Gracious Failure: Creating a safe place to fail using Game-Based Learning (GBL)

It almost seems every class has one assignment that just doesn’t hit the mark quite satisfactorily somehow. Whether it is the classroom dynamics or the structure of the assignment, it just doesn’t work as we may have intended or expected. Indeed, as an instructor it is a struggle to find the right activity for your predefined purposes or specific class content and structure at times. Game-Based Learning (GBL) might be a noteworthy technique to add variety to your class structure.

GBL to the Rescue! Perhaps?

Game-Based Learning (GBL) is an element within the gamification framework based on game-play with defined learning outcomes (Shaffer, Halverson, Squire, & Gee, 2005). A successful GBL activity, enables the instructor to create ‘adaptive’ activities. ‘Adaptivity’ of an activity is it’s capability to engage learners with different levels of knowledge and cognitive abilities (Plass, Homer & Kinzer 2015). Moreover, the learners benefit from ‘graceful failure’, which is by design an expected and sometimes even necessary step in the learning process rather than simply an undesirable outcome (Kapur, 2008; Kapur & Bielaczyc, 2012; Kapur & Kinzer, 2009;

Plass, Perlin, et al., 2010). ‘Graceful failure’ lowers the consequences of failure thus encourages risk taking, and exploration in a controlled environment (Hoffman & Nadelson, 2010).  Students can demonstrate their skill sets through an interactive, immersive experience, ideally increasing the cognitive processing during the engagement therefore facilitating learning. In short, these types of activities could serve a variety of purposes.

Kahoot!: Don’t fear a little friendly competition!

For instance there are a million and one ways to review the important material before the midterm or final exam. How about doing so, while enabling your learners to showcase what they already know? Commonly, one might give a quiz after holding a review lecture or try to create discussion in class over a study guide, and only be able to evaluate the vocal learners in the classroom. The timid majority may not be able to showcase their knowledge of the content. Having a measurement at multiple phases of learning might be important, especially if your exams measure application of that very same material.

A free, online platform where you can create trivia game-like activities, Kahoot!, is one game-based activity that creates a facilitated discussion in class.  Learners can join the game via mobile phones and the scores from the game can be used instead of above-mentioned evaluations. In other words, instead of preparing a lecture followed by a multiple choice quiz, for instance; you can turn your quiz into a classroom discussion using Kahoot!, so every question is a new engagement opportunity to (re)learn.

Upon exploring, it becomes apparent that the platform is commonly used by K-12 teachers and is gaining usage in higher education as it is easy to set up and use for both the instructor and the learners.

The instructor creates a Kahoot! by adding multiple choice or ranking questions (for Jumble) and assigning the appropriate time for response. Questions may have more than one correct answer and have up to 4 choices. The objective while creating questions can be to test knowledge, however an optimal question would ideally open the floor up for a discussion.

Learners in the top five, can see how well they scored based on consistently correct and speedy responses. Using nicknames helps avoid feeling self-conscious and enables a gracious failure while learning the correct responses through discussion.


Group completing a Kahoot activity


The response from students enrolled in several marketing classes, has been positive overall. Learners overwhelmingly preferred Kahoot!s to the lecture and quiz method, despite the activity being graded just like a quiz at the conclusion. Some commented that the activity sparked some friendly competition in an unintimidating environment and created motivational investment into the process of learning while reviewing content.

One might be hesitant to introduce a somewhat competitive activity to their classroom, fearing it might change the dynamics in class and impact some, already shy learners negatively. While there is not much research investigating this claim, in our trials this was not the case. Some of the learners that shined the most in this exercise were indeed students, who more often chose to be quiet in regular class discussions. Realizing that this type of activity may not fit every learning goal and course content or structure, the only way to see if it works for your class is to take a chance and try. You might discover an unexpected new way of engaging into a discussion in-class, which is graded based on individual performance.

If you are interested in exploring Kahoot! and several other game-based activities, join us for a light lunch and fun conversation around “Fun and Games in the Classroom” on December 1 at 12:00pm (lunch will be ready arount 11:30a) in the FIT studio, Solano 1201. Please RSVP.

2 thoughts on “Gracious Failure: Creating a safe place to fail using Game-Based Learning (GBL)

  1. This sounds like a great learning tool, Ekin; thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to the conversation on the 1st. I’m wondering if Kahoot! could have asynchronous applications, too!

    1. Catherine, indeed Kahoot!s can be assigned as homework. We can definitely talk about the possible implementations during our gathering.

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