Sustainable intensification of ecological education: a gamification experiment


Gamifying our course 'SOQ32806 - Biological Interactions in Soils' by restructuring the following elements:

  • An entry test in the form of a “virtual” practical” with real-life data. During this practical, students will gain feedback on where they stand in relation to the course’s learning outcomes. Therefore, this test sets the stage for a more personalized learning experience throughout the rest of the course.
  • A game in the form of real practical. The goal of the game will be to develop and execute an experiment that appeals to the intrinsic motivations of the students. In order to do so, the students (in teams) have to develop a creative and feasible experiment within the given constraints (time, analyses and samples available). The degrees of freedom of the constraints will vary with the personal “level of achievement” as determined in the previous step.
  • Weekly interactive style tutorial sessions to review the study material, monitor personal progress and prepare for the exam. Students can form their own groups based on their own needs and interests and are encouraged to work together to find the answers. Subsequently, they will present the answers to the rest of the group. The students will maintain access to the questions and the answers and as such will be responsible themselves for the quality of the ‘crowd sourced’ study material for the exam.
  • A mid-term assessment (“invasive species assignment”) where students will get feedback on their development with respect to the learning objectives (especially the ability to form a critical opinion on published scientific article). Students will be placed into groups based on their personal ‘level of achievement’ and personal learning objectives.
  • Develop a research skills development workshop to model expert thinking and stimulate reflection of the students on their individual development. Experts (i.e. the course coordinators) will tell the stories of their own personal research skills development. It will be set up as an interview with Q&A session, chaired by the students themselves.
  • An assessment of the individual progress towards the learning outcomes of the course in the form of ranking the various experiments and presentation of the experimental results.  
  • Switch to a digital exam with mixed method type exam questions.
  • Train a course assistant to effectively assist in the revised course and take over time-consuming tasks from the teacher in order to maintain the high amount of teacher/student contact despite increasing student numbers


Our ambition for our course 'SOQ32806 - Biological Interactions in Soils' was to (i) accommodate a 50% increase in student numbers while (ii) maintaining and/or reducing the workload for the teachers; and simultaneously (iii) decrease the costs for the chair group (iv) without affecting the unique hands-on and person-oriented character of the course and its consistent high evaluation results.

Strong points 

We can now handle the planned 50% increase in students; we certainly decreased the workload for the teachers; the costs of the experimental costs of the course has slightly decreased (which means that, per student, it has greatly decreased). Perhaps most important, we have the feeling that, as teachers, we can again spend enough time on personal interactions with students.

The course previously had a capacity of 40 and now is designed for a capacity of 60.


For more information or recommendations, please contact Jan-Willem van Groenigen.