadership and Management and Project Management were also welcomed online rather than face to face.

Welcoming and inducting new students is an essential part of starting out on a new educational adventure and moving online does not have to mean losing out completely on the experience of face to face sessions. Applicants to our surveying degree apprenticeship programme were able to ‘meet’ the staff long before they set a foot on campus through welcome videos hosted on a Google site.

Screenshot of the Google Site containing the Welcome page for the School of Civil Engineering & Surveying

Screenshot from the SCES pre-applicant site.

The SCES pre-applicant site provided a user-friendly platform allowing the department to offer prospective apprentices with a wealth of information, helping to create an early connection with the University. Through this site, the pre-applicants could be made aware not just of the demands of the surveying course but also the requirements of the apprenticeship aspects of the course such as the need to maintain a log of their off the job training.

In the words of Module Coordinator Tom Woodbury,
“Due to the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 crisis, our Applicant Open Day moved to an online-only format. Working with TECH OCD, we developed the content for the session using a Google Plus site which meant that as well as having the content organised for the day, applicants that could not attend and those wanting to revisit the content were able to access at their convenience. In the end, this method worked out really well, and seemed very well-received by attendees.”

The sites helped prepare students for some of the skills that they will need to help complete their course successfully, for example, what IT skills will be required and offered early access to study support information and library facilities.

This model was also used by the faculty of Business and Law for their Chartered Manager DA, Project Management DA and their MBA DA course. The ease with which Google sites can be used to create web pages also meant the sites could be put together and published relatively quickly. However, the structure that Google sites forces on the user can be a little frustrating at times, but this can be overcome with some bespoke HTML.

Screen shot of one of the pages on the Google Site it's titled: IT Skills Required

For courses starting before the official October re-opening of the University, the sites were an important way to communicate with students. The sites were not made public and anyone accessing the site needed the actual link that was sent out to the prospective students. Google Analytics was used to monitor the level of access and early data indicated many applicants were using the sites. With Google sites already being used extensively by Business and Law degree apprentices for their ePortfolios, using them as a way of welcoming new apprentices in these unusual times seemed a logical and workable solution but it will be interesting to collect feedback from the students.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Moving online – the experience of Business and Law

The sudden and dramatic shift to virtual teaching and learning has brought not only challenges but also opportunities and for the 120 undergraduate degree apprenticeship students working towards their Certified Management Degree Apprenticeship, staff have worked hard to make sure it’s  ‘business as usual’. 

Although circumstances meant limited time to prepare for the new ways of working, the transition to a virtual environment has, in the words of one apprentice, been a good experience, tutors had access to all their systems and were able to quickly respond to my emails or schedule video calls” 

Clearly, the technology we now have available makes it possible to recreate some of the elements of face to face lectures and seminars, but what has also been impressive is an openness and willingness to try out different ways of teaching using tools that have long been available but not necessarily seen as relevant. 

So what has been the experience in Business and Law? Some lecturers were already familiar with delivering distance learning to military personnel but for most lecturers it was a new experience requiring them to learn how to use new platforms and applications and adapt their resources so they could be more easily delivered online.

Quickly after lockdown, what amounted to a working party was set up to bring lecturers and technical support together online to share ideas and plan how best to deliver the modules online. A variety of elements had to be brought together, for example: what tools to use, how best to structure content on Moodle, how to engage students in a virtual environment, supporting those apprentices working in key sectors, ensuring resources were fully and easily accessible.

From these meetings came these top tips:

  • Don’t be shy to ask for help.
  • If you have time, practice with a colleague.
  • Especially at the start – go for simplicity rather than creativity.
  • It does get easier after the initial learning curve.
  • Whether a video or a quiz, keep it fairly short and snappy.
  • Encourage more informal feedback from your students on their learning experience.
  • Be prepared to respond to change with a degree of flexibility.
  • Don’t be afraid to make reasonable adjustments to your online design as teaching progresses to improve student engagement.
  • Group working (use breakouts etc) to increase interactivity and build relationships .

The team’s top tools include:

  • Screencastify
  • Vevox
  • Google Forms
  • Moodle scheduler
  • Padlet

Supporting staff online has been made easy using Google Meet or Zoom as both allow participants to share their screens. Online help is backed up by the use of a dedicated  Moodle site providing more detailed advice on moving to online teaching. For students, the use of tools like Padlet and Jamboard mean that they can continue to work collaboratively. 

Overall, the experience of the Business and Law Degree Apprenticeship has been positive, in the words of the Director: 

This has been an incredibly busy time, but everyone was determined that our apprentices were going to have an excellent summer term and the feedback has been very good from everyone involved. I am very proud of the team and the apprentices as  they have all shown dedication and professionalism throughout.”

As someone who has worked with educational technology for many years, I have been pleased and impressed with how quickly colleagues have taken to using tools they were not previously familiar with and how this has helped contribute to the positive experience students have had in moving to online learning. 


Would like to thank Liz Sharples, Deputy Course Leader (CMDA) and Becky Quew-Jones Director for their input and quotes used.

Credit Image: Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Google in a time of lockdown

2020 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the beta version of Gmail, Google’s first move beyond being just a search engine. Since then Google has created an extensive suite of applications many of which are extremely useful for teaching and learning. In this blog I’ll be looking at some of, what I think, are the most useful apps and why, during the current lockdown, Google can be useful in helping deliver online learning.

Possibly the most useful change Google has made in light of the lockdown was to extend video conferencing (Hangouts Meet)  to all GSuite accounts allowing up to 250 participants in any online meeting. Setting up an online meeting using Hangouts Meet can be done via the Google calendar thus notifying participants automatically. While this particular app lacks some of the functionality of Webex, it is useful for hosting and running a simple meeting or online seminar.

In this time of distributive learning, collaboration can still be facilitated and Google provides tools such as jamboard that will allow students to contribute to online tasks and discussions. Jamboard provides a pin-board style interface onto which students can pin their ideas and contributions to group tasks. While apps such as Google docs do clearly provide opportunities for online collaboration, jamboard provides a tool for more focused tasks with a clear and easy to read interface.

On the Degree Apprenticeship programme, we make major use of G Suite including Shared Drives and Google Docs, indeed without these, it would be difficult to see how we could manage some of the required administrative tasks. The ability to enhance the functionality of some Google products such as sheets, also means that they can be tailored to best meet the needs of our students. For example, all degree apprenticeship students are required to keep a log of their off the job training activities, such as their weekly University sessions, to help them complete these logs we use Google forms linked to Google sheets. Being able to add a script to the sheets means that emails can automatically be sent out allowing course administrators to more easily monitor log entries.

In terms of teaching and learning, one of the most useful Google products, and certainly the most ubiquitous in terms of videos, is YouTube, bought by Google back in 2006. By virtue of having a Google account, all members of the University automatically have a YouTube account. This, combined with the unlimited storage offered by Google, provides staff and students with an invaluable teaching and learning platform. Google’s screen capture app, Screencastify, integrates nicely with Youtube allowing users to edit and then upload directly to their YouTube channel.

So, out of the range of apps, Google provides, which ones are my favourites?

Having worked with apprenticeship students in the Business faculty for over two years, helping them with their ePortfolios, I’ve become a convert to Google Sites. I found the old version while having plenty of functionality, a bit clunky and not that user-friendly, often having to write HTML to achieve what I wanted. A downside of New Google Sites was the lack of template functionality, but this issue is being addressed as the addition of templates is currently in development.

But, on a day to day level, Google docs and Shared Drives have pretty much transformed the way I work, simplifying working collaboratively with colleagues and students. 

The pace of development of Google products is also impressive and I’m looking forward to making use of Smart Compose ( and neural grammar correction, currently in beta. While Word does ship with far greater functionality and even slightly complicated Word documents do not convert well to Google, for the majority of users, the tools available with Docs are generally more than enough and thinglink ( is great for those new to Docs. Google has also made it slightly easier to share documents with non-Google account holders, users can now use their existing email address to set themselves up with Google to enable access to shared Google docs, Sites etc. while a PIN verification system, currently in beta, will remove the need to set up any kind of Google account at all.

The current situation has thrown up considerable challenges in continuing to provide engaging and high quality teaching and learning especially in terms of students working collaboratively, Google clearly does not provide all the solutions required, but its suite of apps are certainly a good starting point.

Image by Saveliy Morozov  from Pixabay

Digifest 2020

Although a regular delegate at Jisc’s annual Digifest I had never before given a presentation so was excited to have had my presentation proposal accepted. The topic for the talk, naturally enough, covered my work as an Online Course Developer on the university’s degree apprenticeship programme. Since the university launched its first degree apprenticeship in 2016 with just 7 Business and Management students, numbers across the university have grown to over 600 involving all faculties and 17 different courses. 

With a long history of involvement in work based learning, the university’s early involvement in degree apprenticeships would have been a natural progression along with a small handful of other trailblazers. Roll forward to 2020 and there are now over 90 HEIs delivering degree apprenticeships including Russell group institutions. 

Anyway, back to Digifest! Given the rapid growth of our degree apprenticeship programme I knew I had a good story to tell and, hopefully, some useful experience to pass on and for me this reflected a shift in emphasis of this year’s conference. I have always enjoyed the two days spent at the ICC every March but this year I was particularly looking forward to sessions looking at the practical application and development of eLearning tools and methodologies. In this respect two sessions in particular stood out. The first was a panel discussion titled “How do we address the digital skills gap” the second a presentation on how staff and students are actually using technology.

Having worked in the field of eLearning for some time, I’ve found one of the main barriers hindering the greater use of technology has been, and continues to be, time. After demonstrating a particular piece of technology, a frequent, and understandable reaction is “Yes, that looks great but I just don’t have the time to create resources using it…” Coming from a teaching background I can empathise, with preparation, marking, meetings and actual teaching, time is often in short supply In the sessions mentioned above different strategies were discussed in addressing the issue of time. One involved recognising and rewarding digital development, thus partly overcoming the digital skills gap with a carrot based approach. The other approach involved a more stick based strategy whereby developing digital skills becomes part of the standard annual appraisal.

In terms of the contrasting approaches proffered, my starting point is very much carrot based, which doesn’t necessarily need to be physically tangible. The use of technology in teaching can bring measurable gains, with some upfront investment in time, resources can be created that can be used multiple times and thus be time saving in the long run. For example a Moodle quiz can be used for either formative or summative assessment and is self marking. A short video can be quicker to produce than a handout and be a more effective learning resource. Use of tools such as Padlet, Nearpod and Vevox can add meaningful participation and interaction in lectures and seminars with the same resource being re-usable for as long as the modules are taught.

For students the greater use of technology can bring real benefits and Jisc’s digital insights survey regularly shows that students do want greater use of technology even if it is just lecture recordings. Moreover, according a report produced by the European Commission (Human Capital: Europe’s Digital Progress Report, 2017) 38% of workplaces stated that a lack of digital skills was harming business while in the panel discussion mentioned a performing arts student explained how the use of technology in his course had helped him develop the skills he needed to be able to gain employment in his chosen field. One suggestion I am a little unsure about is the rewarding of staff with badges they can wear when they achieve a given level of digital skills, a strategy used by one college, but some kind of recognition for digital development can only help spread good digital practice.

The presentations from Digifest 2020 are now available online to view, along with Andy Taggart’s: Degree apprenticeships – meeting the technical and teaching challenges

Image by Klaus P. Rausch from Pixabay


Three Useful Apps for Teaching/Learning

In this blog, I want to introduce a couple of apps that could be very useful additions to any lecturers’ teaching toolbox.


The first is Screencastify.  Screencastify is a lightweight screen recorder that can be used to capture your desktop and webcam allowing you to create videos that can be uploaded directly to YouTube and, at the same time, saved to your Google Drive. Being a Chrome extension means that there is no heavy weight software to download and it can also be used offline. There is a free version that limits the number of videos you can make to 50 per month with a maximum length of 10 minutes per video. However, you can upgrade to a paid for version, approximately £20 (it comes priced in dollars), which has no such limits.

Anyway, enough reading, here is a short demo of Screencastify in action

It does lack the functionality of a product like Camtasia, but if all you need is a quick easy screen recording it is well worth a go. You can also keep the videos on YouTube private by setting them to unlisted so they cannot be found in searches or as recommendations, students would just need the URL which can be made available via your Moodle pages.

Once you’ve made your video using Screencastify, you can have it as a stand alone resource available via YouTube or you could use it to produce an enhanced learning object by combining it with Adobe Spark.

I can see this having a variety of uses from giving video/audio feedback to forming part of a set of flipped learning sessions.


An alternative to Screencastify is Screencast-O-Matic. As with Screencastify, this app also comes in free and licensed versions. The free version of Screencast-O-Mantic will record videos of 15 minutes which can then be saved as MP4 files, this version also comes with some limited editing functionality but does require a software download and does not work quite as seamlessly with YouTube or Google Drive.


The third app, useful as a revision aid, is Brainscape . Brainscape is an online flashcard system, you can either create your own flashcards or use a pre-made set. Unlike other ready made flashcard systems I’ve seen, Brainscape does have resources suitable for HE and not just in traditional academic disciplines. This system is free (though you can pay to release a larger number of cards) and can be accessed through your Google account.

As students work through the set of cards, they can rate how confident they are in their knowledge and understanding. Staff can create classes to which they can invite students, thus allowing you to view how many cards the students used and how they themselves rate their learning.

Brainscape says that its system is grounded in proven techniques that help improve learning and understanding. Not having used this particular platform myself with learners I can’t comment on the veracity of the claims made but as flashcards are a popular learning technique this online system is worth looking at, especially given the range of topics it covers.

Credit Image: Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Video in Higher Education

A recent visit to Oxford University for a conference on the use of video in Higher Education provided an excellent opportunity to pick up insights into how video is being used in universities across the country. In the words of conference organiser Dominik Lukes:

Since the advent of YouTube, video has gained in significance as a medium of instruction. It has become an invaluable resource for informal learning and teaching, professional development, and formal instruction

The morning session consisted of a series of ‘lightning’ presentations, each no more than around 7 minutes. This allowed for a good number of issues and ideas to be presented from a wide range of universities. In the afternoon we could choose from a variety of topics to discuss in small groups, such as student created videos as assessment, accessibility and inclusion, and how to tell a story.

Among the highlights from the day was a lightning talk covering lecture capture. The presenter (James Youdale, University of York) considered the difficult issue of whether lecture capture was changing how teaching takes place and how students engaged with the video lecture. The thorny issue of whether to have lecturers opt-in to have their lectures captured or an opt-out option with all lectures captured unless the lecturer chooses otherwise was also touched on. Among statistics James’ research had found was that 41% of students watch the whole of the captured lecture, 23% skip to what they regard as the important points and 96% watch on their own. This talk raised, without necessarily answering, a few interesting questions such as

  • Should lecture capture change pedagogical practice?
  • Do students need better guidance/help in note taking?
  • How can lectures be made less passive?

From the work done at York, it would seem students generally do value lecture capture and would like more of it.

Taking lecture capture one step further and actually replacing lectures with video was the theme of a presentation by Chris Evans from UCL. Two studies were carried out to gain insight into what students thought about such a bold move. In this case a 2 hour lecture was replaced with a 1 hour interactive video lecture (Xerte was used to provide the interactivity but H5P could also be used). Student feedback was very positive, and to help ensure engagement with the videos assessments were used every two weeks.

Certainly lecture capture and substituting videos for lectures allow students to learn at their own pace but not sure either are a real replacement for direct human interaction

In the late nineteenth century the Psychologist Ebbinghaus created his now well known forgetting curve illustrating how quickly information is forgotten. More modern studies tend to confirm that students quickly forget what they are told in lectures. However, they also show that going back over materials in short bursts can greatly help information retention, perhaps that is the context in which lecture capture can be viewed. In terms of replacing lectures with videos, personally I am not convinced entire courses over a sustained period of time could be delivered this way.

The afternoon discussions developed some of the themes from the morning, of particular interest were views on overcoming barriers to the greater use of video. These barriers seemed to fall into two broad areas – time and skills. Making a video can be time consuming when all production factors are taken into consideration, from writing the script, to editing the raw footage and, many lecturers may feel they have neither the time or the skills to devote to creating videos. In terms of time, what needs to be emphasised that once the video is made it’s there to be used over and over again and down the line can actually save time – students can revisit the videos which can leave time for discussions on critical analysis and evaluation without having to go back over content. For as long as a course module exists, then the video will continue to be a useful teaching and learning resource. In terms of editing, lecturers would not be expected to necessarily have the skills required, but that is where developers are key, and they can be called on the handle the technical side of things.

Overall, the key message I took away from the day is that the research presented indicated videos can be a very useful tool but it’s simply not being used enough – maybe the carrots need to be made more obvious and possibly a few sticks as well?

Image credits: Brett Sayles  on

Digital Badges

This blog post links, indirectly, to my previous post on gamification. While gamification can help promote learning and engagement in a ‘fun’ way, digital badges can be used to reward and encourage learning. So – what are digital badges?

Digital badges are an excellent way to recognise student achievement and engagement. Badges can be awarded via Moodle on completion of an activity, for example, or after the attainment of a specific grade/mark in a quiz. Upon graduation, students can take their badges with them via Open Badges and export them to a ‘backpack’ service such as Badgr. The badges can also be linked to LinkedIn.

In the words of Dr Joanne Brindley (Senior Lecturer in Education): “The Academic Professional Apprenticeship is delivered via blended learning. As such, it was important to me that I was able to effectively monitor the engagement and development of the course members, on an individual basis. Digital badges were an obvious choice, as they would enable the course members to have the flexibility  and autonomy to focus and work on tasks that met their individual learning needs, in a structured way, whilst also providing the course member and myself with an opportunity to gauge their personal progression.

The other benefit, was the ability to identify and set the criteria for each badge. In this instance, the badges were designed to reflect the values, knowledge and areas of activity in the UK Professional Skills Framework (UKPSF). By using this approach I can be assured, that upon completion, the course members have engaged with the dimensions of the framework required for Fellowship.”

For those new to digital badges here’s a quick ‘how to..’

Before issuing a badge you first have to create it. A variety of tools are available to do this such as Adobe Illustrator or sites such as Accredible Badge Creator (  and ( both of which are free to use, is the better of the two.

User interface for creating badges in

Figure 1 – user interface for creating badges in

Figure 2 - Moodle Badge created using Open Badges

Once a badge has been created, you will need to download it so it can be uploaded to Moodle for issuing to students.


Figure 2 – Moodle badge created using Open badges


In Moodle badges are added via the ‘Administration’ menu, which is available by clicking on the cog icon on the top-right of your Moodle page, then clicking on More to access the Badges section (see Figure 3 below) which will allow you to manage and add new badges.

Figure 3 - shows what you'll see in the administrative area in Moodle to create new badges and manage the badges

Figure 3 – Moodle badge manager

In the Badges section, choose ‘Add a new badge’. This will allow you to upload the image for the badge and set various basic details such as a description, issuer and badge expiry date. You can manage your badges here as well

Once the badge has been added, you will need to set up the criteria for the awarding of the badge. To do this, click on ‘Manage badges’.

You can award badges according to one of three criteria: manual by role; course completion; activity completion. (Note: for activity completion you will need to make sure this is enabled via Course settings).

Badges are automatically issued once the set criterion (for example, achieving a certain grade in a selected quiz) has been met. Students can view the badges they have been awarded on the Moodle course page. You will just need to add a Latest Badges block from the ‘Add a block’ menu.

The Mozilla Backpack, which allowed badge recipients to ‘store’ their badges online has now been replaced by badgr ( Students would need to download their badges from Moodle and then upload them to badgr. The reason for doing this is so any earned badges can be shared with an employer for example. At the moment badgr is not linked to Moodle but hopefully it will be added in the near future.

Students can view their badges via the ‘Latest Badges’ block in Moodle (this can be added by anyone with editing rights on your Moodle Unit/Course page).

Figure 4 badge details accessed via latest badges block. This images shows student details

Clicking on the badge icon in the Latest Badges block opens up full details of the badge such as recipient and Issuer. From here the student can download the badge to add to their online backpack which will be badgr. It is hoped that once badgr is integrated students will be able to add it to the backpack directly from Moodle.

So, are badges worth having?

One concern often raised regarding the use of digital badges is that, well, aren’t they just a bit inappropriate at university level? Will university students take them seriously?

To overcome the possible scepticism of students it is important to be clear what the badges are being used for. If badges form an element of gamification and/or are linked to assessment then the badges are more likely to be seen as something worth acquiring as argued by Samuel Abramovich (Abramovich, S 2016). The badges can be linked to the acquisition of specific skills required as part of an assessment or awarded based on the achievement of a certain grade. Greater value can be placed on the badges if they are relatively difficult to obtain: there needs to be an element of genuine challenge before a badge can be earned. Badges can also be awarded for completion of a task – however, the effectiveness of this approach is something that would seem to need further research. A project carried out by the University of Southampton (Harvey, F.2017), whereby Geography students were awarded badges as they completed course milestones, found that only 25% of students actually claimed badges as they progressed. The reason for this relatively low take up was not clear.

Outside education, digital badges are now being used by companies such as Dell as part of their assessment programme (see The more digital badges are recognised by major employers, the more likely students are to view badges as worthwhile. Indeed, a recent case study (Anderson, L. et al (2017) Open Badges in the Scottish HE Sector: The use of technology and online resources to support student transitions. Project Report July 2017. Universities of Dundee, Aberdeen and Abertay) found that that 40% of students would value digital badges if employability were to be enhanced by their use. For lots more useful information on digital badges visit


Abramovich, S Understanding digital badges in higher education through assessment, On the Horizon, Vol. 24 Issue: 1, pp.126-131 2016,

Harvey, F Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, Vol 3, No 1, 2017

Photo by Melinda Martin-Khan on Unsplash

Melinda Martin-Khan

Digifest 2019

Jisc’s Digifest is my favourite educational technology conference. Spread over two days at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre it’s an ideal opportunity to meet practitioners from other institutions and this can be nearly as useful as the set programme of talks and presentations themselves. This year the focus was on practical ideas that can be taken back to the classroom or lecture theatre. To this end, I attended sessions on the use of video.

The first session, “How digital video innovates pedagogical methods”, was run by learning technologists from Havant and Southdowns College and looked at how staff and students have used video for both formative and summative assessment. Together, the technologists have worked on around 200 videos, some produced by the students themselves. It was clear that the use of video has had a significant impact on teaching and learning at the College. While claims about improved student attainment and retention lacked supporting data, feedback from both staff and students did indicate improvement in student engagement and achievement.

The importance of video in teaching and learning was also the theme of a presentation by Dominik Lukes’  (Learning Technologist, University of Oxford). In his presentation, titled “How YouTube started a revolution in learning and nobody noticed”, Dominik argued that the role of video in teaching and learning can only expand and provided this example of the power of video as a learning tool. Whilst I’m not entirely convinced by the claim that ‘video is the future’, both Dominik’s and the Havant College presentations did illustrate the usefulness and power of video if used properly. Both presentations also highlighted the ease of using YouTube as the delivery platform especially given the automatic subtitles function. It would be interesting to find out more about what students think of video as a learning tool and the extent to which benefits outweigh costs (in terms of time primarily) but from personal experience, I think a lot more use could be made of YouTube in teaching and learning.

Of the panel discussions I sat in on, the most interesting was “Listening to teachers: implications for education and digital“ The discussion was based on a piece of research by anthropologist Donna Lanclos and others the findings of which can be downloaded here. The research consisted of interviewing teachers in both the HE and FE sector with the aim “to uncover what next generation digital learning environments might look like”. Their report also came up with a series of recommendations which are well worth reading.

I was particularly interested in how terminology was being used. Many years ago when I was a student we went to lectures delivered by lecturers, in this discussion it was about “teachers” facilitating and delivering learning. This change in emphasis – teaching rather than lecturing – is something, I assume, that will become more ubiquitous given the introduction of the TEF in 2017. A number of thought provoking issues came out of the discussion not necessarily related directly to technology. For example, to provide effective holistic support to students takes time, which is one resource most staff are short of. This issue links nicely to a presentation I saw by Bolton College on the use of chatbots. But more on that in my next blog along with a look at Snatchbot!


Gamification in Moodle – a brief introduction

Learning through play is obviously nothing new, it is one of the main ways children learn. The fun element in play means that children become absorbed in what they are doing, not even realising they are acquiring useful skills. Gamification, however, is not simply about learning through playing, it’s about “the application of game dynamics and game mechanics to make learning goals more appealing and achievable” (Squire, K  2003). Moodle provides an excellent set of tools that can be harnessed to bring an element of gaming into learning, but more on that later.

Introducing elements of gamification may be fun, but does it bring with it positive benefits and improved outcomes for the learner? On the face of it, research would seem to show that gamification does indeed lead to improved student engagement and motivation. For example an experiment involving High School students in America showed that where game elements were used in Moodle, enthusiasm and motivation levels were higher among the group using gamification as opposed to the group not using it 1. There was an even greater (negative) effect on motivational behaviour where gamification was used and then removed. Similarly a review of literature on gamification found  that “indeed, gamification does work” 2. While both studies came with caveats (the main one being the relatively small size of the study groups), indications are that more gaming dynamics should be used in Moodle, exploiting both the competitive and collaborative traits most people naturally possess. This in turn can improve student engagement and motivation, both important (but by no means sole) elements in improving overall attainment. Speaking anecdotally, introducing a competitive element in learning does, under certain circumstances, seem to improve student achievement especially among boys.

The issue of educational underachievement among certain social groups was highlighted in a 2016 report by the Guardian Online 3 which published research showing that just 24% of white boys from poorer backgrounds achieved the benchmark of five good GCSEs, the figure for girls was 32%. While other groups, from the same economic background, showed a significant improvement in achieving this benchmark, this was not the case for white working class boys among whom attainment levels remain “stubbornly low”. Thus while all students would seem to benefit from gamification, I have seen it particularly help boys from poorer backgrounds where engagement in the learning process can be more problematic. Poor achievement at GCSE level often impacts on achievement at a higher level, but even at HE level the use of “serious games” can “intrigue learners during the process of learning” 4 . So while gamification should be used for the benefit of all students, perhaps its main benefits will be among those groups who struggle more than others to fully engage with their learning.

Moodle contains a wide range of opportunities for gamification without necessarily needing specific game style technology. A standard Moodle course can be designed in such a way as to incorporate game orientated activities. In a paper presented at the international eLearning conference 5, Somova provided just such an example whereby the different sections of a Moodle course were designed as a games level. Each level requires students to achieve specific learning objectives with points and badges awarded when predetermined criteria were met. Conditional access, based on activity completion, is used to direct students through the various ‘game’ levels with learners receiving points for assessed activities, which in turn are used to award badges. A badge per level is available, earned as activities are completed and a set level of attainment is reached (eg 70% for a quiz).  As the learner progresses so the levels are made more demanding and involve different type of activities such as group activities to encourage collaboration.

In ‘Gamification with Moodle’ 6 Denmeade (2015) identifies, among others, the following Moodle activities ideal for gamification:

Forum posts – these can be set up for peer ratings or brain teasers.

Quizzes – either team or individual leaderboards can be used to create a competitive element to the exercise.

Feedback module – can be used to set up an interactive pathway based on answers. If questions are answered incorrectly, students can be directed to further reading.

Assignments – custom grading can be used to quickly set up gaming levels, for example Bronze, Silver and Gold

Lessons – progress through lessons can be gamified by setting up prerequisites, such as time limits etc, with advancement to subsequent lessons being made increasingly difficult (or easy depending on ability, or the final goal of the lesson). Lessons can also be used to create different pathways through an exercise, based on student responses to questions and so allow for differentiation by task.

H5P – H5P contains a variety of tools that contain an element of gamification, though the drawback is that the outcomes of some exercises may not be saved in Moodle.

Beyond Moodle there are a huge variety of online gaming tools that can be used by students. contains an index of a wide range of eLearning tools that can be used as stand alone learning ‘games’.

While careful initial planning is needed to ensure the above activities are properly prepared to be both academically robust and contain elements of game dynamics, once created they are reusable, and much of the marking is done by Moodle itself. If, at the end of the day, students are more engaged and more are achieving required learning outcomes then the time spent preparing is time well spent. Gamification is clearly not the only answer to tackling underachievement, or a guarantee of improving student outcomes, but it might provide a useful additional tool in helping engage students in their learning.

Amriani, A et al (2013,October) An empirical study of gamification impact on e-Learning environment. Retrieved from

2 Hamari J et al Does Gamification Work? — A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification 2014, 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Science. Available via

3 Weale, S. (2016, November) Schools must focus on struggling white working-class pupils, says UK charity retrieved from

Somova, E. and Gachkova, M. An Attempt for Gamification of Learning in Moodle Available via

Somova, E. and Gachkova, M. An Attempt for Gamification of Learning in Moodle Available via

6 Denmeade, N. (2015). Gamification with Moodle.  Birmingham: Packt Publishing Ltd

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