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Game On!

Created Oct 13 2016, 08:00 PM by Lippincott Solutions
  • nursing students
  • University of Alabama Birmingham
  • gaming
  • UAB
  • nursing education

Friday, October 14, 2016

Nursing school can be stretching, challenging, even overwhelming. But no one ever said it couldn’t be fun, too.

Students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing (a current customer of Lippincott Solutions) are gaming their education through a UAB-developed online gaming platform called Kaizen.

Japanese for “continuous improvement,” Kaizen has nursing and NP students (and their peers in the school of medicine) answering questions on their smart devices to test their clinical knowledge. Students read a short patient scenario and select the best multiple-choice answer to earn points individually and for their teams.

Questions are added weekly that coincide with class content. And students can see how their performance in the game measure ups through an online leaderboard.

“It’s all about using competition—with themselves or others—to help students learn,” said co-creator James Willig, MD, an associate professor in the school of medicine’s division of infectious diseases.


The actual term for the movement is “gamification” (applying game elements and principles to non-game contexts), and UAB nursing instructors and students who have tried it are sold.

“It’s a great way to study,” said Cathy Roche, PhD, RN, an assistant professor in the school of nursing, who introduced it in her NUR 311 course last fall. “The students aren’t graded; it’s completely voluntary. But since these are the foundational skills all nurses need, this will help them throughout their careers.”

Nursing student Ashley Mezzanares likened Kaizen to the popular app Trivia Crack, which she said she used to play “religiously.” Unlike Trivia Crack, however, Kaizen offers practical benefits for students.

“If there was ever a question I had trouble answering, I would go back and review,” said Mezzanares of the nursing-focused game. “I enjoyed being quizzed on the material before exams as well.”


Lest you imagine Kaizen is merely clinical Q&A with no bells, whistles or extras, read on. The gaming platform includes features that make it confidential, manageable and playful to use.

First, players have the option of disguising their identity and performance as well as showing off their creativity by choosing a gamer ID if they wish. Dr. Roche’s favorite?  A student who called himself Florence Nightingmale. (See what he did there?)

Second, Kaizen operates on the user’s schedule.

“Everyone is pushed for time; students realize that Kaizen is a great way to learn on the fly,” said Jared White, MD, assistant professor in the school of medicine’s department of surgery. “It takes just a few minutes to answer some questions on your phone while you’re waiting on an elevator or sitting at home with a tablet.”

Finally, the game offers players the opportunity to send each other virtual stickers and badges. Students, said Victor Sung, MD, an associate professor in the school of medicine’s department of neurology, love this aspect of game.

“The students have been really enthusiastic about that,” he said. “They really like giving each other digital high fives and stars and trophies.”

This, perhaps, balances out some of the less-positive game-related banter that the professors have overhead among students. (All in fun, of course.)

They “talk smack among themselves,” Dr. Roche said. “They’re competitive and want to win, but it’s also a great team-building exercise, too.”


Not surprisingly, faculty are observing the Kaizen effect closely.

Dr. Roche and other school of nursing faculty recently received a grant to launch a qualitative study of the various factors that motivate students to play, as well as correlations between Kaizen participation and student grades.

Instructors in the school of medicine are paying attention, too.

“We’re eager to see how this affects board scores and pass rates on in-service exams,” said Dr. White.

In the meantime, students are jumping on the Kaizen bandwagon and having a great time. When she offered Kaizen to her adult/gerontology primary nurse practitioner students 2 years ago, assistant professor Natalie Baker, DNP, was surprised to see a student participation rate of 90 percent.

“Students love the concept of testing their knowledge while playing a game,” she said.