By: Victoria L. Mondelli

Victoria L. Mondelli is founding director of the University of Missouri’s Teaching for Learning Center, and an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, College of Education and Human Development.

With Joe Bisz, she is the author of The Educator’s Guide to Designing Games and Creative Active-Learning Exercises: The Allure of Play.

Find her on Twitter @torimondelli, at, and at The Allure of Play.

Artificial Intelligence is hacking education. ChatGPT can write student papers and solve math equations almost instantaneously. With complex machine learning, it synthesizes information openly available on the internet to respond to prompts that a human user feeds it. Across the United States, educators are alarmed that students will be tempted to use AI to complete coursework, cheating themselves out of practice that is sorely needed to achieve mastery. Compounded by the fact that ChatGPT often makes “research” errors and mixes plausible falsehoods with accurate information, we are moving from feeling alarmed to feeling downright frightened.

Teachers, what can we do?

Play. Simulate. Create fantasy realms. Have teams cooperate and compete in the moment. Create excitement and relevance.

There are creative antidotes to the heightened academic integrity temptations that AI has introduced. I am convinced that the versatility and vibrancy of Game-Based Learning (GBL) will help teachers show students that ChatGPT is best left on the sidelines—or at least used only sparingly and strategically to deepen critical thinking, make us laugh, or both.

The following recommendations are based on over a decade of working with non-digital learning games with diverse faculty and students. When educators grow their knowledge of GBL, they have compelling alternatives with which to engage students in courses and programs. Of all the various kinds of active-learning pedagogies, GBL offers the most compelling engagement, learning, assessment, and access principles to make the learning experience almost irresistible. Games of all kinds are all alluring to the vast majority of students.

Why let the Chatbot do the work when the work is play?

Our new book, The Educator’s Guide to Designing Games and Creative Active-Learning Exercises: The Allure of Play, is written by educators, for educators, in the language of learning design. My co-author Joe Bisz and I base our design method on educational research and lived experience with teachers who have been able to engage students with non-digital gameplay. Successful GBL gives students focused time-on-task, targeted practice of academic skills and content, and offers in-game feedback so they re-engage with new strategies and information. By foregrounding positive psychosocial interactions with a sprinkle of whimsy, randomness, fantasy, and agency, educators not only draw learners into the work, but also cultivate a fun space where acquaintances become friendlier and a sense of belonging grows more easily than in a traditional classroom.

Here I share several GBL elements from our book that can be used to boost a culture of academic integrity. All educators can use our method with these principles and mechanics to reach their student learning outcomes:

1. Simple mechanics

Simple mechanics boost engagement to help students focus and stay on task. (Bisz & Mondelli, 2023). We termed these foundational game mechanics with 5 Rs to help you remember them easily and apply them regularly: Reward, Rival, Random, Rapid, and Role.

2. Co-design to maximize student-player agency

In our book, we encourage leveraging an aspect the Self-Determination Theory that posits that as human beings mature, we crave increasing agency and autonomy for tasks that require significant energy (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Busywork alienates us because it is largely devoid of anything that is intrinsically motivating. Someday soon, Chatbots will reliably be able to help with mundane fact-finding. For meaning making that is intrinsically motivating, adult learners will gravitate toward work that they have a hand in shaping and then digging in on. In our book, look for these complex mechanics to create play and games that use co-design: Meaning Play, Brainstorm & Creation, and Challenge & Switch.

3. Sandbox environments to ease the pressure

With good reason, an increasing percentage of students are averse to high-stakes performance expectations. Steadily rising rates of generalized anxiety disorder and depression exacerbate the situation. We all do our best work when we are at ease (Cavanaugh, 2016), not when external pressures or feelings of fear or shame engulf us. If weighty grades are removed from the reward structure, your learning game designs can achieve the solid benefits of the ephemeral sandbox, where students explore without constraints and experiment with their ideas and approaches.

4. There’s more than one way to play and win

GBL is a natural fit with Universal Design for Learning principles (Bisz & Mondelli, 2023). Great games offer options at almost every turn, giving players space to customize their play. When we design playful experiences and games that have multiple win conditions, we create greater access to the content and invite students to demonstrate their mastery of the subject in a variety of ways.

5. Metacognition through the debrief

One of the most powerful learning tools we have is metacognition (McGuire & McGuire, 2015), the capacity to think about one’s own thinking. At the conclusion of each learning game, there is a golden moment to let the players debrief the experience. Player emotions are heightened because of their investment in their hoped-for outcome, and a skillful teacher (aka Game-master) can swoop in with intentional prompts that gather student perceptions about key moments.

Structuring metacognitive prompts on a regular basis allows students to develop this mighty habit of mind, so they become more aware of their own thinking and learning when not in class.

6. Bring ChatGPT into the game

In our book, we offer a set of nine original “complex mechanics,” common teaching approaches for making activities ludic and playful. One of these, Challenge & Switch, brings ChatGPT into the learning space in a way that doesn’t compromise the learning. With Challenge & Switch, students are put in pairs to try to outfox one another with a riddle, puzzle, or some related academic content that is either incomplete or incorrect.

Here’s an example for a literature class: Each student is given a unique quotation from a main character in a book. They generate an interpretation of the quote, either on their own or with the help of ChatGPT. Then, they trade interpretations to analyze and complete or correct the missing or flawed parts of the interpretation. This example is not yet a game, but take the core idea through the full method described in our book and you’ll be amazed at what lively learning emerges.

When students misuse ChatGPT to do their work, they lose out twice. First, they miss the necessary genuine exposure to content that we get through close reading and thinking about a topic over time. Second, they miss the opportunity to strengthen metacognition since there can be no learning about learning when ChatGPT hands over the answers.

It is my hope that the aspects of GBL mentioned here pique your interest to learn more about this next gen pedagogy. GBL has all the bells and whistles to get at learners’ interest. If nothing else, try the debrief as a starting point. Debriefing play relies heavily on students’ awareness of how their minds work, shift, and grow. They will be curious to hear from one another about similarities and differences in their thinking at critical game moments. It is part of the fun, and can help build strategy for the next round.

Through GBL, I’ve found longevity and vitality in teaching and learning. In these times plagued with educator burnout, maybe it’s just the thing for you, too.

Photo of Victoria Mondelli by Schaefer Photography