Motivate Learning Through Online Games

Lutze Pic

Holly Lutze, Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Lutze is an Assistant Professor in Business and Economics at Texas Lutheran University with 12 years of experience teaching Operations Management. She holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Oklahoma State University. Her M.S. in Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research and Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering are from Stanford University.

Professors often have students demonstrate classroom learning through simulation games. Textbook publishers underscore the need for high quality, meaningful, and practical experiences to exercise new knowledge (Barko & Sadler, 2003). These simulation games are wonderful but are often applied only after the instruction takes place (Squire, 2003).

Simple, free, online games can effectively introduce ideas and provide playful examples for use later in a semester. My students may play with Legos, throw paper wads, or dig through my garbage. However, their interest is piqued when I ask them to bring laptops or tablets to class.

Video games can be used to stimulate learning in the classroom. Some instructors resist this practice due to time constraints or because they believe the strategy conflicts with their traditional teaching methods (Kirriemui & McFarlane, 2014; Squire, 2003) The challenge of engaging students with different interests, backgrounds, learning styles, and aptitudes is one we all face (Barko & Sadler, 2003; Kelly, 2005; Bowman, 1982).

While my classes may teeter on the edge of chaos at first, pulling a classroom into productive discussion fits well with my pedagogical strategy.  I want to form an environment where all students feel comfortable interacting with classmates and with me (Kelly, 2005). My instruction frames what students observe in a game and expands upon it (Squire, 2003). Sometimes concepts relate immediately, and sometimes I refer to the games later in the semester, as examples.

One game I use effectively in Operations Management is Patient Shuffle, available through GE Healthcare Partners. Used to introduce the differences between production organizations and service organizations, the premise of the game is to run a hospital. Patients follow different sequences of treatments, spend varying amounts of time in each room, and leave by either foot or helicopter. Student performance is measured by the number of patients treated and the general mood of the patients.

Students audibly express frustrations throughout the game, but these frustrations are exactly what I am looking for. To elicit student engagement, I follow up five rounds with the following four questions.

(1) What made this game difficult? Comments lead to discussions of measuring productivity, customization in a process focus, and resource limitations.

(2) What would have made the game easier? Comments lead to discussions of capacity planning, scheduling, and strategies for process-oriented layout.

(3) What did you do to improve over time? I point out that they already demonstrate problem solving skills that can help them be successful operations managers.

(4) Who did the best, and what was the secret to his/her success? We talk about benchmarking and, time permitting, allow students to try to improve performance at the end of the fifty-minute class.

Finding free online games that relate to my teaching goals can be tricky. If a game elicits relevant answers to the above four questions, I know I have found a good one. Bottling the magic of Pac-Man in a productive and educational learning environment (Bowman, 1982) is not impossible. 


Barko, T., & Sadler, T. (2013). Practicality in virtuality: Finding student meaning in video game education. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 22(2), 124-132.

Kelly, H. (2005). Games, cookies, and the future of education. Issues in Science & Technology, 21(4), 33-40.

Bowman, R. F. (1982). A pac-man theory of motivation: tactical implications for classroom instruction. Educational Technology, 22, 14-17.

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Games & Simulation,  2, 49-62.


Metacognition: Critical Start for Literacy Instruction

Tasha Vice bio pic

Tasha Vice, Ph.D.

Tasha Vice studied at Eastern New Mexico University, where she received a M.Ed. in Secondary Education and M.A. in English. She continued to study Curriculum and Instruction at Texas Tech University, where she earned a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Language and Literacy.  Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Reading and Education at South Plains College, where she teaches Developmental Reading as well as Integrated Reading and Writing. In addition, she instructs Learning Frameworks courses with a focus on cognitive neuroscience and psychological theories of learning. Her research interests include content literacy, critical literacy, and cognitive or metacognitive factors related to reading success. She can be reached by e-mail at

Core literacy skills are necessary for success. Yet, students lack the reading skills for literacy (ACT, 2011). Improving literacy is the responsibility in all content areas. However, colleges rely on developmental education to address the needs of literacy students (Boylan, 2001; NADE, 2011). Many developmental students believe they don’t need literacy improvement (Vice, 2013) and are resistant to learning (Lesley, 2001; Lesley, 2004). How can faculty help these students succeed?

Direct and explicit instruction of cognitive and affective strategies, content knowledge, and contextual skills are key. Responsive pedagogy addresses some components:

  • Advising, counseling, and support systems (NADE, 2011),
  • Opportunities to deconstruct negative feelings about learning (Lesley, 2001),
  • Activities to reconstruct or develop literacy identities (Gee, 2002),
  • Self-analysis of skill and attitude over time (Moje, 2008),
  • Social, emotional, cultural, and ideological contexts in the classroom (Chiu-hui and Cody, 2010).

Each of these is important, but none solely guarantees success. To increase success, educators should introduce metacognition, thinking about thinking (Flavell, 1979). Accurate metacognition is required to maintain focus, attention, motivation, and self-efficacy (Conley, 2005). Metacognition also includes a personal understanding of one’s performance and persistence (Conley, 2007).

Developmental students’ inaccurate perceptions are rooted in their personal beliefs about their abilities (Lesley, 2004). Dweck (2006) argues those students who believe their skills and abilities cannot change suffer from a fixed mindset. Students with a fixed mindset lack motivation for learning and cannot cope with failure. Students with growth mindset and who believe they can change are likely to embrace learning. Instructing students on the concept of mindsets can help them reduce resistance and embrace change as literacy learners.

“A growth mindset is telling yourself or someone else that you can do anything, no matter the challenge, with time, attention, and practice.” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Duckworth (2016) argues that grit (persistence and perseverance) is the only determining factor of success. Students should reflect on their failures and develop plans to monitor, regulate, and direct their own thinking. Challenging students to go through these processes can help them increase their grit and succeed.

“Set up your mind. Believe. Make your brain work! Tell your mind ‘never give up’. Don’t let falling down, someone, or something affect you!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Mindsets theory provides insight into students’ inaccurate perceptions and may help them focus on growth while grit helps students to understand and persist as they perform literacy tasks.

“Metacognition is important because it helps us be successful! When we have a growth mindset, we are ready to grow and accept mistakes. With grit, we get through it and learn new things even if we fail. This helped me believe in myself, and I think I can do it!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

As a critical starting point for literacy instruction, educators should explore practices and investigate the possibilities of using Mindsets and Grit theories that address students’ metacognition.


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Chiu-hui, W. & Cody, M. (2010).  ‘The United States is America?’:  A cultural
perspective on READ 180 materials.  Language, Culture and Curriculum, 23(2),
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Duckworth, A. (2016).  Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York. Simon and

Dweck, C. S. (2006).  Mindset:  The new psychology of success. New York. Random House.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-
developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, v34 n10 p906-11 Oct 1979.

Gee, J. (2002).  Literacies, identities, and discourses, In Mary Schleppegrel & M. Cecilia
Colombia. Eds., Developing Advanced Literacy in First and Second Languages:  Meaning
with Power, Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002, pp. 159-175.

Lesley, M. (2001).  Exploring the links between critical literacy and developmental
reading.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(3), 180-89.

Lesley, M. (2004).  Refugees from reading:  Students perceptions of “remedial” Literacy

Moje, E. B. (2008).  Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A
call for change.  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy,52(2), 96-107.

Vice, T. A. (2013). “Illuminating Teaching and Learning: Students’ Metacognition and Teacher
Responsiveness in One College Developmental Reading Class” (Unpublished doctoral
dissertation).  Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX.