Customer Story
North American Case study

Using Gamification in Math Courses: The University of Waterloo Creates Virtual Escape Rooms

Siobhan Paul
Siobhan Paul
Director, Global Marketing

Challenge

The University of Waterloo wanted to create fun, low-stakes opportunities to motivate students to practice math problems. Faculty were interested in exploring gamification to get students interested in additional practice and to provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively to solve challenges.

Solution

Using the powerful Möbius platform, the University designed escape rooms and a choose-your-own-adventure story that allowed students to practice course content while having fun and engaging with peers.

Results

The activities allowed students to gain valuable practice for their courses. The escape rooms, which emphasize teamwork, were so successful that other institutions have since adopted the content for their teaching. Students have responded positively to the activities and have gained access to practice problems in fun, new ways. The addition of gamification has made math more approachable for students and has helped many gain confidence in math.

The Details

Faculty members at the University of Waterloo wanted to introduce gamification into mathematics courses to make learning math more interesting, approachable, and fun for their students. They also wanted to give students opportunities to work together to solve challenges.

Faculty were already using the Möbius platform, which offered the flexibility to add gamification into the courses.

Paul McGrath, a University of Waterloo faculty member, and his faculty colleagues used the platform to introduce escape rooms and a choose-your-own-adventure story.

The Möbius platform made it possible for faculty to create and deploy gamification activities because of the variety of question types that are supported.

“Möbius allows you to add variety into practice activities and assessments,” said McGrath. “You have the full power of the math engine to create really interesting questions.”

Escape Rooms Allow Students to Meet Peers and Collaborate to Solve Challenges

When the pandemic hit and students could not be together in person, faculty wanted to encourage students to still interact with their peers and work collaboratively.

In the fall of 2020, McGrath and a colleague, Dan Wolczuk, deployed virtual escape rooms in Calculus courses. The escape rooms allowed students in groups of four to complete virtual scenarios like navigating the University’s campus, preventing an experiment from causing a catastrophe in a research lab, thwarting an extraterrestrial cyberattack, and more. The activities provided motivation to solve math problems and allowed students to have fun while learning online. The scenario involving navigating the campus included photos of the campus to allow students to see the buildings and areas of campus they would frequent in a non-pandemic term while meeting their peers, all while practicing math problems. While faculty originally created the escape rooms to meet a need during the pandemic, they were so popular that they have continued to be used for in-person learning. They have also been adapted for additional courses at the University.

“The students find the escape rooms to be good practice,” said McGrath. “The feedback has been positive.”

In a student survey, 87% said the escape rooms helped them learn the content.

McGrath said that compared to other group activities, the escape rooms have been more popular with students, with 73% of students reporting that they liked working in groups for the escape rooms. It’s meant to be a fun assignment to meet peers.

Each escape room typically counts for about 3% of a student’s grade.

After learning about the activity, Mohawk College contacted McGrath about offering escape rooms for their courses.

“It’s really cool to see something I created being enjoyed by students at other universities,” said McGrath.

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story Helps Students Connect Math to Their Interests

Building on the success of the escape rooms, McGrath and colleagues Dan Wolczuk and Brian Ingalls introduced a choose-your-own-adventure story in the fall of 2022. The story and the adaptive questions are designed to help students connect with the course content.

They developed the story as part of a study on gamification to see if students would practice problems that weren’t part of their grade. McGrath and his colleagues received a grant from the University’s Centre for Teaching Excellence to examine how gamification impacts student motivation, engagement, and perceptions in math courses. They hope to have results at the end of 2023, and so far, the work looks promising.

In the story, space academy students investigate several meteor impacts. Students make choices for their character, which have consequences in terms of which one, of up to three scenes each week, the student sees.

The story allows for different paths based on students’ interests. For example, a physical science student might analyze the meteor’s trajectory, while a biology student can choose a question focused on DNA found on the meteorite.

Students also connect with peers through the activity since each student only sees part of the story.

“They talked to each other to see what was going on in their parts of the story,” said McGrath.

The activity tested the same learning objectives regardless of their choices, and students practiced the same material.

McGrath worked with colleagues to write fun questions that tested each week’s content.

Students enjoyed seeing math in context.

“They like seeing how they can use math,” said McGrath. “I hope it is a less intimidating way to approach math and that it makes it more fun if they can make choices and see questions about topics they’re more interested in.”

Additionally, throughout the story, as students solve questions, they receive immediate feedback on how they’re doing.

The Möbius Platform Allows Faculty to Explore Gamification Ideas

For the gamification activities to be possible, faculty needed a platform that could support a variety of question types.

“Möbius was a key part of the opportunity to create a variety of fun assignments,” said McGrath. “The choose-your-own-adventure story would not have been possible without the adaptive questions and flexibility of the platform. You need to track and reroute students based on their answers to questions. Adaptive assignments are perfect for that. Möbius is great for multi-layered question types.”

With Möbius, faculty can also offer engaging elements as part of questions.

“It allows me to generate graphs, use a variety of question types, add pictures, and include diagrams,” said McGrath.

Creating Opportunities for Customized Learning Experiences and Peer Collaboration

McGrath likes that the platform allows more customization of the students’ experiences based on their interests and needs.

With Möbius, faculty can create scaffolded questions and adaptive assignments with learning check-ins. A student who needs more help on a certain section can get additional practice, while a student who is ready to move on can move ahead to the next section. He likes that students can try problems and test their learning before moving on to the next concept.

McGrath hopes that gamification helps encourage students to build relationships with peers and learn from one another. He also wants the activities to help students develop positive attitudes about mathematics.

“I want students to see that math is useful and fun, and I hope that the activities help
build their long-term confidence in the subject,” said McGrath. “I also want them to think about how they can apply math in a variety of disciplines.”