Location:Home / Journals / Article Detail

The Educational Review, USA


PDF Download

Engaging ESL Students by Online Discussion Forum and Gamification: Teaching Social Sciences to BA Students in a Chinese Transnational University in the Covid-19 Context

Yanning Huang

Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China.

*Corresponding author: Yanning Huang

Date: February 27,2023 Hits: 312


In recent years, transnational education (TNE) has seen a surge in numbers across the world and especially in Asian countries. Although student participation is underlined in TNE universities, it can be difficult to achieve due to local students’ lack of confidence in English speaking and other locally socio-cultural reasons. Reflecting on the author’s teaching practice in a TNE university based in China for two years, this paper discusses the use and value of combining online forum discussion (ODF) with gamification to engage English-as-second-language (ESL) students in a BA-level social sciences module. Combining qualitative in-depth interviews, longitudinal observation and quantitative data analysis, the research explores students’ motivations for ODF participation, the contribution of ODF to classroom discussion, as well as the correlation between class participation (including ODF participation) and academic performance. It argues that instructors’ facilitation, involvement and the establishment of a learning community are pre-conditions for an active discussion forum to take place, which in turn improves ESL students’ class participation and strengthens a sense of connection particularly valuable in the current context of Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, gamification mechanism such as badges and rewards can help to maintain students’ engagement and meet their desire for recognition. In addition, ODF participation is found positively correlated with a student’s academic performance on a statistically significant level.


Advance HE. (2019). UK Professional Standards Framework. 


Burrows, K. (2016). Engaging Chinese Students in Teaching and Learning at Western Higher Education Institutions. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 

Campbell, N. (2007). Bringing ESL Students Out of Their Shells: Enhancing Participation Through Online Discussion. Business Communication Quarterly, 70(1), pp. 37-43. doi:10.1177/108056990707000105.

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical: Knowing Through Action Research. Lewes: Falmer Press.

Chan, C. K. K. (2010). Classroom Innovation for the Chinese Learner: Transcending Dichotomies and Transforming Pedagogy. In: Chan C., Rao N. (eds.), Revisiting The Chinese Learner. CERC Studies in Comparative Education, vol. 25. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90-481-3840-1_6.

Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4):227-268.

Deterding, S., Khaled, R., Nacke, L., Dixon, D. (2011). Gamification: Toward a Definition, CHI 2011 Gamification Workshop Proceedings, Vancouver, BC, Canada. 

Dichev, C. and Dicheva, D. (2017). Gamifying education: what is known, what is believed and what remains uncertain: a critical review. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(9). DOI: 10.1186/s41239-017-0042-5.

Fu, Q. K., Lin, C. J., Hwang, G. J., and Zhang, L. (2019). Impacts of a mind mapping-based contextual gaming approach on EFL students' writing performance, learning perceptions and generative uses in an English course. Computers & Education, 137, 59-77. doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.04.005.

Gaskell, G. (2000). (Ed.). Qualitative Researching with Text, Image and Sound: A Practical Handbook. London: Sage.

Healey, N. (2014). Definitions and estimates of the size and shape of UK transnational education. Higher Education Academy Special Interest Group in Transnational Education Conference, London, 6-7 February, 2014.

Hew, K. F. and Cheung, W. S. (2010). Possible factors influencing Asian students’ degree of participation in peer-facilitated online discussion forums: A case study. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 30(1), 85-104. doi:10.1080/02188790903503619.

Hirata, Y. and Hirata, Y. (2013). Getting Japanese Students to Engage in an Online Discussion Forum. In Simon K.S. Cheung Joseph Fong, Wilfred Fong, Fu Lee Wang & Lam For Kwok (Eds.), Hybrid Learning and Continuing Education: 6th International Conference, ICHL 2013Toronto, ON, Canada, August 12-14, 2013 Proceedings. Springer. 

Howland, J. L. and Moore, J. L. (2002). Student perceptions as distance learners in internet-based courses. Distance Education, 23(2), pp. 115-152. 

Kanuka, H. (2005). An exploration into facilitating higher levels of learning in a text-based Internet learning environment using diverse instructional strategies. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 10(3). 

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L. (2014). Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, Media and Technology, 39(1), pp. 6-36.

Kumi, R. and Sabherwal, R. (2019). Knowledge sharing behavior in online discussion communities: Examining behavior motivation from social and individual perspectives. Knowl Process Manag., 26, pp.110-122. https://doi.org/10.1002/kpm.1574.

Kvale, S. (2007). Doing Interviews. London: Sage Publication.

Lee, J. and Martin, L. (2017). Investigating Students’ Perceptions of Motivating Factors of Online Class Discussions. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5). 

Lin, C. J., Hwang, G. J., Fu, Q. K., and Cao, Y. H. (2020). Facilitating EFL students' English grammar learning performance and behaviors: A contextual gaming approach. Computers & Education, 152, 103876. doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2020.103876.

Lin, C. J., Hwang, G. J., Fu, Q. K., and Chen, J. F. (2018). A flipped contextual game-based learning approach to enhancing EFL students' English business writing performance and reflective behaviors. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 21(3), 117-131. www.jstor.org/stable/26458512.

Lindlof, T. R. and Taylor, B.C. (2002). Qualitative Communication Research Methods (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and Personality (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education. 

Mason, R. B. (2011). Student Engagement with, and Participation in, an e-Forum. Educational Technology & Society, 14(2), 258-268.

Menkhoff, T. and Bengtsson, M. L. (2012). Engaging students in higher education through mobile learning: lessons learnt in a Chinese entrepreneurship course. Educ Res Policy Prac., (2012), 11, 225-242. DOI 10.1007/s10671-011-9123.

Muntean, C. I. (2011, October). Raising engagement in e-learning through gamification. In Proc. 6th International Conference on Virtual Learning ICVL (pp. 323-329).

Nah F. FH., Zeng, Q., Telaprolu, V. R., Ayyappa, A. P., and Eschenbrenner, B. (2014). Gamification of Education: A Review of Literature. In Nah F. FH. (ed.), HCI in Business. HCIB 2014. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Vol. 8527, pp. 401-409. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-07293-7_39.

Norton, L. S. (2009). Action Research in Teaching and Learning. Oxon: Routledge. 

Ratcliffe, R. (2013). Surge in students studying for UK degrees abroad. The Guardian. Accessed via: 

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/feb/15/surge-in-students-studying-for-uk-degrees-abroad (last access: August 18, 2021).

Salmon, G. (2002). e-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online. London: Routledge Falmer.

Schier, M. and Curtin, J. (2009). First year student engagement, discussion forums, and reflections on monitoring practice. Paper presented at the 26th ASCLITE Conference, 6-9 December, Auckland, New Zealand.

Sloan, C. (2015). The Relationship of High School Student Motivation and Comments in Online Discussion Forums. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 52(1), pp. 114-135.

Tani, M. (2005). Quiet, but only in class: Reviewing the in-class participation of Asian students. Retrieved July 4, 2021, from http://conference.herdsa.org.au/2005/pdf/non_refereed/030.pdf.

Thomas, M. J. W. (2002). Learning within incoherent structures: The space of online discussion forums. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18, pp. 351-366.

Warden, C. A., Chen, J. F., and Caskey, D. (2005). Cultural values and communication online: Chinese and Southeast Asian students in a Taiwan international MBA class. Business Communication Quarterly, 68, pp. 222-232.

Wilson, S. M. and Peterson, P. L. (2006). Theories of Learning and Teaching: What Do They Mean for Educators? Atlanta: National Education Association. 

Xie, K., DeBacker, T.K., and Ferguson, C. (2006). Extending the traditional classroom through online discussion: the role of student motivation. Educational Computing Research, 34(1), pp. 67-89. 

Yang, X., Li, Y., Tan, C.H., and Teo H. H. (2007). Students’ participation intention in an online discussion forum. Information & Management, 44(2007), pp. 456-466.

Full-Text HTML

Engaging ESL Students by Online Discussion Forum and Gamification: Teaching Social Sciences to BA Students in a Chinese Transnational University in the Covid-19 Context

How to cite this paper: Yanning Huang. (2023). Engaging ESL Students by Online Discussion Forum and Gamification: Teaching Social Sciences to BA Students in a Chinese Transnational University in the Covid-19 Context. The Educational Review, USA7(2), 137-151.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.26855/er.2023.02.004