Gamification in the History Classroom

Gamification in the History Classroom (PDF)

Brad Cartwright ( , UTEP Department of History

PURPOSE: Over the past several years I have endeavored to move beyond older models of historical pedagogy that focused strictly upon content knowledge and, instead, I have pushed my survey students to engage in historical thinking in order to develop skills that translate across disciplines.  And, while this endeavor has been successful, student midterm and final exam scores began to reveal gaps in their content knowledge.  This is most certainly a result of the reduced amount of time I dedicate to lecturing and my increased focus on active learning exercises in the classroom. In thinking about solutions to this trend, I experimented with gamification in the spring of 2018 in an effort to incentivize the study of class materials outside of the classroom.

RESEARCH QUESTION:  Will gamified quiz competitions increase student engagement with online course materials and, thus, improve midterm and final exam scores?

DESIGN:  Because many students like to compete with one another and are motivated by recognition, I used to deliver weekly content quizzes. Quizizz offers a simple interface for creating quizzes that students complete on their own time outside of the classroom using any kind of device. Moreover, Quizizz provides a robust reporting system that gathers class and student level data. I used this data to create a weekly leaderboard with the top ten students being recognized in class.  I also kept an overall leaderboard that tracked student “experience” points based on their aggregate quiz scores.   

OUTCOMES:  In order to determine the effectiveness of the weekly quiz competitions, I compared student midterm and final exam scores from this semester with those from the same course in the fall of 2017.  While I felt this was an ideal control group because the class size was similar and the course content was exactly the same, there is one major caveat.  One of my two teaching assistants from the fall of 2017 graduated, which meant that half of the class in the spring of 2018 was graded by a different teaching assistant.  Since these are strictly essay exams, the grading is subjective; thus, I spent significantly more time training the new teaching assistant to create as much grading uniformity as is possible. This caveat notwithstanding, I was very pleased with the results below.

Fall 2017 Aggregate Exam Scores

(183 students)

A: 49%

B: 25%

C: 9%

D: 11%

F: 6%

Spring 2018 Aggregate Exam Scores

(217 students)

A: 51%

B: 39%

C: 6%

D: 2%

F: 2


Aguilar, Stephen, Barry Fishman, and Caitlin Holman. " Leveling-Up: Evolving Game-Inspired University Course Design."


Holloway, Suzanne. "Gamification in Education: 4 Ways To Bring Games To Your Classroom."


Lister, Meaghan C. "Gamification: The Effect on Student Motivation and Performance at the Post-secondary Level."


Toyama, Kentaro. "The Looming Gamification of Higher Ed."


Walker, Tim. "Gamification in the Classroom: The Right or Wrong Way to Motivate Students?"