Hybrid classes may have increased in quantity but not quality post Covid-19
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) literature discussed a move to hybrid classes, however this was not a very common research concern (Bates, 2019). Post-Covid, discussion of teaching and learning in hybrid modes has grown rapidly. Yet getting good student engagement and equitable experiences across online and face-to-face students in hybrid classes seems to be very elusive. Most of us find hybrid classes challenging, and we would be right. Research suggests that teaching hybrid classes are more challenging when compared to either fully online (virtual) or face-to-face classrooms (Raes et al., 2020).
Student engagement is a precursor to learning
Designing and delivering high-quality hybrid classes involves more than allowing students to log in remotely and attend lectures synchronously on a video conferencing platform (Bates, 2019; Owston et al., 2019). It requires careful thought, design, and delivery for student engagement to include both face-to-face and online cohorts (Williams et al., 2022). Student engagement is important because it is a fundamental antecedent for effective learning (Johnson et al., 2018). However, the Covid-19 pandemic saw a significant decline in student engagement and motivation (Kerestes et al., 2021).
Emerging research on gamification in hybrid classes
Although research regarding gamification in higher education is emerging, there is still much to be learned about the efficacy of such approaches. Some have reported that gamification can support deeper cognition, but it is unclear how it impacts student engagement, leading to learning (Rivera & Garden, 2021). To learn more about improving the quality of the hybrid experience, this article asks whether gamification of hybrid classes impacts student engagement?
Gamification in a large hybrid class
In responding to this question, I draw on my teaching practice having designed and delivered a postgraduate course in wise leadership for a cohort of over 150 students (including about 70 face-to-face and 90 online) at a Global top-50 Business School. The face-to-face and online cohorts synchronously completed the course through weekly three-hour hybrid classes. Three elements were employed to improve student engagement and learning: (1) Gamification via an online learning tool; (2) Increased student engagement through discussion; and (3) Continual improvement of the lectures using Brookfield’s (2015) Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) as a specific feedback mechanism.
Multi-pronged approach to gamification
So, how to gamify these hybrid classes? When this course was initially designed, gamification was not planned to be delivered throughout the semester. Rather, it was designed to create engagement in just the first class and in specific lectures throughout the semester. The method of gamification was a Kahoot quiz using a flipped classroom method where students completed pre-reading before participating in an interactive collaborative learning environment (Bates, 2019). For the first hybrid class, the Kahoot was created to (a) increase enthusiasm; (b) provide students with ice-breaker opportunities to get to know their peers; and (c) create some variation in purely slide-based delivery. The Kahoot in the first class was extremely well received by both online and in-person students. So much so that after that first lecture, several students queued to speak to the lecturer. Ironically, it was not to ask questions about the course, but to state they had never experienced delivery like that before and how much they enjoyed this opportunity.
The quizzes were incorporated formatively, and so while the leaderboard was looked at throughout each Kahoot session, it was done so very playfully. Of course, it did bring out some friendly competition, entertaining nicknames and commentary. Further, every quiz was the starting point for an in-depth discussion with the students who ‘should’ have done their weekly reading prior to each class. Beyond the content, Kahoot also was used to do administrative check-ins. For example, there would be questions on when the next assessment was due, or who had commenced working on the next assessment. This helped me get a pulse of the class and for students to be reminded about the work to come.
Everyone had an equal opportunity to respond to Kahoot, so as the facilitator I was able to call on students to participate both online and face-to-face based on how they responded to certain questions. This fostered a high number of deeper discussions and interactions between the lecturer and students, both in the physical classroom and online. It also helped create more parity with regard to synchronous participation between the different types of cohorts, creating a truly shared experience.
Using feedback to refine gamification
Unlike the Kahoot gamification which was to be integrated at specific points throughout the semester, the CIQ had been designed into each of the classes. This tool continually allowed the lecturer to learn what was working and what was not working. The use of the CIQ survey received approval from the University’s HREC [2022/HE001424] and data was analysed each week prior to preparation for the following week’s lecture.
Students responded strongly to their ability to improve the course as the semester progressed, as concerns raised in their feedback were quickly addressed. For instance, one CIQ showed that not all students received gamification well. So, during the following lecture, an online poll was conducted asking students if (a) they preferred continuing with Kahoot; or (b) switching to more traditional slide-based lectures. The results of the poll showed that an overwhelming majority of the students preferred Kahoot to a traditional slide-based lecture. It also provided the opportunity for the lecturer to explain that gamification in a flipped classroom draws on pre-testing. Research has shown that pre-testing can promote better cognition and retention of complex concepts (James & Storm, 2019). Because of the feedback received after the first lecture (and continually throughout the semester), the Kahoot approach to gamification was utilised across the course with the aim to improve student engagement.
Were students engaged by gamification?
As part of the CIQ, students in the hybrid classes were asked: At what moment in class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening? Multiple students emphasised the Kahoot quizzes as their most engaged moment. For example, one of the students said:
Kahoot. It always helps to review the independent reading and summarizes key points. Class was very engaging for every student.
Another student wrote:
Kahoot and the discussions from the questions. I am really enjoying the way the course is being delivered, it’s very engaging and there is true learning happening.
Multiple in-class live polls showed that over 80% of the students in the class said that the Kahoot quizzes increased their engagement, and they preferred it to traditional lectures. The analysis of the CIQ revealed that it was higher with over 95% of students associating a positive sentiment with the Kahoot gamification. The combination of gamification using Kahoot as a playful interaction tool with the provision of the CIQ to gather continuous student feedback worked in concert and are likely to have contributed to the highly positive student evaluations received for the first time that this newly designed course was delivered.
About the author
Alain de Sales joined UQ in 2021 as Research Officer and Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Chemical Engineering’s Leadership Academy. In 2022, he moved to the UQ Business School where he has been teaching Leadership in Global Development, Wise Leadership and now Service Design Thinking.
Prior to joining UQ, Alain completed his PhD, examining how courageous followers stand up to destructive leadership. His PhD dissertation was short-listed for global recognition by the International Leadership Association. In addition to his PhD, he has an outstanding academic record, which includes a BSc with First Class Honours, MBA, MBIT, and a Graduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education.
Alain has received several awards, including the prestigious Marsden award by the University of Nottingham, Asian student of the year UK, MBA Academic Achievement Award, and a Change Maker Conference Research Award.
Alain has worked for or consulted to a diverse set of organizations across several countries. Some of the organizations include Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australia; Masterfoods, UK; Development Victoria, Australia; Forest and Wood Products, Australia; Queensland Fire and Emergency Services; and was recently Head of Digital at a large organization.
With over 15 years of entrepreneurship experience, he continuously works on or advises different startups. Alain’s passion for leadership and followership has led him to become the Founding Community Manager of a Global Courageous Follower Hub and is currently the Chair of Courageous Follower Coordinating Council.