In favour of a gamified, narrative-based assessment regime 

Students Engaged in Activities

By Dr Alexander K. Kofinas, Principal Lecturer in Strategy, University of Bedfordshire, Business School


The recent changes in the British Higher Education context have highlighted the importance of student engagement. Academic engagement is closely linked to the assessment regime the students may experience in the duration of their degree. The literature considers assessment as primary in enhancing student performance, inclusivity and learning. However, the millennial generation of students entering the classroom may have different expectations and requirements from their educational experience. The academic faculty facing these students may be perceived as out of sync with the everyday world the students are experiencing and the modes of educational technology and pedagogy may appear dry and lacking imagination or excitement.

As a response new modes of teaching have emerged in the last ten years: blended learning, flipping the classrooms, practice-based learning, game-based learning to name a few. All these approaches require adjustments in the learning environment and a re-design of traditional teaching and assessment regimes. As a consequence, educators need to reflect on their practice and may have to adjust the assessment regime designed in order to facilitate the different expectations in the relationship between educators and students.

One interesting thing that the literature has consistently highlighted is the emotive nature of assessment and how students form their own understanding of the academic experience they are undergoing. It is this emotive nature of the experience that possibly guides the levels of student motivation when learning.

We are arguing in favour of an assessment regime that is conceptualised and designed by educators with a particular narrative in mind; a narrative that re-interprets the student’s engagement with the unit as a journey consisting of learning incidents, which are summative and formative. It is in the unique blending of the educators’ narrative and the students’ personal narratives that a successful learning experience can emerge and thus drive student engagement.

This narrative approach to assessment would have direct implications in the way we design our teaching, assessment, and feedback. The design of assessment should rely on the interplay between formative and summative assessment for the successful delivery of a unit. However, the implications of a narrative approach go even further suggesting that each academic unit taught should form part of the overall narrative of a course, part of a singular story. This singular story can help form the backbone of successful student engagement. Clearly, the educators have little control over the kind of journey narratives that students form but they can provide the building blocks and stir the direction of the learning journey if they themselves have a clear understanding of the narrative they intended to expose the students to.

Educational gamification, i.e. the application of game mechanics and concepts in an educational context, is a helpful way for educators to articulate the particular narrative they wish to expose the students to. The formative and summative elements of any module as obstacles for students to overcome (challenges), the overall grading system that allows students to check their progress, as well as the increasingly competitive and collaborative nature of Higher Education. All are concepts that find their corresponding elements in good games. Good games are addictive, engaging, and conducive to learning. Much of the seductive nature of games relies on the same principles as education; though an education experience on steroid and most important with a clear narrative! Good games are carefully designed, developed and implemented so every aspect of the experience makes sense to the player and also hooks them for the next stage and the next stage, and the next. If we could design the educational experience to focus as much on learner engagement then we could possibly facilitate a deeper and more satisfying learning experience.

This pedagogy can only work when the assessment regime is carefully designed around meaningful assessment narratives where each formative component and educational content is aligned tightly to the unit’s purpose and relevant summative assessment. A good summative assessment should trigger the emotive anxiety that is the foundation of motivation and a good formative assessment design should be designed to address and dissipate that stress directly.


Dr. Alexander K. Kofinas presented a workshop on 'Terror Management & Gamification in Higher Education Assessment' at the Learning, Teaching & Student Experience conference (LTSE) on 26th April 2016. Registrations for LTSE 2017 are now open.