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Seminar: A Proposal to Use Gamification Systematically to Nudge Students Toward Productive Behaviors

Steve Edwards

Professor and Associatre Department Head for Undergraduate Studies, Virginia Tech

Friday, October 22, 2021
2:30pm - 3:45pm
2150 Torgersen Hall


While gamification in education has been used to increase moti- vation and engagement, it can also be used to nudge students to change behavior. This paper describes work in progress on a holis- tic gamification design for an introductory computer programming course that encourages students to adopt five core self-regulation skills: time management, incremental development, self-checking, persistence, and planning. We encourage growth mindset beliefs by reinforcing that skills can be increased and improved through targeted effort and practice. The self-regulation skills chosen are all associated with successful scholastic performance and present a model of “working smarter, not harder”. They relate to the student’s process of working, rather than the assignment solution being pro- duced. A combination of role-playing game character development, experience points, leveling, daily missions, energy management, and a booster-based reward system are used as game mechanics. The goal is to communicate to students that mastery of these skills is valued by the course’s community, to encourage students to as- pire to master these skills, and to recognize and reward students as they progress and eventually achieve these goals. The design leverages existing work on measuring student effort and progress as they work on assignments to drive game mechanics.


Stephen H. Edwards is a Professor and the Associate Department Head for Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, where he has been teaching since 1996. He received his B.S. in electrical engineering from Caltech, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer and information science from The Ohio State University. His research interests include computer science education, software testing, software engineering, and programming languages. He is the project lead for Web-CAT, the most widely used open-source automated grading system in the world. Web-CAT is known for allowing instructors to grade students based on how well they test their own code. Virginia Tech’s Web-CAT server alone has supported students and instructors from 39 institutions in 1,642 course sections and 8 programming languages, and has processed more than 4.3 million assignment submissions from 50 thousand students to date. In addition, his research group has produced a number of other open-source tools used in classrooms at many other institutions. For his research, Dr. Edwards has been recognized as an ACM Distinguished Educator and has won numerous awards including: the Virginia Tech XCaliber Award, the NEEDS Premier Award, the W.S. “Pete” White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education, and the Outstanding Faculty Award for Teaching with Technology from the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia. His 2004 SIGCSE Technical Symposium paper on Web-CAT, “Using software testing to move students from trial-and-error to reflection-in-action”, was recognized as one of the Top 10 CS Education Research Papers of All Time by SIGCSE.