Thomas E Heinzen

William Paterson University
Abstract: "Practice Using Game Design to Increase Student Completion Rates".

This workshop will (a) define games; (b) review principles of game design, (c) demonstrate how those principles are being applied to improve student completion rates, (d) practice applying principles of game design to particular problems in higher education suggested by the workshop participants, and (e) caution participants about the dangers of simplistic application of PBLs.

(a) The definition of games emphasizes that games and play are voluntary, so providing choice is a critical element of applied game design. (5 mins.)

(b) The six principles that will be described are (1) the overall experience (of higher education); (2) onboarding (into the culture of higher education); (3) leveling up (to make systematic progress in higher education); (4) flow zone (re-balancing difficulty and rewards in higher education); (5) failing forward (to increase intelligent risk-taking in higher education); and (6) story (to develop a long-term academic identity). (10 mins.)

(c) Six sample projects are (1) understanding how road signs can influence the onboarding experience of a university; (2) adapting geography to improve the experience of support services (3) designing a “fat points” grading scheme to encourage failing forward; (4) creating a game-based degree audit to maintain a flow zone; (5) enhancing student I.D. cards to promote leveling up; (6) using graduation joy to create an emotional flow zone of achievement; (30 mins.)

(d) I will then ask participants to (1) write down a persistent problem in higher education; (2) identify at least one useful principle of game design, and (3) help participants think creatively about how to apply principles of game design to that problem. If needed, I can prime their thinking with the general problems such as cheating (use choice to create “legal cheating”) or poor attendance (apply experience points), or reluctance to pay tuition (raising and then lowering tuition).

(e) Warn participants about the over-justification effect.


A full Professor of Social Psychology at William Paterson University, Professor Heinzen applies principles of game design to particular needs in higher education. Applications include degree completion strategies, course design, grading schemes, and information trail assessment. He has published numerous journal articles and books that most recently include a statistics textbook (with Susan Nolan) and a documentary of critical thinking that compares the story of Clever Hans to facilitated communication (with Scott Lilienfeld and Susan Nolan). He presents game design as an application paradigm that provides a bridge between existing knowledge and pragmatic solutions.​