By: Nicolas Corbeil, Department of French

As a TA in the French department’s support services, my colleagues and I have a unique role in students’ language learning. We offer written and oral support to students that comprises part of their grades. We have the opportunity to interact with students in a classroom setting only for a few weeks midway through the semester; the majority of our time is otherwise spent helping students either individually or in groups.

Students must come to our centre several times to fulfill the course component, and we have a responsibility to make the experience particularly engaging. There are different definitions of motivation in the literature: integrative, which means linked to the goal of learning (Horwitz 1987, 1990); instrumental, which is the pragmatic purpose surrounding grades (Hamilton 2001; Locastro, 2001); and work avoidance, which is a behaviour that leads students away from the required task (Engin, 2009, p. 1036). Throughout the term, we have noticed that, while there are several students with high integrative motivation coming to our session multiple times to improve, another group of students who had high work avoidance are now starting to recognise the time pressure and are coming in en masse, instrumentally motivated to try to complete their course components. To change this current model of attendance, support services could adopt a new strategy of game-based learning to increase students’ success and attendance.

Engin’s study of second-language learners in university settings provides important insight into the role of motivation in success. Students who scored higher in integrative motivation in comparison to instrumental motivation had more success in language learning. Conversely, students who avoided work and studying tended to have lower success (Engin, 2009, p. 1039). How could game-based learning, also known as gamification, change students’ motivations? By increasing integrative motivation through “social collaboration and competition” (Tu et al., 2015, p. 205), game-based learning can increase learner engagement by “mak[ing] the learning process feel like a game” (Tu et al., 2015, p. 204). Other strategies can complement or be integrated in gamification such as group work, collaboration, experimentation, and problem solving.

According to the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM) (Fogg, 2009), learners need a combination of motivation, ability to learn, and the appropriate triggers at the correct time. Therefore, educators must include a variety of pedagogical strategies to stimulate learning. Increased engagement, emotional attachment, and the ability to provide the appropriate challenge to the learner are all benefits of gamification. However, to be effective, game-based learning’s “incentives (game mechanics) must be granted at the right time (game dynamics)” (Tu et al., 2015, p. 205). In our own teaching, we have already begun integrating learning activities, but this process could go much further in integrating more game dynamics.

Implementing a gamified learning environment can be time consuming. Certain TAs may not want to invest the energy into it. Further, TAs should carefully design and implement the game-based learning approach because it may be ineffective or harmful if done poorly (Tu et al., 2015, p. 213). TAs should recognise that encouraging learners to participate in the design can contribute to building a social relationship, stimulate learning, and save time in the design phase. (Tu et al., 2015, p. 214). All educational activities take time and tweaking to ensure they are properly adapted. By researching the process as a group, TAs could design simple games with the help of students; these could include integrating traditional activities such as riddles, word game competitions, or flashcards into a gamified environment that would track the students’ achievements and evolve with them over their numerous visits. To ensure proper design of the environments, TAs could rely on computerized tools like Kahoot or Quizlet when designing activities.

A multitude of factors other than motivation play a role in academic success: effective pedagogy, financial strain, familial support, or individual abilities. These are elements educators need to confront when building an environment conducive to success. Taking these into consideration, our current system does not always effectively reach out to students with high work avoidance. An email explaining the new teaching methods at the beginning of term would be an appropriate trigger to stimulate students’ excitement. In addition to reaching to students who may have not visited the support services by the middle of the term, TAs going into classes could demonstrate examples developed by some of their peers. Creating a well-designed learning environment using gamification principles could increase motivation and help the French department reach out to students currently not using our services.


Engin, A. O. (2009). Second language learning success and motivation. Social Behavior and Personality, 37(8), 1035-1041.

Fogg, B. (2009). A behavior model for persuasive design. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Persuasive Technology. New York: ACM.

Hamilton, R. P. (2001). The insignificance of learners’ errors. Language and Communication, 21(1), 73-88.

Horwitz, E. K. (1987). Surveying student beliefs about language learning. Learner strategies in language learning. London: Prentice Hall.

Horwitz, E. K. (1990). Attending to the affective domain in the foreign language classroom. Shifting the Instructional Focus to the Learner. Middlebury, VT: Northeast Conference of foreign language teachers.

LoCastro, V. (2001). Individual differences in second language acquisition: Attitudes, learner subjectivity, and L2 pragmatic norms. System, 29(1), 69-89.

Tu, C.-H., Sujo-Montes, L. E., & Yen, C.-J. (2015). Gamification for learning. In R. Papa (Ed.), Media rich instruction: Connecting curriculum to all learners (pp. 203-217). New York: Springer International Publishing.