Chapter four summary
In this chapter, interview information from the student participants as well as their
instructors and an ELI program administrator was presented. The first research question asked students and instructors to share their views on the vocabulary skills and goals present in the
classroom during the semester as well as general impressions of how each group perceived
Quizlet as a program to support vocabulary study. The second research question attempted to
explore the larger context of the semester as it unfolded during online learning conditions forced
by the COVID-19 pandemic. This research question elicited responses from students and
instructors that pointed to themes of challenge with technology and creating a social space
online. Reported technology perceptions focused on the amount of technology used, the
difficulty of the programs, technology-based learning fatigue and time limitations. Perceptions of
the social space coalesced around difficulties building relationships, feeling present with others,
maintaining communication, and forming teams for the gamified vocabulary program. The third
research question investigated participant perceptions of the digital badges implemented in the
study, as well as perceptions of the competitive aspect of the leaderboard and comparing badges
to others.
Throughout the chapter, the experiences of students, instructors, and the program
administrator were compared or contrasted as appropriate to demonstrate shared or differing
perceptions of how the gamified vocabulary program was received in the larger context of the
online EAP course. Some interpretations of the findings have been included in this chapter as the
data was presented. The following chapter will focus on discussing the findings more extensively
and lay out the limitations of the study.

Chapter 5: Discussion
A goal of this dissertation study was to begin to address gaps in the literature in two
different areas. First, while research into the use of games and simulations to deliver language
content is a well-developed area of scholarship, research into the use of gamification techniques
in language teaching and learning as differentiated by Deterding et al. (2011) and Landers (2014)
is comparatively much less studied. It is only quite recently that gamification has begun to be
highlighted (e.g., Chiang, 2020; Wichadee & Pattanapichet, 2018). Second, as found by Koivisto
and Hamari (2019), gamification literature has generally been skewed towards quantitative
methods, and qualitative components of research studies have relied heavily on survey short
responses rather than richer data collection. Also, much prior research has focused on individual
considerations rather than contextual and social factors at play in gamified activities.
This study aimed to explore the perceived experiences with and value of a gamified
vocabulary study program, both from the perspectives of the students and the instructors in an
online university EAP setting. Due to the ability for gamification to increase learner time on task,
longevity and repetitions of interactions with gamified systems, and enjoyment (Dichev &
Dicheva, 2017; Dicheva et al., 2019; Koivisto & Hamari, 2019), gamification may have the
potential to affect learner engagement with vocabulary form-meaning practice programs. This
raised the possibility that a gamified vocabulary review program could be a beneficial addition to
students’ typical vocabulary study strategies. Learning more about student and instructor
experiences with such a program within the online, COVID-19 educational context was an
important first step to identifying what approaches may work to improve student engagement
with academic vocabulary in the university EAP setting.

This study addressed this larger research problem by exploring student and instructor
perceptions of the Quizlet (Quizlet, 2022) program, digital badge and leaderboard gamification
elements, and the larger social context of the online semester and how it may have influenced
interactions with the gamified Quizlet program. In this chapter, each research question will be
discussed in light of the data gathered from the participants. Finally, the limitations of the study
will be discussed.
The research questions
The study aimed to address three primary research questions tied to student and instructor
perceptions of Quizlet’s usefulness for vocabulary study in the university EAP context, the larger
classroom context of computer-supported collaborative learning as necessitated by the COVID-
19 pandemic, and student and instructor perceptions of the gamification of the Quizlet program
using digital badges and a common leaderboard. The specific research questions were as follows:
RQ1: What were students’ and instructors’ perceptions of the online learning context of their ELI
a) What were students’ and instructors’ perceptions of the technologies used to support
the online classroom environment?
b) What were students’ and instructors’ perceptions of the technology-mediated social
space in the online classroom? How did this environment support or not support
student relationship building, communication and team-building?
RQ2: What were student perceptions of their vocabulary needs and practices, and how did
students perceive Quizlet as a tool for their own vocabulary study?
RQ3: How did students at different levels of engagement with Quizlet perceive the gamification
of the program?

a) How do students who engage with the program frequently/seldomly describe their
b) To what extent do participants highlight certain aspects of the program’s
gamification in particular? W What are common themes in experiences between
frequent/seldom users of the gamified program, and what experiences are
different between these groups of users?
Interpretations of the findings
The interpretations of the findings below are organized by research question but
collectively comment on the perceptions of the implementation of a gamified vocabulary study
program during the COVID-19 pandemic in the higher education CSCL EAP environment. The
overall interpretation of the findings is that the gamification of the Quizlet program was not
found to be engaging in the COVID-19, CSCL context. While participation rates in optional
gamified activities are difficult to find in the existing literature, de-Marcos et al. (2014) recorded
a substantial engagement rate with course gamification of roughly 20%. Of the 111 potential
student participants, only 3 engaged with Quizlet (Quizlet, 2022) to a substantial degree (2.7%),
demonstrating a substantial amount of amotivation across the ELI sections in terms of interest
and participation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Interpretation of student and instructor data illuminates a
number of potential explanations for this general lack of engagement.
Research question 1
Because the online learning space harnessed using a CSCL approach is necessarily
mediated by the technological systems underpinning instruction, the first research question
explored student and instructor perceptions of both the ELI course technology and the social
environment of the class that was supported by that technology. Given that nearly all of the students and instructors had experience in online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this
study found that the amount of technology and the perceived complexity of the technology used
were not seen by the students as major hurdles to their academic participation in the ELI courses.
This finding echoes Aguilera-Hermida (2020), who found that students perceived high levels of
ease of use with instructional technologies similar to those in this study after just one semester of
online learning during the pandemic.
For instructors, they felt confident in the amount and types of technology implemented in
their courses, but several instructors felt that their students’ tech skills were lacking, especially in
the cases of students who had not progressed through multiple levels of the ELI. Lauren,
Stephanie & Charlotte specifically mentioned that their students were not processing the
structure of Blackboard well due to the kinds of mistakes and questions the students were
bringing to them about their general assignments and assessment results. Reinforcing this
perception, Blackboard was found by many students to be unintuitive or too cluttered with
information for them to feel comfortable using it. Similar findings were reported by Al-khresheh
(2021) and Zanjani (2016), who found that both students and instructors perceived Blackboard as
difficult to navigate and filled with too many extraneous tools and links, which reduced users’
experiences engaging with the system. In contrast, Microsoft Teams was much more positively
received by those students who used it because of the unified structure of the platform and its
ability to link to class meetings, chat channels and documents. The student and instructor
perceptions of Blackboard raise questions about whether hosting the Quizlet materials, links and
gamification elements on a different platform would have facilitated better participation. While
few students reported impediments to feeling competent (Ryan & Deci, 2000) with the technology in a general sense, placing the badging and Quizlet materials and links in Blackboard
may have turned some students off from engaging with them.
Notably, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the students and instructors felt that the online
learning environment brought on by COVID-19 was not their preferred learning and teaching
context. The students reported a desire to return to in-person instruction, and a number of
students reported feeling that the online nature of the course was necessary for the moment but
not something they wished to embrace fully in the future. The instructors’ perceptions were
similar, with Stephanie, for example, stating that students felt upset about the class being online
for another semester and approaching their coursework with a certain amount of resignation.
Research by Hartshorn and McMurry (2020) found that the primary concern in ESL learners in
the US university setting during COVID was their schoolwork, with students reporting that their
opportunities to improve their language skills were significantly hampered in the online setting,
closely matching the findings of this study.
Hartshorn and McMurry (2020) also found that reactions to the online instructional
technology were not always negative. When comparing groups of participants in this study by
engagement with the Quizlet program, students who engaged less tended to report feeling fatigue
with the technology used for online instruction. However, both Josef and Thiri actually reported
feeling better about the use of technology for instruction (despite still wanting to return to inperson
learning). Ultimately, Lauren, Stephanie and Charlotte perceived that students who were
burned out with the online learning may have been resistant to do additional tasks in the digital
space, including using Quizlet or interacting with the digital badges. Numerous studies have
found evidence of negative effects of digital cognitive overload in work settings (e.g. Eppler &
Mengis, 2004; Schmitt et al., 2021) as well as Zoom (Nadler, 2020; Reinach Wolf, 2020), and one strategy of relieving this overload in sufferers is to purposely avoid additional digital media,
or to “digital detox” (Schmitt et al., 2021).
While the technology used to mediate online instruction may have had some generally
negative effects on student engagement with the gamified Quizlet activity, the most significant
finding regarding the context in relation to the gamification process as outlined by Koivisto &
Hamari (2019) were perceptions of the social environment. Using a CSCL social framework
(Kreijns et al., 2013) for analysis, the data from the students and instructors indicate significant
issues with creating an environment conducive to social interaction. With limited abilities to
socialize, be present in the classroom, and create a social space, collaborative work and teambased
learning activities may suffer.
According to Kreijns et al. (2013), “… the sociability of a CSCL environment is its
potential to encourage socioemotional interaction. The tangible (i.e., the physical and
technological) elements that determine the sociability of the CSCL environment do not by
themselves influence the quality, content, and intensity of the socioemotional interaction, but
these elements can be designed in such a way that it becomes more likely that they can exert that
influence” (p. 231). One of the major hurdles to sociability cited by both students, instructors and
the ELI administrator was the lack of class time due to the scheduling challenges brought on by
the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to teach synchronously to students in locations around the
globe. This restriction, in turn, led to significantly fewer opportunities for students to do anything
beyond on-task activities during this class time together.
As Kreijns et al. (2013) propose, on-task collaboration does not necessarily lead to social
interaction or the development of the social relationships that are needed to underpin teamwork
in the classroom. Kirschner and Erkens (2013) state that it is easy for instructors to assume that simply putting students together in groups would help build student social relations. All of the
instructors interviewed mentioned building group work time into their synchronous courses
whenever possible, but, as sensed by Nicholas, these strictly on-task efforts largely developed
only shallow relationships. As he said, he “kept the community shallow rather than keeping a
deeper bond…But it also keeps English being spoken in the classroom” (Nicholas, instructor
interview, 11/3/21). In this example, the pedagogical need to keep students focused on cognitive,
on-task activities applied restrictions on off-task, relational activities. This perception was
confirmed by numerous students. As Lien mentioned, “… I just know, because sometimes we
[sic] in the group, so we just know, we know the name of each other. Not really clearly. Usually
because we have to do our work, so not really” (Lien, student interview, 10/29/21). Her
statement was echoed by numerous other students who felt that the classroom time was too
limited or too “precious” (Ben, student interview, 10/15/21) to spend on anything beyond the
learning objectives for the course. This reality of time limitations therefor likely compromised
the ability for instructors in the ELI to provide for socialization (Kreijns et al., 2013) for the
In addition to time, aspects of the technology platforms limited opportunities for
socialization beyond on-task activities. As opposed to a physical classroom, Zoom and Teams
created an ephemeral, temporary space which essentially collapsed into nothingness as soon as
the class session ended. This left students reliant on Zoom with no easy way of contacting others
in order to organize for collaboration or competition in the Quizlet activity. Generally, the
technology for synchronous learning did not extend beyond the immediate boundaries for class
time because the room would be inaccessible once closed by the instructor. Breakout rooms may
have been seen by instructors as opportunities for students to get to know each other, but they were so strictly task-focused as an instructional design choice, as well as limited in terms of time,
that students did not perceive that they were serving the social purposes that the instructors
perceived. As Liang mentioned, when in the main class area of Zoom/Teams, students deferred
to the instructor. So, constraints on social speech existed in all contexts of the class. Unlike a
physical classroom before or after the class session, or around the water cooler in a workplace
(Sveiby, 2001), the Zoom or Teams rooms in this study’s context rarely allowed for a mix of
cognitive and social interactions (Kreijns et al., 2013).
For some of the students, the multimodal nature of Zoom and Microsoft Teams did ease
communication challenges when audio issues or accents affected communication. Ben, for
example, relied on typing messages in chat boxes when communication broke down. For EAP
students in the online COVID-19 learning context, when the ability to utilize text chat when
video is otherwise unusable (like when another student or the instructor is speaking), the option
to use the text chat functions of video conferencing programs can allow supportive or side
communication to continue (Belda-Medina, 2021). While Zoom did not support text chat outside
of synchronous meetings, Teams allowed instructors to attempt to create aspects of an outsideof-
class social space through chat channels, but to limited success. Both Jessica and Charlotte
attempted to integrate a purely social space into their Teams sites, but both reported a lack of
engagement from the students or an inability to support the channels given their other
responsibilities. Lauren had a more active chat channel, but much of the student activity in it was
still class task oriented rather than social. As reported by Thiri, there is also the risk that
notifications from these channels could add to feelings of cognitive overload and tech fatigue
(e.g. Schmitt et al., 2021).

Another factor influencing the social interaction in the CSCL space is the perception of
the social presence of others in the learning environment. A presence in the classroom is
mediated “…by the physical characteristics of the CSCL environment and, on the other hand, by
a contingency of social influence factors such as social context, social processes, and so
forth…Therefore, in our view, the degree of social presence is influenced both by sociability and
by the techniques used by teachers to allow the CSCL members to get to know each other and to
form individual impressions of each other” (Kreijns et al., 2013, p. 235). While the authors argue
that more interactive forms of online communication have better theoretical social qualities than
others (asynchronous Blackboard courses, for example), participants shared mostly negative
feelings about the degrees to which the course structure met their needs for feeling the presence
of others.
Students did not feel that the presence of each other on Zoom was as satisfying to their
language needs and social needs as they would have wanted. Many students reported instances of
peers refusing to turn cameras on, keeping themselves on mute, or otherwise openly showing
distraction in the online context. This seems to undermine the concept of “realness” that is a
component of being present in a social space, an antecedent to social interaction between
learners (Kreijns et al., 2013). Numerous students, such as Liang, Thiri, and Badia, commented
on feeling as if they had trouble communicating with peers because they couldn’t observe body
language or because of cameras/mute interfering in the interaction. Gordon (2020) found similar
perceptions in his exploration of Zoom instructional spaces and in-person, concluding that the
absence of physicality, interactivity and spontaneous moments of laughter and emotion made
online learning qualitatively less relational than the physical classroom. For the instructors,
Jessica commented that there was a process of learning students’ “Zoom faces,” which indicates that the online format creates views of students that are different from their normal presences in
the classroom. Charlotte struggled with students turning off video and sometimes even walking
away from the computer entirely. Ironically, ELI protocols to require students to keep their
cameras on, in part to increase engagement and improve the social space, may have contributed
to emotional burnout associated with the psychological pressures that video conferencing puts on
students that is unique to the medium (e.g., Bailenson, 2021; Nadler, 2020).
The responses of students and instructors point to the potential “double-edged sword” of
socio-emotional development in the online classroom. On the one hand, aspects of the social
environment and communication were likely improved due to the video presence as
communicated by Jessica when she stated, “So they’re doing things that are connecting them all
the time, and anything in the Zoom room, I always allow for at least twenty minutes of putting
them in pairs or groups. So they’re getting to know each other pretty well, and my focus has
been, since COVID started, building community” (Jessica, instructor interview, 12/16/21). On
the other, the fatigue with Zoom/Teams and online learning more generally was likely
exacerbated by the same pedagogical decisions as highlighted by student perceptions of camera
resistance in this study. Additionally, a smaller number of students reported difficulties with
peers’ attention in synchronous meetings. Thiri and Daniel reported having issues with their
interlocutors being distracted during classes which occasionally led to communication
breakdowns. They perceived their classmates as not being present in the moment with them in
ways that were largely a product of the online learning space, corroborating findings of other
research concerning online learning in the COVID-19 setting (e.g., Kostaki, 2021).
Finally, as Kreijns et al. (2013) explain, socializing and feeling like others in the online
class are present supports social interaction, which in turn maintains what they term a sound social space for learning. They write, “A performing group requires that the social space is
sound. This is the case when the group structures manifest themselves by strong relationships,
group cohesiveness, trust and respect, feelings of belonging, satisfaction, and a sense of
community” (p. 234). In the language learning environment, the importance of building a
supportive classroom to overcome speakers’ affective filters has long been an area of study
(Krashen, 1986). However, due to limitations of the technology as well as curricular changes due
to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CSCL context appears to have fostered limited feelings of
community within nearly all of the students. As Liang expressed of his opportunities to get to
know others, “I think we have [them], but we don’t want to. [laughs] We don’t want to share.
You know, the teacher is there, so we think he or she will talk, and we don’t need to. And there
are not so many discussions, so I think we don’t need to, so we don’t want to” (Liang, student
interview, 10/11/21). From the instructional perspective, Nicholas observed that his presence
potentially stymied socialization, sharing, “It’s harder with the Zoom tech, for sure, for them to
participate because, if they want to say something or ask a question or make a comment, I’m
there, the one kind of controlling them all” (Nicholas, instructor interview, 11/3/21). Although
breakout rooms were perceived by instructors as having the ability to support social interaction
(Kreijns et al., 2013), as previously discussed, the students did not widely have this experience.
Without the ability to develop strong feelings of connection to each other or the
classroom, the lack of a sound social space made it difficult for students to feel familiar enough
with each other to create voluntary teams. Even when teams were later assigned with instructor
assistance, technological limitations sometimes hampered easy communication with each other.
Thiri mentioned that “I don’t know how to communicate with my team. So there should be a kind
of channel so that we can motivate each other to go on Quizlet, but currently after AEC classes we have no communication in proper channels, so… (Thiri, student interview, 10/13/21). As
discussed previously, the temporary nature of a Zoom/Teams classroom may have limited some
students from having easy contact with others to initiate voluntary teamwork activities. This
likely created a high motivational bar for students to take initiative and form teams to compete
together. Instructors like Lauren and Jessica were surprised by the lack of participation and felt
that, in the typical, in-person context, the willingness to compete with each other would have
been stronger. This, in conjunction with online fatigue and general disinterest with the optional
Quizlet activity, seemed to leave those participants (like Anna and Josef) who found value in
both Quizlet and the goal-setting functions of the digital badges as the few more highly engaged
participants. Ultimately, the lack of sociability provided by the CSCL format and the time
constraints likely negatively affected the social development of the students to collaborate as
teams in a gamified environment or feel any social comparison via the leaderboard, a key
relatedness component of Self-determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) in gamified systems
that will be discussed later in this chapter.
Research question 2
All of the student participants interviewed communicated that vocabulary knowledge was
important for their English learning goals, with a roughly even split between perceived need for
general academic words and discipline-specific vocabulary. Confirming sentiment found in
English-learner surveys by Evans and Green (2007), the students felt that they needed better
vocabulary coverage to succeed academically and read or listen more effectively (Coxhead,
2016; Hsueh-Chao & Nation, 2000; Otto, 2021). Even Ph.D. students like Liang and Josef, who
generally considered their vocabulary skills to be strong, expressed a need to expand some of the
missing aspects of their vocabularies. As Nation (2001) and Ma (2009) argue, receptive and productive aspects of words are not learned in an orderly manner, and students of all levels in
this study expressed various aspects of vocabulary knowledge that they wished to improve.
As reported by the ELI administrator and instructors, there were no vocabulary-specific
learning objectives within the curriculum. As Kristen explained, “While we don’t necessarily
have specific vocabulary SLOs, you basically can’t get away without teaching vocabulary in
some form…But yeah, I mean it is in a way left up to the students sometimes to say “all right, I
don’t know this word. I have to figure it out,” right?” (Kristen, administrator interview, 1/7/22).
In this case, the ELI courses took a wide-angle approach to needs analysis (Belcher, 2009;
Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001), putting the students in control of determining the vocabulary they
deemed they needed. However, despite the autonomy to study their own vocabulary, and student
statements that it was an important aspect of their English learning, students largely opted to not
engage with the Quizlet activity. As Stephanie mentioned, “plenty of them could have used more
advanced vocabulary, but they just weren’t desperate enough. They had, like all these other
issues that were lowering their grades” (Stephanie, instructor interview, 11/1/21). This finding
may lend some support to the “plateau” effect found by Laufer (1998), which described a lack of
motivation for learners to practice new vocabulary past a certain functional point, especially if
the teachers had a more communicative approach to language learning. Given the responses of
the other instructors that they found the students’ vocabulary skills to be generally acceptable,
the students may have prioritized other English activities over extending their vocabulary skills
further, as Stephanie perceived.
Nearly all of the students reported feeling that Quizlet could be a helpful program to use
for vocabulary study, even though some of the participants ultimately decided not to engage with
the program. From a competence standpoint (Ryan & Deci, 2000), all of the students except for Fadila, and to a minor degree Lien, had the perception that Quizlet’s intuitive design made use of
the program easy for whatever study purpose they envisioned. While Fadila generally struggled
with instructional technology, Lien wanted more control over the images she could add to
flashcards, a feature only available to paid accounts. This general perception of Quizlet as
intuitive and helpful for vocabulary study, but with some frustrations about limitations of use,
confirms quantitative findings from past research into Quizlet in the higher education English
setting (Dizon, 2016; Nguyen et al., 2021).
Additionally, the self-assessment function of Quizlet was cited by Anna and Josef, the
two most engaged users of Quizlet, as being one of the most important features. For both of
them, the ability to know their weaknesses, set their own learning goals beyond the classroom,
and accomplish them was highly effective and supports findings in research on the potential of
learner self-assessment (Baleghizadeh & Masoun, 2014; Bullock, 2011; Duque Micán & Cuesta
Medina, 2015). The constructive feedback provided by Quizlet also aligns with the competence
dimension of SDT as a factor improving motivation to undertake a task (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Notably, the testing functions of Quizlet were of primary importance to Anna and Josef but few
others, supporting the view of Karpicke and Roediger III (2007) that learners tend not to focus
on testing their own knowledge as they study. Because taking these self-assessments was the
completion logic (McDaniel & Fanfarelli, 2016) for many of the long-term badges. It may be the
case that assigning different triggers to additional long-term badges may have resulted in a
higher number of badges for other participants who valued other aspects of Quizlet more than the
testing functionality.
The ubiquity of Quizlet was also a perception that may have hurt student engagement.
Badia (who chose to use a different program because she had used Quizlet before) and Cam (who was already using Quizlet in a different English class) both had positive views of Quizlet
but earned no medals, and numerous other students earned a minimal number. All of the
instructors interviewed had used Quizlet before to some extent in their classes. Stephanie had
initial concerns that the program may have become so widespread that it no longer held
significant excitement or interest for learners who may have been familiar with it, which could
affect engagement (Bond et al., 2020; Philp & Duchesne, 2016; Skinner & Pitzer, 2012). This
perception seems to be partially supported by the most highly engaged participants. While Anna
habitually used Quizlet in multiple contexts of study, the program was new to both Josef and
Thiri. A number of studies into digital technology and vocabulary learning have chosen Quizlet
for its widespread familiarity, intuitiveness and free usage (e.g., Dizon, 2016; Nguyen et al.,
2021; Setiawan & Wiedarti, 2020). However, research into perceptions of Quizlet’s ubiquity and
student excitement to use it would be a helpful area of future research, especially if it continues
to be the program of choice for digital vocabulary study in the future.
Research question 3
Perceptions of the gamification elements attached to the Quizlet (Quizlet, 2022) program
were analyzed using Self-determination Theory (SDT) (Ryan & Deci, 2000) as a framework, as
it is a common motivational model in gamification research (Koivisto & Hamari, 2019). As Ryan
and Deci (2000) posit, motivation to undertake an action relies on three primary needs:
competence, autonomy and relatedness. Feelings of competence are based on the perception that
a person has the ability to successfully complete a task or accomplish something. These
perceptions can be supported through such experiences as feedback and rewards that recognize
success in an action as well as optimal levels of challenge. Autonomy includes the perception that
one is free to make decisions and is not being controlled or manipulated by an outside force.

Autonomy can be supported by creating opportunities for self-directed action and choice in
activity as well as the absence of prescribed rules, deadlines or restrictions imposed from outside
the person. Finally, relatedness includes such needs as being recognized by others for one’s
success on a task as well as aspects of social comparison, and can be supported by providing
opportunities to interact and the ability to see the activities of others. Perceptions of these needs
were organized into higher and lower levels of engagement based on the number of badges
earned as well as perceptions of engagement such as enjoyment, enthusiasm, boredom and
frustration (Bond et al., 2020; Philp & Duchesne, 2016; Skinner & Pitzer, 2012).
Nearly all of the students expressed feeling competent with the Quizlet program and the
concept of the digital badges (the exception being Fadila, who felt that she wanted to use Quizlet
but felt unprepared to use the technology due to her newness to online learning and all of the
other technology being utilized). For those students who expressed a preference in earning
certain types of badges (Ben, Josef and Thiri), the more difficult badges earned from streaks of
activity on Quizlet were the most targeted. Badge difficulty was perceived in terms of
perseverance and accomplishment for the most engaged students (Anna, Josef and Thiri), and
there was a comprehension that the types of learning goals represented by the badge designs
were purposeful to encourage protracted study for vocabulary success and competence in
English. These perceptions match research on the design logics behind digital badges in general
gamification research, which have found one of their primary strengths to be in the realm of
competence (Ryan & Deci, 2000), including goal-setting and achievement validation (Bai et al.,
2020; Koivisto & Hamari, 2019; McDaniel & Fanfarelli, 2016; Sailer et al., 2017).
Less engaged learners, with the exception of Ben who saw the value of the streak medals
for study persistence, did not draw explicit connections between types of vocabulary study behavior and the badge design as outlined by Hamari and Eranti (2011). Most of these students
reported largely deprioritizing the badges or holding them in low regard. For example, Badia
considered them disconnected from the “real” coursework she was doing, and Daniel reported
that the badges from his previous experience with DuoLingo left him bored after only a brief
time. This lack of emotional engagement (e.g., Bond et al., 2020) and perception of value (Bai et
al., 2020) were significant hurdles to their participation with the program.
Perceptions of autonomy were also shared between the most engaged participants. Thiri,
for example, changed her goal of which types of badges to pursue, from the most difficult to the
overall number, and even refocusing away from the badges altogether depending on her
perceived needs at the time. Anna and Josef both valued the freedom to choose their own goals
irrespective of others and felt motivated to reach the standards they set for themselves. In the
case of Josef, the high goals he set for himself almost appeared to force him to keep his study
streak alive when he stated, “I knew it was the end of the week, and I looked back at this
achievement, and I went “you have to do…” not that you have to, it’s recommended, but “you
have to finish.” So, actually, I turned on the Quizlet just to make sure that I could continue in this
streak” (Josef, student interview, 10/20/21). The overall perceptions of the more engaged
students in this study fall in line with several of the positive qualities of gamification reported by
numerous studies, including enthusiasm, feedback on performance, recognition of their efforts,
and goal setting. (Bai et al., 2020; Dichev & Dicheva, 2017; Hamari & Koivisto, 2015; Koivisto
& Hamari, 2019).
For the less engaged students, the strong autonomy inherent to the self-directed nature of
the study may have allowed one of the negative perceptions of gamification in education found
by Bai et al. (2020), a perceived lack of utility, to thrive. Despite prior research that has found that feeling competent and autonomous in a learning activity supports success and involvement
(Mercer & Dörnyei, 2020; Noels et al., 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000), that was not the case for all
students in this study. Students did not mention feeling pressured to earn badges from the
outside, likely due to the fact that they were informed from the outset that it was an optional
research study and was not connected to their ELI course grades in any way as a part of the
informed consent procedures. The lack of vocabulary SLOs was a reason why this type of
additional vocabulary activity had potential value, but its voluntary nature runs the risk of it
being ignored by students who feel unenthused by the study context (Bond et al., 2020; Philp &
Duchesne, 2016) or feel that their vocabulary is good enough to get by (Laufer, 1998), as
perceived by Stephanie in regards to her students.
Most significantly, the perceptions of the students concerning social relatedness in
motivating them to start competing in teams and against each other were extremely weak overall.
Comparing badge collections and points progress on the common leaderboard to others, a core
piece of the relatedness aspect of gamified learning (Koivisto & Hamari, 2019; Ryan et al.,
2006), was not deemed to have been an effective motivator by any of the participants
interviewed. For students who were more engaged with the program like Anna, Thiri and Josef,
their perceptions of themselves as being focused on the badges for self-improvement did not
carry over to social comparative attitudes regarding the leaderboard. Even Anna, a highly
competitive athlete, paid little attention to the leaderboard in terms of driving her participation
over the course of the semester. As Landers et al. (2017) wondered in the conclusion of their
study, determining whether the targeting of the most difficult goals offered in a leaderboard was
due to efforts to compete socially or because of self-imposed goals was difficult. The results of
this study offer some limited evidence that the participants who identified the most challenging medals on the leaderboard as their targets (Anna, Thiri & Josef) did so due to individual goalsetting
motivations rather than interpersonal competition motivations.
A lack of interest in the leaderboard was notable for some of the less engaged students
because several of those participants, such as Badia, Cam and Lien, reported strong feelings of
competitiveness under normal classroom circumstances. The influence of participants’ cultural
backgrounds in gamified competitions is a fascinating avenue for future research but falls outside
of the scope of this study. Ultimately, Lien and Badia both related that they were excited by the
potential for competition with the medals and Quizlet in the abstract, but that did not translate
into participation for them. Domínguez et al. (2013) argued that leaderboards have mixed
effectiveness overall, but are most motivating for students who highly value social comparison
and recognition, conditions likely lacking in the CSCL context of the study (Kreijns et al., 2013).
This finding is especially interesting in light of recent research from Chiu (2021) focused on the
engagement of K-12 learners in the online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using
Self-determination Theory as a framework, the author found that, surprisingly, feelings of
relatedness were the primary drivers of behavioral and emotional engagement for the students
surveyed rather than autonomy, as was more common in previous research. As Chiu (2021)
concluded, the unique context of online learning during the pandemic seemed to make the social
connectivity aspects of relatedness more influential on students’ engagement in online learning
than previous research had accounted for. Trenshaw et al. (2016) found similar results with
university students in large lecture courses even before the pandemic, concluding that the lack of
that specific need being met in large-enrollment university courses made the need for support in
that area more salient for the learners.

Taking the findings of Chiu (2021) and Trenshaw et al. (2016) into consideration, the
CSCL context likely had a largely negative effect on all of the aspects of the gamification used in
the semester, but perhaps none more so than the team structure and leaderboard. As previously
noted, students felt that the opportunities to develop relationships, form teams, and build a social
space comparable to a typical, in-person semester were significantly compromised by a number
of factors within the CSCL environment. Markanastasakis (2019), who utilized a hybrid
cooperative-competitive format similar to this study, reported high levels of engagement and
vocabulary learning. However, the classroom context in that study was in-person, and the
instructor had the ability to play a more activist role in the competition. Without the perception
that one really knows their peers in a classroom setting, it is likely difficult for students to
develop the level of familiarity and camaraderie with their classmates to be motivated by the
aspects of the gamification most closely tied to the concept of relatedness.
In this study, a lack of social relatedness within the course environment generally, as well
as with the gamification elements selected, may have been the most impactful single contextual
condition negatively influencing student participation with the gamified Quizlet program. Many
of the instructors, such as Charlotte, Jessica and Lauren were surprised by the scale of the lack of
participation and thought that, had the gamification program taken place during a typical, inperson
semester, student participation would have been substantially better. This intuition on the
part of the instructors, in conjunction with the reports of the student participants and the research
literature, indicate that this may in fact be the case. Further research on this contextual
phenomenon is needed, however.

The primary limitation of this study was the size of the student interview pool. While the
lack of participation in the study was in many ways one of the most illuminating findings, it also
made it difficult to capture the full scope of experiences with the gamified vocabulary program.
The representation within the students who elected to participate also skewed towards students
pursuing graduate degrees, as those students were more aware of the challenges of graduate
studies themselves. For example, both Joseph, who was a Ph.D. student, and Badia, who was
applying to graduate programs, mentioned that they tried to participate in research projects
whenever they could because they empathized with the difficulties faced by the researchers.
Another significant limitation was the context of the study. It is difficult to overstate just
how significant the impact of COVID-19 was on education at every level, including EAP in the
higher education setting. While the goal of the project was to explore a single case, and therefore
not be generalizable, there is still a hope that the findings could inform readers who saw their
own situations and contexts in this case (Erickson, 1986). Hopefully the pandemic context of this
study will not be duplicated any time soon, but there are still findings that can be considered by
instructors trying to implement similar projects in online environments. It is also possible that the
extreme effects of the pandemic on education exacerbated and revealed issues which had been
minimal or unexposed before but are now suddenly more pronounced for future study.
Finally, completing in-depth interviews in English with students studying English was
occasionally a challenge for both parties, and some questions were likely not answered as fully
as the interviewees may have desired. However, years of teaching academic English to
international students allowed me to more easily negotiate meaning with the student participants,
sometimes in ways that led to more interesting findings and concepts in the process. The
participants used their English skillfully to express their experiences, and I have attempted to demonstrate that in this study by presenting their words in their unedited form as much as
Chapter five summary
As the discussion in this chapter highlights, there were a number of significant hurdles to
the integration of a gamified vocabulary program in the context of the case study that negatively
impacted student engagement. While some students demonstrated strong interest in the Quizlet
program and aspects of the gamification, they were in a small minority of the overall student
population enrolled in ELI courses invited to participate. Overall participation rates on Quizlet
were very low, with only 2.7% of possible student participants engaging with the program
First, student and instructor perceptions of the online learning environment were
explored. Perhaps one of the most impactful aspects of the study context on student engagement
with the gamified vocabulary program was the perception that the computer-supported
collaborative learning (CSCL) environment in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic did not
allow for the levels of socialization necessary to support the types of gamification present in the
study. In short, students did not perceive that they knew each other well enough to engage with
the cooperative and competitive gamification elements utilized in the study. This was largely due
to a lack of instructional time and online course design supportive of the creation of a “sound
social space” conducive to relationship building (Kreijns et al., 2013).
In regards to vocabulary study, student participants universally reported a perceived need
to improve aspects of their vocabulary knowledge base, although some instructor participants
communicated that other concerns with their ELI courses could have taken precedence over
these vocabulary needs. Additionally, perceptions of the Quizlet application used for vocabularystudy were largely positive. While some students preferred other, more contextual, methods of
study, the students who participated the most found Quizlet helpful as a tool to collect their
vocabulary resources for practice.
Finally, student and instructor evaluations of the gamification were investigated. While
instructor participants largely had not experimented with leaderboards or digital badges in their
classrooms, they generally held perceptions that they could be useful for certain types of
learners, even if they did not personally find them motivating. Student participants
communicated a range of perceptions of the badges and competition. Those students who were
least engaged cited a lack of perceived interpersonal competitiveness in their class, even though
many of them reported competing with other classmates in previous courses. Some unengaged
students also reported feeling that the badges were unnecessary or less “real” additions to their
study. However, those students who earned the most digital badges reported finding them useful
as goal-setting tools for measuring their own achievements rather than as measurements of
comparison in relation to others, confirming prior studies of gamification elements and their
motivational strengths (Koivisto & Hamari, 2019; McDaniel & Fanfarelli, 2016).
Based on the interpretations of the findings in this chapter, the context of the learning
environment can play a critical role in engagement with certain types of gamification elements.
As Koivisto and Hamari (2019) explain, research into perceptions of gamification that goes
beyond the individual experience and explores the more social and contextual elements of
gamification is needed. This study has aimed to respond to this call, and the next chapter
discusses some of the main implications for practice and future research based on the discussion
in this chapter.


Chapter 6: Implications
In this chapter, a number of implications for both future practice and future research are
discussed based on the findings of the study. While the COVID-19 pandemic significantly
influenced the context of the case study and gamification engagement, there are a number of
findings that are important to consider regarding the use of gamification in the EAP setting, both
generally and in online learning environments.
Implications for practice
The findings of this study can offer a number of implications and suggestions for
instructors hoping to implement gamified vocabulary practice in an online learning environment.
While the context for this study was especially unique due to the larger COVID-19 pandemic
and its effects on teaching and learning, there are still findings that can inform online and inperson
instruction in the post-pandemic environment.
First, the intentional design of a sound social space (Kreijns et al., 2013) for relationship
building within a classroom is critical to support students who instructors wish to work
collaboratively, whether that work is on required course material or gamified language practice
exercises. There are numerous intentional design choices that could support such a space. For
example, instructors could hand hosting of synchronous classes over to students who wish to
socialize or meet with group members after the official class time has expired rather than closing
meeting rooms. This practice, advocated by Bannink and Van Dam (2021), creates a “teacherfree
zone” for student socialization. As reported by students and instructors in this study, the
unified platform of synchronous video, chat channels, links and files provided by Microsoft
Teams may provide additional channels of communication between students and allow the
instructor to host gamified programs in a more central location. Having students share flashcards openly may also be seen as intimidating by students if the social space is not perceived as being
supportive enough to share this kind of information. Instructors may wish to give students
options to not share their resources with the class, even though that may prevent some of the
collaborative nature of the team activity and make monitoring participation more difficult for the
instructor (for example, being unable to see the test performance of such students).
Additionally, as mentioned by instructors like Jessica and Charlotte, having class time
dedicated regularly to promoting student participation in optional activities may improve
participation rates and spur competition or cooperation within the class community. As raised by
Anna and Badia, using game-based learning platforms such as Kahoot! (Kahoot!, 2022) and
Quizlet’s (Quizlet, 2022) live features during class time can be more exciting for learners.
Instructors tended to gravitate more toward in-class, game-based learning, which is also a far
more researched area in higher education, likely due to the fact that many researchers are
studying what they are implementing in their own classes. In the case of Quizlet, it may be
beneficial to play some of the live games on the platform during class as well as supporting an
autonomous gamified program outside of class time (Dizon, 2016; Nguyen et al., 2021). This
could familiarize students with the Quizlet program and build connections between the
competitions on Quizlet in class and those outside of class in a more unified manner.
Quizlet’s positive reception from students also demonstrates its utility as a flexible
multilingual platform for learners to apply more critical approaches to the types of vocabulary
they decide they need rather than having those decisions made for them by an instructor or
program (Benesch, 1996; Benesch, 2001; Pennycook, 1997). The multilingual support provided
by the platform as well as the community-generated language assets available for sharing also
represented the strengths of translanguaging and social language use (Canagarajah, 2013; García & Bartlett, 2007; García & Wei, 2013). These findings show that platforms that support freer and
more critical approaches to study, like Quizlet, can be integrated into EAP programming with
student support. However, instructors may want to emphasize the role that decontextualized
vocabulary study can play as one part of their broader learning strategies, especially for students
who tend to prefer more contextualized approaches (e.g., Huang & Eslami, 2013).
MRU’s transition away from Blackboard to a new LMS may also be a positive change in
regards to the findings of this study. As mentioned by the students in particular as well as other
research (Al-khresheh, 2021; Zanjani, 2016), Blackboard has been found to be less intuitive and
more cluttered than other LMS options. In order to minimize the impact of frustration or fatigue
with a learning platform on other digital gamification elements, opting for a more streamlined
and approachable LMS, if possible, would be beneficial.
Suggestions for future research
A primary goal of this study was to investigate the experiences of using gamification in
support of self-directed vocabulary learning to find common themes for future exploration. Much
of the extant literature on the use of games in the language-learning context focuses on gamebased
learning instead of gamification of learning, and there are still wide avenues of unexplored
territory to cover. Given that this study was carried out in a context that was universally
perceived as suboptimal for learning, a clear future direction for iterative research in this area
would be to study a similar program in the typical, in-person class environment. In a more
conducive environment, the motivations of the students and perceptions of the class environment
may change substantially, providing insight into the role instructional context plays in
perceptions of, and engagement in, gamified learning. As studies like Chiu (2021) and Trenshaw
et al. (2016) demonstrate, the social context of learning can have significant effects on engagement in the classroom. More research into the social and contextual factors in
gamification in needed, as encouraged by Koivisto and Hamari (2019).
Additionally, embedding the gamification into a learning context in which vocabulary is
a more discrete, scored component of the overall course grade would be a valuable future path to
take. This may include extending the scope of the study into the most introductory levels of an
ELI program where students are acquiring more basic vocabulary critical to general
communication and have not yet hit a comfortable lexical plateau (Laufer, 1998). This may
change the role autonomy and competence play in the perceptions of the usefulness of the
program, for example. Introducing gamification into mandatory academic activities could also
open this research topic up to more experimental types of design, where gamified classrooms are
compared against non-gamified classrooms in terms of gamification engagement and overall
vocabulary assessment results. Studies taking these kinds of quasi-experimental approaches are
more common in the gamification literature generally (Koivisto & Hamari, 2019), so there may
be some potential concerning gamification in the university EAP classroom. The wide variations
between individual language learners, let alone differences between sections of students, make
this a daunting challenge, however.
Another avenue for future research falls outside of the university EAP context. Use of a
similar program design in the foreign language study context in a US university could provide
interesting comparative information. For example, would the motivations of the learners change
in the context of a university Spanish-as-a-foreign-language classroom compared to the
university EAP setting described here? Would the relative cultural homogeneity of domestic
students influence experiences differently compared to international students, for example?

This research study had two primary goals. First, there is a gap in the literature studying
gamification in the field of English as a second or foreign language research. Much attention has
been paid to game-based learning in the language classroom, but gamification as defined by
Landers (2014) and Deterding et al. (2011) has received comparatively scant attention. Research
into gamification also has tended to have an individual focus rather than looking at social and
contextual factors, so studies exploring more cooperative applications have been encouraged
(Koivisto & Hamari, 2019). Secondly, because needs analysis for student vocabulary can be a
constant moving target with each new class, the experiences of students practicing vocabulary
outside of the classroom with Quizlet (Quizlet, 2022) in tandem with gamification elements can
be informative for instructor practice.
Research has demonstrated that the use of gamification can have moderate but positive
effects on engagement in activities in a wide range of settings, including education (Dichev &
Dicheva, 2017; Dicheva et al., 2015; Hamari, 2017; Sailer & Homner, 2020). In analyzing the
process of a gamified experience, Koivisto and Hamari (2019) laid out a framework of
gamification that begins with the choice of game elements and their motivational qualities, the
psychological outcomes experienced by users of these elements, and the behavioral outcomes
that result, all within the larger context of the gamified environment. Using Self-determination
Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2012; Ryan & Deci, 2000) to analyze student perceptions of competence,
autonomy, and relatedness in the experiences with the gamified Quizlet activity, student
motivations to engage in vocabulary practice were explored. Additionally, the online COVID-19
pandemic context of the course was addressed using a framework for computer-supported
collaborative learning that focused on the social space of the virtual classroom. This approach
led to a number of findings about engagement with the gamified vocabulary program in this challenging learning context, particularly concerning the low level of overall participation with
the program and the potential reasons for this outcome.
The first research question found that the CSCL context (Kreijns et al., 2013) of the class
was generally not perceived as supportive of the socialization, class presence and social space
that underpins successful group collaboration in learning. While students generally did not report
significant problems with the amount or types of technology used during the semester, the
Blackboard LMS platform was found to be cluttered and confusing by nearly half of the students,
and some instructors also reported perceptions that students were not engaging well with the
LMS. This potentially hindered interaction with the Quizlet resources and digital badges, as
those materials were hosted within Blackboard.
The use of virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams were found to
have constrained student discussion and socialization. The duration of synchronous class
sessions was shortened due to COVID-19, further limiting group work time. These issues were
compounded by the fact that class sessions effectively collapsed the classroom space when the
meeting was ended by the instructor, leaving limited options for communication outside of ontask
work during class time. Furthermore, student Zoom fatigue and resistance to having cameras
turned on made non-verbal communication and feeling the presence of classmates challenging.
These limitations on social interaction and communication appeared to have made getting to
know each other and forming teams for the gamified vocabulary activity difficult.
Findings from the second research question indicate that students and instructors had
largely positive views of Quizlet, even though overall participation with the program was very
low. All of the students interviewed expressed a need for more vocabulary, roughly evenly split
between discipline-specific and academic vocabulary. Although students had a variety of preferred vocabulary study methods, those most engaged with the Quizlet program valued it for
providing them a structured program within which to collect their needed vocabulary words.
However, those who participated little with the Quizlet tended to prefer more contextual and
physical methods for gathering new vocabulary to study. Despite preference, nearly all of the
students found Quizlet intuitive to use, much like other studies into Quizlet use in the English
classroom (e.g., Dizon, 2016; Nguyen et al., 2021).
The final research question investigated student perceptions of the game elements of the
vocabulary activity in terms of competence, autonomy and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Beyond collecting general perceptions of the game elements, differences in experiences between
the most and least engaged participants were explored. Students had mixed perceptions of the
digital badges. The most engaged students perceived the badges as representations of persistence
and achievement that allowed them to set their own goals, in line with the motivational needs of
competence and autonomy that are generally identified as the primary motivational aspects of
digital badges (Bai et al., 2020; Koivisto & Hamari, 2019; McDaniel & Fanfarelli, 2016).
However, less engaged students did not see the badges in this way, considering them to be either
uninteresting or disconnected from the more immediate goals of their classroom study.
Most notably, none of the students found the team or common leaderboard gamification
elements to be motivating to them. The students who earned the most badges in the study
perceived feelings of competition present in the activity to be intrapersonal in nature, challenging
themselves to meet the goals they set based on the badges. The less engaged students, a number
of whom reported being previously motivated to compete with classmates, demonstrated
amotivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and earned very few or no badges. No students reported
making efforts to look at other students’ collections of badges or leaderboard positions over the course of the study. This finding points to significant barriers to feelings of relatedness (Ryan &
Deci, 2000) in the types of gamification most reliant on social comparisons, such as the
leaderboard used in this study.
There are a number of implications based on the findings of this study. First, instructors
hoping to incorporate cooperative or competitive gamification should intentionally design course
structures to be supportive of off-task socialization (Kreijns et al., 2013). Second, instructors
could bridge the gap to outside-of-class engagement in gamification by incorporating aspects of
gamified programs during their live class sessions. There are also other implications regarding
more general student perceptions of technology and its facilitation of student interaction in
online learning. The findings of this study support other research studies that have investigated
technology fatigue, student interaction, and learning management system design during the
COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., Al-khresheh, 2021; Chiu, 2021; Oliveira et al., 2021).
The findings of this study point to the potential influence of the learning context on
student engagement with, and perceptions of, gamification of outside-of-class vocabulary
activities. In the context of CSCL learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the limits placed on
the social space of the classroom (Kreijns et al., 2013) likely negatively impacted social
interaction between students and made forming teams and competing with/against classmates
especially difficult. As research during the COVID-19 pandemic and in large, impersonal lecture
classes has found, relatedness in those contexts is the most impactful of the SDT needs on
participation and motivation to learn (Chiu, 2021; Trenshaw et al., 2016). In the CSCL university
EAP context, gamification may face these same hurdles concerning participation and
engagement over the long term. In this case, instructors wishing to utilize gamification that
targets such social dynamics in the classroom should ensure that there are ample opportunities for students to build a sound social space beyond the typical, on-task group activities more
common to language classrooms