Study Links Game-based Learning to Increased Student Self-Efficacy and Engagement in Higher Education Writing Courses

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Initial pilot results from 14 colleges and universities suggest that digital game-based learning improved student engagement and confidence in writing skills

The insights and data from this pilot can help other faculty embrace this innovative approach to instruction.

Toolwire, a Silicon Valley-based digital courseware developer, released results today from a group of 14 faculty who piloted the Toolwire Writing Games during the fall 2015 semester with over 1,000 students, primarily in developmental and introductory composition courses. With faculty reporting persistent gaps between student writing abilities and the demands of college-level work, the Writing Games introduce an engaging digital courseware intervention to help students succeed in basic writing courses.

The research report documents faculty and student reactions based on over 530,000 minutes of student usage at institutions including several campuses within the Maricopa, Lone Star, and Colorado Community College systems as well as faculty from the California State University and City University of New York (CUNY) systems.

The study was authored by Dr. Douglas C. Beckwith, Ph.D., J.D., Toolwire’s Senior Fellow and a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, where he will be teaching a course on game-based learning this fall. A few key insights from this report included:

  • Faculty (86%) and students (70%) largely agreed that the Writing Games added educational value to the introductory writing courses.
  • The majority of faculty (79%) and students (68%) reported that the Writing Games led to increases in students’ writing ability.
  • The majority of faculty (64%) agreed that the Writing Games enabled them to use their instructional time more effectively.

“My students appreciated how these role-based experiences provided an interactive and engaging way to apply writing mechanics and processes in a real world workplace setting,” said Tonya C. Hegamin, a professor at Medgar Evers College (CUNY). “Helping students make this connection between the classroom and their future career success is a powerful way to keep them motivated and determined to learn.”

Focusing on foundational writing skills, including grammar basics, the writing process, paragraph construction, revising and editing, and research and citation, each of the 17 Writing Games uses live-action video to immerse learners in real world workplace scenarios with short, 20-25 minute learning activities. As a supplement to instruction and traditional course materials, the mobile-friendly learning modules provide interactive practice, real-time remediation, performance analytics, and gaming mechanics such as scoring and leveling in order to engage students and help them master key concepts.

“From these initial partnerships, we’ve seen that game-based learning applies very effectively to first-year writing courses and can substantially increase student engagement and confidence in their writing abilities. The insights and data from this pilot can help other faculty embrace this innovative approach to instruction,” said John Valencia, CEO and President of Toolwire. “Toolwire is grateful to the faculty and students who pioneered this game-based learning project and to all of the institutional leaders who supported these pilots.”

Drawing on rich instructional insights from the first wave of faculty and students, the pilot results provide a foundation for faculty looking to use digital courseware that can help students in essential courses. Moving forward, Toolwire and its institutional partners will use insights and feedback from the first pilot to enhance the Writing Games and the upcoming role-based simulations for Business Communication, improving the student and faculty experience for future semesters.

Role-based simulations and games are at the forefront of innovation in digital courseware for post-secondary education according to a Tyton Partners white paper, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Prior to this recently released study from Toolwire, however, there have been few research reports providing this level of insight into the implementation of game-based learning at-scale within a foundational first-year course.


About Toolwire: Toolwire’s game-based simulations and virtual desktop labs prepare learners with the “soft” and “hard” skills needed for student success and workplace readiness. In order to support faculty and create dynamic learning experiences for students, our products and solutions are built upon a foundational platform of value-added services including 24x7x365 support, LMS integration, and instructor onboarding.

For more information about the Writing Games, please contact Peyton Williams at pwilliams(at)toolwire(dot)com or 925.227.8500 ext. 169.

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Peyton Williams
925.227.8500 169
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