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As the personal computer came of age, software that educates grew up right alongside it, creating bold impacts left and right.

The study found that students using the app increased retention by 12% and their grades improved 7%.

Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64—beginning with the first commercially available personal computers, software developers began creating programs to teach and build  children’s skills.  Since the advent in the 1980s of such titles as Oregon Trail, Reader Rabbit, Math Blaster, and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, educational games have become commonplace in the K-12 learning environment. These games have been used both at home and in school to teach and reinforce basic concepts of history, language arts, math, and geography.

Now it’s the college kids’ turn. To counteract the growing impact of mobile devices on their students’ ability to concentrate, learn, and retain subject matter, Dr. Grainne Oates and Dr. Dan Hunter, professors at Swinburne University in Australia figured out a way to use those very same distractions to enhance student learning instead.

In 2015, with the goals of reducing failure rates and increasing retention, Dr. Oates had a bold idea. She decided to use gamification principles and interactivity to connect and engage students with their professors and their coursework.

Dr. Oates, Senior Lecturer in Accounting and Finance, worked with Professor Hunter, the Dean of Swinburne’s Law School and an expert on gamification in education, to build the Quitch app, which engages students via their mobile devices.  Professors and students across all disciplines can use the platform.

In designing the app, Dr. Oates asked students what would make learning more enjoyable. The result is an interactive experience where each day a question is pushed to the students on the most recent lecture material.   Based on students’ expressed interests, the platform includes features such as:  student response tracking, points and badges, timed quizzes, and access to videos and forums. The game is competitive; a leaderboard keeps track of student performance.  Students are learning in small chunks. The reinforcement and chunking provided through the process aids in information retention.

If a student doesn’t know the answer to the day’s question, to maintain status in the game, that student is motivated to return to the course material to find the answer.

Positive Implications for Student Learning

The impact of the app on student learning was recently reported in a study published in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. The study found that students using the app increased retention by 12% and their grades improved 7%. Dr. Oates translates student improvement into dollars, estimating that in a single class, student use of the app improved retention and performance to save Swinburne $1.9 million.

Graph of education gains.

The app is also a game changer for how teachers instruct in classes. The app provides teachers with real-time analytics, so they can see which topics students are struggling with and can tailor their lectures and assignments to meet student needs.

Oates and Hunter recently won the American Accounting Association’s 2017 Award for Innovation in Accounting Education for their mobile learning platform, Quitch. And the app has been shortlisted in the 2017 Australian Financial Review Higher Education Awards. More importantly, use of the app is spreading to secondary schools and universities across the globe.

By providing a tool that engages students and motivates them to take more responsibility for their own learning, gaming could change the way students learn. And that is a bold idea.