by George Rosa

One of the advantages of having an online component in a course is the ease to which gamifying strategies can be used to motivate learning of challenging course content and guide students through the syllabus. Gamification has been defined as “application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.” Used in businesses as a motivator to increase brand loyalty and boost sales (e.g. buying a cup of coffee earns you stars towards a free cup), it’s being brought into education to motivate students. The goal of introducing gamification is not to convert the course into a game which must be played in order to learn the course content, which is a strategy called game-based learning. In gamification game elements are positioned in a more traditional course to increase motivation to learn. For instance, completing a particular reading assignment by a certain date could earn you extra credit, or earning 100% grade average on a series of tests could earn you a reprieve from taking the final. Some courses have group competitions with leaderboards. Some courses reward with badges and certificates.

In Blackboard, one of the simplest and most direct ways to bring gamification into a course is to use the Adaptive Release tools. Instructors can create a rule or set of rules to control how content is released. Virtually any item in Blackboard can have its availability controlled with Adaptive Release rules including tests, assignments, blogs, wikis, discussions, folders, and documents. An example of setting an Adaptive Release rule that many faculty are familiar with is when they set an availability date range for an assignment or quiz. Other rules may be related to individual usernames, membership in groups, the “mark reviewed” status of another course item, and Grade Center items, such as scores, attempts and calculated columns.

Gamifying a course with adaptive release strategies could include creating an extra credit reward when students perform some required goal within a certain date range, such as reviewing an article posted in Blackboard, or reaching a certain grade level in the Average Calculated Grade Column for a set of quizzes makes an extra credit assignment available.
There are two different adaptive release tools in Blackboard, Adaptive Release and Adaptive Release: Advanced. With Adaptive Release you set one rule for an item. With Adaptive Release: Advanced you can go “Boolean” and use multiple rules to manage availability of an item. For example, you may have the class divided into groups with different projects and assignments. With Adaptive Release: Advanced you can limit a specific assignment to different group AND only if they achieved a certain grade level in a previous assessment.

Another Blackboard gamification feature is the Achievements tool, which is basically a modified adaptive release tool. In Achievements, rules are created the same as in Adaptive Release but, if followed, students are rewarded with badges and/or certificates. The completion certificate generated by the “Are You Ready” course uses the Achievements tool.

This semester In my own hybrid Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) course I plan to introduce gamification strategies to motivate students to improve performance. A&P 1 or BIO 230 is a rigorous and complex content-driven STEM course. My BIO 230 lecture course is organized into four units, each covering about 3 chapters of text. Each unit includes practice quizzes in Blackboard, in which students are allowed unlimited attempts, unit quizzes in Blackboard, which are timed and taken once, and count towards the Quiz grade, and 4 lecture exams taken in class. In the Spring 2019 BIO 230, students will be required to achieve 100% in practice quizzes in one chapter in order to make available the practice quiz of the next chapter section, as well as the unit quiz. The practice quizzes will draw their questions randomly from a larger question pool of a variety of question types, including shortanswer, fill-ins and critical thinking questions, increasing their exposure to greater content of a higher level of complexity.  Averages of 95 and above on unit quizzes will lead to automatic extra credit added to their lecture final exam scores. These high-achieving students will also be rewarded with a certificate that they can present to their BIO 240 professor.

Anatomy and Physiology, as most STEM courses, covers complex, challenging, content-rich topics that are difficult to
impossible to adequately cover in the relatively short amount of time assigned during the semester without a high amount of student motivation. With this new strategy I’m hoping that it will make it facilitate students to master the more difficult BIO 230 material and allow the course to “raise the bar” on the level of focus of the course, and better prepare these students for training in the health sciences and other STEM careers.

In the next issue of EdTech Innovations I’ll report on the results of the gamification of my Anatomy and Physiology course.


Machajewski, Szymon.  Gamification in Blackboard Learn.  Eric,  July 2017.

Silva, Eric. Gamification with Blackboard (Part 1).  EdTech Connection, December 16, 2014.

Simple Ways to “Gamify” a Bb Learn Course. Blackboard Community,
teachinglearning/blog/2018/02/22/simple-ways-to-gamify-a-bb-learn-course. February 14, 2018.


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