Online Interactive Learning Platforms in STEM Education: A Study of Motivation and Engagement

Darina Dicheva
Winston-Salem State University

Need: The low performance and retention in STEM classes are frequently attributed to lack of engagement and motivation. Traditional education gives students little choice in how they learn and develop skills; evaluation relies on high-stakes assessments, leading to extrinsically motivated and disengaged learners. The need for more engaging and effective STEM education is especially critical for the underrepresented STEM students, who have lower graduation rates. Gamification offers a promising framework for educational interventions that can lead to increased motivation and engagement of students. Gamification of learning refers to making learning experiences more engaging and game-like, by using game principles, such as immediate feedback and freedom to fail, and game design elements and game mechanics, such as challenges, rewards, competition, and progression. However, the increasing use of gamified learning requires a more systematic study to validate existing evidence and provide guidance for further exploration. Guiding questions: The goal of this research is to generate empirical evidence for the efficacy and appropriateness of using various game mechanics to improve student motivation, engagement, and academic performance. The studies were guided by the Self Determination Theory, a well-validated psychological theory for understanding motivation and behavior change. Our research is being guided by three research questions: (1) What are the effects of individual game elements and combinations thereof in learning context? (2) Do motivational factors based on Self-Determination Theory impact the effects of gamified learning? (3) What are the effects of gamification on different demographics groups? The empirical studies used the highly configurable educational gamification platform, OneUp Learning, previously developed by the team in an NSF funded project (HBCU-UP #1623236). The platform was extended by adding new game elements. New gamified course content was developed. Outcomes: In this poster we will describe the outcomes and key findings of the project. They include extensions of the OneUp gamification platform and development of a website for STEM content crowdsourcing. The focus will be on the results of the conducted empirical studies. We had 15 instructors gamified their courses in 8 different subjects, including the development of quiz materials. Three of the studies used a single game element – badges or virtual currency; the remaining studies used different combinations of game elements. While details on the results from the different studies will be presented in the poster, we can summarize by saying that in general the use of gamification did not change the intrinsic motivation of the students to practice, but after the gamification intervention, students’ practicing has intensified significantly. We are still conducting studies and processing and analyzing collected data. We have reported the results obtained so far at 10 conferences and 2 journal articles. Broader impacts: The results of our studies consistently showed that educational gamification can be an effective instructional intervention for increasing students’ engagement and academic performance in various disciplines.


Lillian Cassel, Villanova University, PA