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Houston expert: How gamification in education can close the COVID-19 learning gap

Gamified activities incentivize students to work harder to achieve goals and catch up in the subjects they were falling behind in. Photo via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented difficulty for teachers. Students adjusting from in-person to remote back to in-person learning have struggled immensely.

Research demonstrates that during the COVID-19 pandemic, high school students lost on average “the equivalent of 3.4 months of instruction in reading, 3.3 months in math, 3.1 months in science, and 2.3 months in English” — even through remote learning.

This learning gap, or COVID slide, as it is more commonly referred to, needs to be addressed. Already, we are seeing the consequences of this learning loss. According to data from the ACT, the standardized college entrance exam taken by high school juniors and seniors, the “average high school junior who took the college entrance exam in spring 2021 fell from the 50th to 46th percentile.”

Even as in-person instruction resumes again, test scores continue to stagnate and fall. The question remains: how do we recoup this learning loss caused by COVID-19?

What is ed tech?

Education technology, or edtech, refers to the practice of using educational hardware and software to enhance teaching in the classroom. Edtech can make learning more accessible and fun for students. With the rise in learning gaps in the classrooms, edtech can solve this growing issue.

While edtech has taken over the field of education quite rapidly due to the onset of COVID-19, there are certain aspects of educational technology that are still unexplored by many. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and machine learning have become more prominent in the field. Learning becomes much more exciting when the idea of games is added to it.

The concept that students end up learning more while having fun has been given a new name: gamification in education. Game-based elements are integrated with learning to enhance students’ knowledge and information. Technology has broken down various barriers to becoming an integral part of our day-to-day lives and changing how we live. However, despite becoming a part of education, there is limited research as to how gamification affects students.

Benefits of gamification in education

Do you remember that feeling back in school when you received a gold star on your worksheet? Or the time when your name went up on the classroom wall of fame? That feeling of being excited and even proud of our achievement is what we need to harness in order to make our students excited about their learning. By providing badging and credentialing in their day-to-day learning, we can provide gamification aspects of that classroom wall of fame!

Even though it is evident that students are significantly more enthusiastic when gamification in education is involved, there are certain behavioral changes caused by gamification that are also observed by various studies.

A study shows that gamification has a positive yet moderate effect on students. However, it tends to have a greater impact on school students than college students. Nonetheless, this cannot be generalized to all students since many character traits differ across students resulting in various outcomes.

According to Science Direct, students who experienced challenge-based gamification faced an increase in their performance levels by 89.45 percent as compared to those who only received lectures. This study once again proves that gamification piques the interest of students in their education and leads them to do better.

This point is further supported by Intuition which found that 67 percent of students found gamified learning to be more engaging and encouraging as compared to traditional learning courses.

The learning environment created with the availability of gamification seems promising to the extent that students are capable of achieving more and absorbing more as compared to traditional learning methods. E-learning has made different channels of education accessible to students who seem more eager to learn in a virtual social network. This behavior gives room to healthy competition among students who then wish to perform better than others.

​Incorporating gamification in education

There isn’t a set standard of gamified learning involved and depending on the lesson, different features of gamification can be used to make education fun and unique for all. Some useful ways of incorporating gamification within the classroom include:

  • Creating avatars. Allowing students to have personalized experiences and developing their skill sets in a competitive environment with their classmates prepares them for practical life.
  • Awarding badges. Rather than receiving grades, students can be awarded online badges that mark their progress in class.
  • Knowledge checks. Testing subject skills through quizzes and leaderboards increases the performance levels of students while strengthening their concepts within the class.

The addition of simple gamification in education makes the learning process unique to each teacher or classroom while enhancing the competitiveness of students to perform better and achieve more.

Considering that children have faced a detrimental setback in their education, we need to get their attention back on track. COVID-19 has made students heavily reliant on their tablets and smartphones which makes using gamification a good technique to get them to engage with their academics once again. These conceptual gamified activities incentivize students to work harder to achieve goals and catch up in the subjects they were lacking behind in. It is time that we try these engaging activities and unique methods to boost student engagement and provide an avenue for them to get excited about their education.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

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Building Houston

 
 

Jason Pesterfield, CEO of Optellum, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how he plans on getting the company to commercialization right here from Houston. Photo courtesy of Optellum

When a United Kingdom-based, artificial intelligence-driven lung cancer detection tool opened its United States headquarters in Houston, the company tasked Jason Pesterfield with the role of CEO to oversee international expansion and commercialization strategy. Pesterfield, who's based out of the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute, is familiar with the job he's been hired to do — that's because he's done it before.

After spending almost two decades at medical technology company, Stryker, Pesterfield joined St. Louis-based Veran Medical Technologies, a company also focused on lung cancer detection, and grew the business over 8 years years to a $30 million-plus annual revenue company before it was acquired by Olympus Corp. in 2020.

After assisting with the transition, he was approached by U.K.-based Optellum's Founder Timor Kadir about taking the reins of Optellum last year to again help scale the early stage digital health company.

"I'm not a computer scientist or an algorithm guy, but I do have experience in commercialization, leading teams, building culture, acquire great talent, working with my team to build a great strategy, and working with investors to make sure we're in a good financial position," Pesterfield says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Optellum was founded in 2016, and first entered the Houston market by way of the TMC's accelerator program and its BioBridge with the U.K. The company's technology is an AI platform that helps practitioners diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer. The software uses natural language processing to scan medical reports of nodules in the lungs to give health care providers more information on cancer diagnostics — an analysis that takes just seconds.

"It's like having a hundred thousand sets of eyes looking over a physician's shoulder," Pesterfield says.

In September, the company raised a $14 million series A round of funding, and Pesterfield explains how that funding is being deployed to focus on growing teams within sales, B2B support, and its research and development pipeline.

He explains on the show that Optellum is just getting started with its relationship within the Houston innovation ecosystem. Pesterfield says Optellum is even on the path to securing its first Houston-based customer.

"We're really at the beginning of it," he says. "This is the epicenter of medicine within the United States. There's no bigger or better place for health care than Houston. It's great to be a part of that and to have access to those facilities and those world class physicians and care teams."

Pesterfield share more on Optellum's future on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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