Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: gamification

S02E01 – Tom Langston – Game Design

S02E01 - Tom Langston - Game Design

In this first episode of Season 2 of the TEL Tales podcast, we discuss game design and gamification within teaching and learning.  Tom Langston discusses the impact of using games and gamifying education, using examples from here at Portsmouth University.  Tom discusses the impact it is having on teaching and learning and strategies that can be used in the classroom.  Below are links to some of the resources that Tom spoke about within this podcast… 

Board Game Geek –

NearPod – Camp Engage –

enABLe –

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Original audio created by Chris Wood for use with the TEL Tales podcast.

Introduction for Tel Tales – Beth Hallissey

Hi, I’m Beth. I have just started in the TEL Team within DCQE. I’m based at Mercantile House where I already have a reputation for wearing flashy shoes from my extensive collection! I work Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for TEL, and on Mondays and Tuesdays, I work next door at the Dental Academy next door as a Teaching Fellow. I moved to Portsmouth recently so I’m still getting my bearings and exploring the area. So if anyone has any recommendations (particularly food), please let me know!

My career had a bumpy start; I went to Drama School aiming for a degree in Stage Management and dropped out after 2 years. I then worked at a school as a Design and Technology Technician before going for an apprenticeship in Dental Nursing. Dentistry isn’t a field I ever thought about; even in the interview when they asked what experience I had, I told them I had “Dentist Barbie” as a child. I now owe my career to Dentist Barbie because I got the job, and keep a “mint in box” version of her at home.

After a couple of years in practice, I got a job at Plymouth University doing clinical demonstrations and a bit of teaching in their Dental Simulation sites. After nearly 8 years, I had become Senior Technician for Dentistry, I had an honorary contract with the National Examining Board for Dental Nurses as one of their OSCE examiners, and would support the British Antarctic Survey, training doctors in Dentistry. I’m very passionate about EDI; I was Co-Chair of their LGBT+ Staff Network and a regular guest speaker on their Springboard programme.

As you can imagine, I have a big interest in simulation technology. I have created some training resources using 3D Printing including my own “Dexterity Block” for students to develop practical skills, which has been successfully used in education over the last few years. My work has been featured on the front cover of Dental Update, and I have helped design programs for Haptic Simulators that have been used around the world. I’m really looking forward to playing with all the new tech Portsmouth has to offer!

I feel my role in TEL will complement my teaching role over at the Dental Academy really well. I’m also looking to do the HEA Fellowship in the future. I’m a big fan of Moodle and have used it previously. I think it’s utilised really well here by being integrated with so many apps, so I’m keen to be involved with it. I’m interested in Gamification and its impact on student progression. I think technology is so important in education, even more so now in a post-pandemic world. Students are incredibly lucky to have a range of accessible resources to suit various learning styles and keep them engaged. Perhaps I would have done better at school if I’d had access to what they have…

Image of Beth holding her pet African Pygmy Hedgehog named Chorge.Outside work, I dedicate my time to being a massive nerd. I spend probably far too much time gaming and building Lego than the average adult should, but I have no plans to grow up just yet! (I stillneed to get Lego Optimus Prime). I love music but it’s been many years since I picked up a guitar. Instead, I have been a local radio DJ, creating music quizzes and playing everything from Abba to Zappa. Most importantly, I have a pet African Pygmy Hedgehog named Chorge!

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

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

Image credits: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo   and pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

Can technology provide us with the opportunity to move away from traditional delivery methods?

“The most vital app an educator could use is good purposeful teaching”


On the way back from setting up the Mobile Ubicast unit for a lecturer, I had an interesting discussion about the use of technology in teaching. My first thoughts took me back to my previous life as an ICT co-ordinator of a primary school where a member of the leadership team teaching was eager to be observed “using ICT” within their teaching. What unfolded was 45 uncomfortable minutes of the educator using a digital camera within an English lesson. Of course it led to my first question of “why did you use the technology?” It did not help the students achieve their learning goals in English, whilst also not allowing them to develop or demonstrate skills using the technology.

Digital technology and equipment help provide multiple access points, like a door with multiple handles at different heights but ultimately pedagogy and learning intentions must stay at the forefront of the educators mind. It brought me back to a great JISC document I read based on the Digital experiences students should have. I thought I would signpost a few of the parts that I found most interesting and hopefully it may spark a few ideas of how technology could be used in your lectures.

Social referencing

Jane Challinor gives a good account of the trials and tribulations of using Diigo social bookmarking site with level one undergraduates She outlines the discovery that students at Level 2 and 3 were found to have poor research skills. Even at level 3 students made little use of academic journals and the cause of academic irregularity were caused by poor record keeping, especially of web based sources so a key feature of the module was to introduce the students to e-search, a tool which allows students to search journal database similar to Athens. By using groups within Diigo not only could students benefit from the features of a social referencing site such group/shared discussions, bookmarking and direct online source linking, it gave lecturers the opportunity to monitor student activity, thus make it an assessment for learning tool encouraging precision teaching. Without giving away any spoilers (!) it not only improved the students record keeping and bookmarking, it changed their whole attitude and behaviour towards using online sources and journals within assignments.

Digital critique

As there is broad range of digital sources of communication to reference from online, it gives students the ability to develop skills of critique that takes them beyond just reading text on screen. It allows students to examine a specific source in terms of its credibility, argument, tone, implied audience and provenance – who is hosting and propagating this message? This could then influence the creation of their own digital content, with a greater appreciation of its purpose and the audience it is targeted at. New Media Literacy: a blog post by Lynsay Grant offers an interesting blog based on critique against re-design that is well worth a read.


Use a simulation to support real-world practice

Simulations allow students to venture where perhaps the real-life situation represent unacceptable risk to the student or others. But simulations also allow students to review, revisit and revise their preparation and practice to a real-life event. Simulations can also be used to collaborate and to provide a shared platform to problem solve. The skills2Learn site shows a wide range of practical and field-based skills that can be carried out through elearning and virtual reality simulations. The advances of modern technology and the range of mediums through which to experience sound, image, video and touch based representations has become more accessible and affordable with the rise of Google Cardboard and other VR displays. The four walls of a lecture theatre no longer need to confine “where” learning takes place.

Digital deconstruction

Within my teaching role, one area in which I felt I excelled was finding new and innovative ways to teach topics. One such way was trying to introduce coding to 6-year-olds by taking them out of the computer suite and into the kitchen, testing their given programmes (recipes) and debugging and re-coding where necessary. Chrissi Narantzi’s blog explores her use of LEGO bricks with first-year undergraduates. I love the concept of taking what essentially is a digital concept, bringing it into a real life situation or a practical analogy as it were to broaden and deepen their understanding and application of digital skills. Possible applications of this could be statistical analysis, qualitative data analysis, design, giving a presentation with slides, mindmapping, ‘cut and paste’ editing, sharing ideas via twitter, commenting on/reviewing other students’ work.

Use gamification

This is a powerful concept that I have seen bear the fruits of success with younger students. I have been fortunate on a few occasions to have met critically acclaimed Tim Rylands who really was at the forefront of gamification within education and his TED talk about teachers being creative and using games to enhance learning in other topic areas is well worth watching and extremely powerful. Other gaming concepts such as ‘levelling up’,  earning XP points and shading a progress bar could be ways in which to make aspects of your teaching engaging while also giving competition a positive element. A different Chrissi Narantzi blog  shows how a mixed reality game is used in academic development and while it does require a level of ingenuity to incorporate gaming features, it can really help give insight and make learning fun.

Final thoughts

There are a number of other digital experiences that Jisc recommend students have and I’m sure the concepts of lecture capture, online questionnaires and presenting using digital media will be covered in subsequent blogs but perhaps it is a good point to reflect on our own practise and consider how using technology within our existing delivery could enhance the learning experiences of our students further.


Grant, L. (2010). New media literacy: Critique vs re-design. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November, 2016).

Jisc (2015). Digital experiences students should have. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November, 2016).

Terms, P.I. (2016). Can you Diigo it? Available at: (Accessed: 23 November, 2016).


Featured Image:

Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash

SoloLearn – Learning where you want, when you want


We all learn in different ways and personally I’m a hands on learner. I need to be learning and doing at the same time, otherwise it’s not going to stick.

Currently I have dipped my toe into the world of coding. This is something I’ve tried my hand at over the years but each time I pick it up, without practise I lose what I’ve learnt. So I started to search for apps that could help me learn and practise basic HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) throughout my typical day.

So what did you find?

After a few clicks and swipes I came across SoloLearn – a free mobile social platform that offers coding courses which can be completed via the Web on iOS, Android or Windows.

The aim of the game with SoloLearn is to learn through playing. The courses consist of bite-size guides and quizzes to keep you engaged and your progress is saved each time you reach a ‘checkpoint’. To practise and play with what you have learned, there is the ‘Code Playground’ where learners can experiment with what they have learned so far and save for future reference. This is excellent for when life gets in the way and you need to put the app to one side for a while, making for a easy return when you pick it back up. Another benefit is regardless of what platform you happen to be using, Sololearn will sync up, so you can access your course in a range of situations via your mobile device and the app will know where you left off from.

A very important part of SoloLearn is that although their name suggests otherwise, you are in by no means ‘solo’ in your learning. On each course there is a space for comments at the bottom of each page from the global SoloLearn community to ask questions or find handy tips from other learners taking part in their course. Many learners also share code they have written to be used by others for practise.

This is all well and good, but why should I learn to code at all?

Many people wouldn’t bat an eyelid at being told by a friend that they might be learning a spoken language such as French, but telling them you’re learning a digital language? That can get you a few funny looks. Although a genuine interest in the first place doesn’t hurt, there’s no harm in learning a new skill and adding another string to your bow. There’s no escaping that we live in a digital age and learning to code can only benefit you in the long run. Having a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS can help your career, such as being able to improve your employer’s website, or quickly publish your own content on your own website or digital platform.

You can find out more and join up by visiting SoloLearn here.

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