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Gamifying Online Learning for Enhanced Engagement

Dr. Lorenzo Brancaleon, an accomplished professor at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has been instrumental in transforming Physics education over his 17-year tenure. His commitment to student success and engagement has been evident through his innovative teaching methods at undergraduate and graduate levels. When faced with the challenge of maintaining high-quality course design and student engagement in an online learning environment, Dr. Brancaleon and his colleagues sought to address a critical issue: the noticeable decline in student participation. This allowed for the introduction of PlayPosit by WeVideo in the Thermal Physics course. 


  • Enhancing online engagement: Use a gamified approach to increase student participation.

  • Quality course design: Update course design to meet the needs of an online environment while keeping quality in place.

  • Student interaction: The online offerings include group work and interactive components to encourage student interaction.

  • Long-term success: With a future-forward approach, the updates to the course are intended for long-term success for the student learning experience.

  • Engagement strategies: Gamification, interactivity, and collaboration are all implemented to encourage more student engagement.


Dr. Brancaleon experimented with a gamification approach in his Thermal Physics course, aiming to harness the interactive and engaging elements of gaming. The course was divided into two modules, each serving as a “level” in a format similar to a game. This approach was geared toward increasing low-stakes assessments and checkpoints and reducing the reliance on traditional exams. 


After the initial gamified structure was rolled out, updates were put in place based on course feedback, and to prepare for a larger and more diverse student body. In addition to rolling out a gamified approach in Thermal Physics, the Physics for Scientists and Engineers course also went through an update. In the latter, the levels format was eliminated, but interactive components such as bulbs (PlayPosit’s word for interactive videos), group collaborations, and a leaderboard system with unique badges were included. These innovations aimed to foster a balance between knowledge acquisition and engagement. As a result, the following objectives were met:

  • Enhanced online engagement: The gamification approach increased student participation and interaction in the online format.

  • Maintained quality in course design: The course structure was successfully adapted to the online environment while preserving educational quality.

  • Improved student interaction: Interactive components and group work promoted greater communication among students and instructors.

  • Ensured long-term academic success: The new course format aimed to sustain student interest and academic performance over time.

  • Effective engagement strategies: Implementation of gamification and interactive learning methods proved effective in engaging students more deeply in the course material. 


With the initial success of the gamified approach in Thermal Physics and in Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Dr. Brancaleon continues to strive to increase the use of gamification at UTSA as an Advancing Next-Gen Faculty Leadership Fellow. As a fellow, his goal is to shape the pedagogical models with game-inspired design for STEM courses.

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