Benefits of Gamification in Higher Education

A Brief Background of Gamification

Gamification employs game-like elements—such as competitions, polling, surveys, and other interactive challenges—in educational settings. The idea has been around for a long time, with many crediting its beginnings to an 1896 campaign run by Sperry and Hutchinson Co. Customers could purchase items from a catalog using “Green Stamps” similar to loyalty rewards campaigns retailers run today.

“Gamification, coupled with interactive tools like polling and surveys, is a transformative force in higher education.”

Another prime example is the Boy Scouts badge system, where children earn badges for mastering skills or participating in certain activities. In the early 1970s, the book “The Game of Work”  by Charles Coonradt was published. Coonradt explored the differences in accomplishments between sports teams and office teams, which set the stage for introducing gamification to education.

In the 1980s, Thomas W. Malone published several academic papers around using video game components in education.

Today, cellphones, apps and other technology make gamification common. Learn more about the history of gamification in this thesis paper by a University of South Carolina student.

Benefits of Gamification in Higher Education

Gamification has many benefits in higher education:

Enhanced Engagement: Integrating polling and surveys into gamified learning environments addresses the challenge of maintaining student engagement, especially in remote or online learning. These interactive tools provide real-time feedback, allowing educators to tailor the learning experience based on students’ needs and preferences.

Collaboration and Social Interaction: Polls and surveys encourage social interaction in the classroom setting.

Promoting Inclusion: The incorporation of polling and surveys provides a platform for student voices. Educators can use these tools to gauge understanding, preferences, and concerns, ensuring that the learning environment is responsive to the diverse needs of the student body.

Skill Development: Polling and surveys with a variety of question types and ways to engage contributes to the development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Immediate Feedback: With polling and surveys, instructors and students can receive instant feedback, which facilitates a deeper understanding of mistakes and supports continuous improvement.

Gamification, coupled with interactive tools like polling and surveys, is a transformative force in higher education. By leveraging these elements, instructors can create an engaging, inclusive, and personalized learning journey for students.

The Importance of Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that not only acknowledges the diversity of learners but actively embraces it. In this blog, we delve into what UDL is and explore its importance in higher education.

UDL enables institutions to create learning environments where every student can thrive.”

A Brief History of the Universal Design for Learning

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) emerged from the architectural concept of universal design,” according to OCALI, a project of the Educational Service Center for Central Ohio. “Ron Mace, North Carolina State University, envisioned universal design as a means to promote the design of products and environments that would appeal to all people, yet meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide access for individuals with disabilities.”

From the architectural design concept, the educational concept was born. At its core, Universal Design for Learning is an educational framework focused on accommodating the diverse needs and preferences of all learners. UDL strives to design learning experiences that cater to a broad spectrum of students, irrespective of their backgrounds, abilities, or learning styles.

The key principles of UDL are:

  • Multiple Means of Representation: Providing information in various formats, such as text, audio, video, and images, to accommodate diverse learning preferences.
  • Multiple Means of Action and Expression: Allowing students to demonstrate their understanding through diverse methods, such as written assignments, presentations, or multimedia projects.
  • Multiple Means of Engagement: Fostering engagement by offering various ways for students to connect with the content, including choices in topics, activities, and assessments.

Why UDL Matters in Higher Education A professor creating a video lesson for students

Institutions of higher education strive to serve students from diverse backgrounds. UDL can support this mission by: 

Helping Educate a Diverse Student Population: Colleges and universities welcome students from various backgrounds, cultures, and with a variety of learning preferences and abilities. UDL recognizes and values this diversity, ensuring that educational materials and activities are accessible to everyone. UDL allows educators to present information and assess understanding in ways that resonate with various learning styles, optimizing the learning experience for all.

Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Implementing UDL principles creates inclusive classrooms where every student feels valued and included. This fosters a positive learning environment that benefits the entire academic community. By acknowledging that one size does not fit all and providing multiple means of representation, action, and engagement, educators can better meet the needs of each student.

Preparing Learners to Enter Diverse Workplaces: In a globalized world, diversity and inclusion are not only ethical imperatives but also crucial for success in professional settings. UDL equips students with the skills of adaptability and inclusivity, preparing them for diverse workplaces.

Meeting Legal and Ethical Imperatives: Many countries have laws and regulations that mandate equal access to education for all individuals, including those with disabilities. UDL helps institutions fulfill these legal requirements and goes beyond by embracing inclusivity as an ethical imperative.

Implementing UDL in Higher Education

To support Universal Design for Learning in Higher education, institutions must provide training and professional development opportunities. Workshops, seminars, and ongoing support can help faculty members integrate UDL principles into their teaching practices.

In addition, it’s imperative that institutions build accessibility into the creation of course content. This includes providing alternative formats for content, captions for videos, and using technologies that support diverse needs.

Finally, it’s important to offer a variety of assessment methods to learners, which allows students to showcase their understanding in ways that align with their strengths. 

In higher education, UDL enables institutions to create learning environments where every student can thrive. By implementing UDL principles, educators contribute to a more inclusive, adaptable, and compassionate academic community.

Six Ways to Support International Week of Deaf People

International Week of Deaf People (IWD) is a global event held the last full week of September to raise awareness of the rights, contributions, and culture of deaf individuals.

This year, IWD is set for Sept. 18- 25. The theme is “Building Inclusive Communities for All.” Each day has its own theme under the larger inclusivity theme, which are listed as follows: 

  • Monday, Sept. 18: Declaration on the Rights of Deaf Children 
  • Tuesday, Sept. 19: Building Capacity Across the Globe
  • Wednesday, Sept. 20: Realizing “Nothing Without Us”
  • Thursday, Sept. 21: Putting Deaf People on the Agenda
  • Friday, Sept. 22: Achieving Sign Language Rights for All
  • Saturday, Sept. 23: International Day of Sign Languages: A World Where Deaf People Can Sign Anywhere
  • Sunday, Sept. 24: Building Inclusive Deaf Communities

”A world that is more conscious of deaf persons’ needs and rights is a world where deaf people are provided the access they need to contribute as equals.”

Learn more about each day on the World Federation of the Deaf website.

Coming together to show awareness for Deaf people within communities helps people better interact and communicate with deaf people. This week gives people an avenue to advocate for policy change and improvements in education, employment, and accessibility. 

“A world that is more conscious of deaf persons’ needs and rights is a world where deaf people are provided the access they need to contribute as equals,” the World Federation of the Deaf states.

Here are a few ways organizations and individuals can support IWD:

  • Promote Awareness: Use your organization’s communication channels, such as social media, newsletters, and websites, to spread information about IWD. Raise awareness about the importance of deaf culture, sign language, the importance of assistive devices and technology, and the challenges faced by deaf individuals in various aspects of their lives.
  • Create Accessible Content: Ensure your organization’s online content is accessible to deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Provide captions, subtitles, and transcripts to make your content inclusive.
  • Collaborate with Deaf Organizations: Partner with local or national deaf organizations to co-host events and share resources. Collaborating with experts and advocates from the deaf community ensures that your activities are respectful, accurate, and relevant.
  • Advocate for Policy Change: Use the IWD to advocate for policy changes that promote accessibility, equal rights, and inclusion for deaf individuals. Engage with policymakers and relevant stakeholders to raise awareness about important issues.
  • Host an Event: Organize events, workshops, webinars, or seminars focused on deaf awareness, sign language education and accessibility. These events can help educate your employees, clients, and your community about the experiences of deaf people.
  • Make a Long-Term Commitment: Supporting the IWD is not just about a week of activities. Consider making your support for the deaf community an ongoing commitment beyond the IWD. Implement sustainable practices, such as offering accommodations, fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, and regularly engaging with deaf organizations, and make sure you’re giving deaf people a seat at the decision-making table.

Ensuring accessibility is essential for deaf people to have equal opportunities, rights, and engagement in every facet of life. Accessibility tools and technology, such as captioning, alternative formats facilitate interactions in educational settings, workplaces, healthcare environments, and daily interactions. 


2023 Winning Scholarship Essay: Assistive Technology Devices

By Esther Kim, Winner of the 2023 YuJa Scholarship Essay Contest

My younger brother Joseph couldn’t talk properly until he was seven years old. Joseph was diagnosed with autism, an intellectual disability and mild cerebral palsy.

He worked hard with his speech therapist every session while his school would try to teach him American Sign Language. Another professional worked with Joseph on an iPad to use as an assistive technology device. It is a miracle sent from heaven that Joseph is able to talk now, almost to a fault, where he never stops talking to make up for his years lost in nonverbal communication.

Although Joseph is able to communicate with his voice, many of his peers are nonverbal and have to use similar devices to communicate their thoughts, wants, and feelings. Many nonverbal individuals with autism face significant challenges in expressing themselves verbally, hindering their ability to interact and communicate effectively.

I myself am studying to become an occupational therapist where I will work with many people in this situation, and have already worked with numerous individuals through volunteer opportunities who use iPads to communicate. Assistive technology devices have emerged as valuable tools to support individuals with autism in overcoming these barriers.

After familiarizing myself with these communication devices, I have drawn conclusions to its many pros and cons. One beautiful aspect I have grown to appreciate is the way assistive technology devices play a crucial role in facilitating communication for nonverbal individuals with autism. I’ve worked with many individuals through their limited ASL, which I am also on the journey of learning for my future patients, but it simply is not as practical because the majority of the population is not fluent in ASL. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, such as speech-generating devices and picture exchange communication systems, allow individuals to express their thoughts, needs, and desires effectively.

”A picture says a thousand words and can be a much smoother, quicker way to communicate for nonverbal people.”

This is also a great way for visual learners to grasp the meaning of new words because sign language may not always provide the extensive understanding as a visual representation might. For example, Austin, one of the children I worked with, who used an assistive technology device, enjoyed pointing at the pictures that would then say the word out loud to communicate their thoughts. A picture says a thousand words and can be a much smoother, quicker way to communicate for nonverbal people. These devices provide a means of communication, reducing frustration and improving social interactions.

Assistive technology devices empower nonverbal individuals with autism to become more independent in their daily lives. Devices like communication apps on tablets or smartphones enable individuals to make choices, request assistance, and engage in activities with greater autonomy. This can be especially important in instances where others who are familiar with their language are not in the vicinity. They would still be able to communicate if they are hungry, what they want to eat, whether they need to use the bathroom, and express their wants. For example, Austin, who I mentioned earlier, at our day program would not be able to communicate many of his needs if I wasn’t there, as I was one of the few people who understood his language, sign, and nuances. By reducing their reliance on others, these devices enhance self-confidence and promote a sense of control over their environment.

“Assistive technology devices have transformed the lives of nonverbal individuals with autism by providing them with a means to communicate, increasing their independence, and fostering social interaction. “

With the help of AAC systems, these individuals can actively participate in classroom activities, communicate with teachers and peers, and engage in learning experiences. One remarkable boy I remember was Justin, who was also nonverbal. Since his only way to communicate with others was his iPad, he became so quick with it, memorizing all the boards and forming sentences at an unbelievable rate. He would tell me whole stories about his trips to Disneyland with his family, just through his iPad. By providing equal access to education, assistive technology devices promote inclusion and support academic progress.

One major drawback of assistive technology devices is their cost. Many high-quality devices and software applications can be expensive, making them inaccessible for individuals with limited financial resources. This financial barrier restricts the availability of these devices to those who could benefit greatly from them. Moreover, individuals in rural or underprivileged areas may face challenges in accessing these devices due to limited availability and support services. One way I have seen this used alternatively was to get paper cutouts laminated with the same visuals and words, and we would teach our students to point to the word they wanted. Although there was no spoken aspect after the “button” was pressed, like with the iPads, it was still a great, and much cheaper alternative.

Assistive technology devices often require time and effort to learn and adapt to effectively. Both the nonverbal individuals and their caregivers or educators must invest significant energy into understanding and operating the devices. I remember when I was learning how to use these communication devices for the first time, I was incredibly slow at it, forming sentences that would take seconds to say in minutes. This can be even more challenging for those with a learning disability such as my brother. However, as I mentioned earlier, Justin who has used these communication devices for years was incredibly quick with it to communicate. The learning curve, however, may be steeper for some individuals, potentially hindering their immediate access to communication and support.

”Assistive technology devices empower nonverbal individuals with autism to become more independent in their daily lives.”

Although assistive technology devices aim to improve communication and independence, they may inadvertently contribute to social stigma. Nonverbal individuals with autism may experience judgment or negative reactions from others who are not familiar with the devices. Such stigmatization can lead to feelings of isolation and hinder social integration, defeating the purpose of these devices.

Beyond that, they also need to bring their communication device everywhere which can come with its own limitations such as having to carry a bulky iPad everywhere, needing to keep it charged, and of course, the social stigma that comes with bringing a huge communication device everywhere. If their battery dies, or they lose their iPad, there goes their only means of communication, which is definitely not something that would apply to everyone.

Assistive technology devices have transformed the lives of nonverbal individuals with autism by providing them with a means to communicate, increasing their independence, and fostering social interaction. However, challenges such as cost, accessibility, and learning curve can also make it not the most accessible way of communicating for individuals. I’ve personally seen great progress and had amazing experiences with assistive technology devices, and can’t wait to see it continue to improve and help many more people throughout the world.

Read more about Esther Kim.

Whitepaper: US Department of Justice and Department of Education Warn Educational Institutions That ‘Accessibility Cannot Be an Afterthought’

The letter covers accessibility challenges, legal framework, enforcement actions, and guidance and regulations, as well as highlights valuable resources for obtaining guidance. It also sends a strong message that accessibility is a priority at the federal level and that the government will use its authority to ensure institutions are meeting accessibility standards. 

“Online accessibility for people with disabilities cannot be an afterthought.”

We’ve created a whitepaper that highlights the importance of digital accessibility, along with each of the sections of the letter and what they mean for higher education today.

Read the full whitepaper

July: Celebrating Disability Pride Month

July 26 marks the anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in a variety of areas, including in institutions of higher education that receive federal financial assistance.

One in four people across all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and religions have a disability, according to the CDC, and many more will have a disability at some time in their life, whether temporarily or permanently. Disability Pride Month is a time to celebrate and honor the diverse experiences and contributions of those living with a disability, as well as to promote acceptance, inclusivity and advocacy for disability rights.

A Brief History of Disability Pride Month

The ADA was signed into law in 1990, but the first Disability Pride celebration didn’t take place until 2015.

“Disability is a part of the rich tapestry of human diversity, and something that nearly all of us will experience at some point in our lives,” said Jackie Dilworth, communications director at The Arc of the United States, a disability rights organization. “It’s also a significant identity that defines how we experience the world. Yet people with disabilities have been marginalized and misunderstood for generations.”

A flag was designed in 2019, but the initial design with zigzagging bright colorful lines caused symptoms for those who have certain types of disabilities. The redesigned flag, which was created in 2021, has diagonal stripes of the same colors, but softer and in another order (because the original flag didn’t accommodate those with red-green colorblindness) set against a black background.

The charcoal gray background is in memory of those who have lost their lives to ableism, violence, negligence, suicide, illness, and more. Each stripe represents a different type of disability:

  • Disability Pride Flag with charcoal gray background and diagonal lines running from top left to bottom right. Colors are red, yellow, white, blue, green.Red: Physical disabilities, such as mobility impairments, loss of limbs, or chronic pain
  • Gold: Neurodivergence, such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia
  • White: Invisible and undiagnosed disabilities
  • Blue: Psychiatric disabilities, including mental illness, PTSD, anxiety, and depression
  • Green: Sensory disabilities such as deafness, blindness, lack of smell or taste, audio processing disorders, and other sensory disabilities

Honoring and Supporting People With Disabilities

From Thomas Edison, who lost his hearing, to physicist Steven Hawking, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to athletes, scientists, inventors, and more, people with disabilities make significant contributions to their fields. “The disability community is full of problem solvers, creative thinkers and innovators,” Easterseals said on its website.

Here are some thoughtful ways people and companies can foster an environment of inclusivity for people with disabilities:

Create a culture of inclusion and accessibility, both physically and digitally. This includes providing accommodations like wheelchair ramps, closed captions, and making sure content is compatible with assistive devices like screen readers.

Support disability rights advocacy. There are many worthy advocacy groups and organizations that need financial and other resources to help advance the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities. Consider volunteering or donating funds.

Promote an inclusive workplace by hiring people with disabilities. Companies should actively work to create diverse workplaces by providing equal opportunities for those with disabilities. Not only is it the law, but it’s the right thing to do.

Educate and raise awareness. Learn and teach others about various types of disabilities to break down stereotypes and promote inclusion and understanding.

There are many resources available, but here are a few places to get started on your educational journey*:

  • Easterseals: For more than 100 years, this organization has worked to empower people with disabilities to enhance quality of life and expand access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities.
  • The Arc: The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and serving them and their families.
  • The National Disability Rights Network: The Network operates in Washington, DC on behalf of the Protection and Advocacy Systems (P&As) and Client Assistance Programs (CAPs), the nation’s largest providers of legal advocacy services for people with disabilities.

*YuJa is not affiliated with any of the advocacy groups listed above and is listing them for informational purposes only.

YuJa Panorama: Simplifying Accessible Course Creation

What Are Components of Digital Accessibility?

Within accessibility, YuJa aims to ensure it’s compliant with the principles of Universal Design:

  • Media content must be perceivable, meaning that it is visible to all regardless of their ability. 
  • Content has to be operable, with an interface that can be navigated by all. This is where features like keyboard shortcuts and audio description come in. 
  • Content must be intuitive and simple. If students have a learning disability or they’re less intuitive when it comes to technology, institutions should be looking for ways to make it easy for them to operate and use as they work through the courses. 
  • Course content also has to be robust; essentially, it has to be scalable.

The Accessibility Solution — YuJa Panorama

YuJa Panorama is unique in that it adds to the comprehensiveness of the digital accessibility offered in multiple ways: 

  • Generating Accessible Alternatives: The high-velocity engine of Panorama digs deep into the file data structure to understand the current state of the content’s accessibility. By integrating into an institution’s learning management system, Panorama can automatically generate accessible formats for users. For example, when an instructor uploads a piece of content into the LMS, YuJa Panorama generates various files, such as Braille for those who are visually impaired, high-contrast for color blind individuals, text-to-speech, HTML, plain text and a tagged PDF version. 
  • Reporting: Panorama also tracks and delivers reports and insights on how accessibility is scaling within an institution. A visual accessibility gauge is located next to the file to make it easy for instructors to measure the accessibility of their course. Reporting allows instructors and administrators to effectively judge the efficacy of their accessible technology, so they can rest assured they’re doing everything they can to assist all types of learners with accessible digital assets.
  • Innovation: YuJa, Inc. is actively innovating to improve Panorama for Digital Accessibility. For example, we’re identifying issues and providing potential solutions to better serve our clients, such as recognizing decorative images, which don’t need alt text, and auto-generating alt text for other images to serve visually impaired learners. This is just one of many objectives our development team is tackling. 

Learn more about YuJa Panorama and it’s features, or request a demonstration

YuJa Helps Make Content Accessible to All

Two students look at tablet in a library.For example, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensure that students with disabilities are given access to services and are eligible for accommodations to meet their needs. Section 504 works in tandem with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect those with disabilities from exclusion and discrimination in educational settings, the workforce and even in their communities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act mandates that federal agencies make information and communications technology accessible to people with disabilities. 

Technology and Disability Accommodations

Educational technology is required to meet the federal accessibility regulations that make it easy to navigate for students with disabilities and instructors alike. YuJa is fully compliant with Section 508/VPAT, WCAG, CVAA and abides by FERPA and security regulations.

The YuJa suite of products automates many accessibility features for students, primarily through the Enterprise Video Platform and YuJa Panorama for Accessibility: 

  • Videos are auto-captioned, making them accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Auto-captioning creates a word-for-word transcript of a lecture, allowing students to both listen to and read lectures, depending on how they best learn. 
  • High-quality audio recording and text captioning makes material accessible to students with visual disabilities.
  • Live ASR allows live-stream events to be captioned in real-time for viewers to provide improved accessibility to content. 
  • Alternative text is included for images and video thumbnails to convey meaning to users.
  • The Video Platform scales well when text is enlarged up to 200%, such as when used with screen readers. 
  • The HTML5 media player provides keyboard shortcuts.
  • Alternative formats of course material can be generated in HTML, Electronic Braille, EPUB, Audio (Speech-to-Text), High Contrast, and as Tagged PDF files.

YuJa also supports regulations for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act with: 

  • Video Origination: YuJa offers full support for captioning workflows, including automation, of full-length video programming, Internet video clips, and archival video programming.
  • Quality Standards: Captioning workflows ensure that captioning meets the quality standards outlined by the FCC for clarity, accuracy, timing, completeness, and placement.
  • End-User Controls: Capabilities for modification of captions is included, with tools for end-users to change the text color, opacity, size, font, background color, and window color.
  • Live and Near-Live Video Captioning: YuJa supports recorded and live captioning workflows, including for implementation standards provided by the National Captioning Institute, a non-profit organization.

No matter who the learner is or their abilities, YuJa’s products aim to simplify workflows to enable more accessible, usable technology.

How Compliant Video Captioning Benefits Students and Institutions

In fact: 

  • According to a recent study, videos with captions have 40% more views compared to uncaptioned videos (PLYmedia). 
  • Viewers were 80% more likely to watch a video to completion when closed captions were available, the same study noted.
  • Facebook found that captions increase video views by 12%.

A study by 3Play Media found:

  • 98.6% of students find captions helpful. 
  • 71% of students without hearing difficulties use captions at least some of the time.
  • 66% of ESL students find captions “very” or “extremely” helpful.
  • 75% of students that use captions said they use them as a learning aid.
  • 52% of students that use captions said captions help as a learning aid by improving comprehension.

Not only hearing-impaired learners benefit from captions. The most common reason students reported using captions in the study is to help them focus, but students also said captions help them retain information and can help them overcome barriers like poor audio, difficult vocabulary or in comprehension, particularly if the instructor has an accent.

Understanding Compliant Captioning is Essential

Making video content accessible is essential to maintaining compliance. Captioning regulations are typically set by Section 508 and Section 504  of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In order to be fully compliant, captioning must be present on all videos used for training or teaching.

While the FCC standards are not required for Section 508 compliance, it may be helpful to understand these standards. FCC standards for internet video captioning are only required for content aired on television, not the internet, but they do provide ideal goals for educational institutions hoping to provide the best quality captioning.

Captions should be:

Accurate: Captions must relay the speaker’s exact words. Spelling, punctuation and grammar should be accurate 99 percent of the time.

Time Synchronized: Captions must accurately align with the video.

Complete: Captions must continue throughout the video, from beginning to end.

Placed Appropriately: Captions must be legible and placed to enable viewing of video content.

YuJa’s auto-captioning technology enables both Section 508 compliance, and complies with most aspects of the FCC standards for captioning.

Compliance Protects Your Institution from Litigation

While providing captioning is best practice to ensure accessibility, it’s worth noting that not maintaining compliance can have legal repercussions. An example in higher education are two lawsuits brought forward by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) against Harvard and MIT, which alleged that the two institutions didn’t provide accurate and comprehensive captioning for online course materials offered in their free online programming. 

These lawsuits, filed in 2015, were the first of their kind to address accuracy and quality of captions. Both Harvard and MIT settled with consent decrees in 2019 and 2020, respectively, that set captioning guidelines. The outcome of these lawsuits set a precedent for colleges and universities, who have an obligation to meet accessibility laws with regard to captioning. 

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