Marina is a Lecturer in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, teaching pharmacology and professional practice.  Every tutorial delivered by Marina is carefully planned, right down to clearly defined learning outcomes that help determine learning activities.  The game-based approach adopted by Marina in Pharmacology tutorials ensures that students are actively engaged and motivated learners and receive regular feedback on their learning as part of the learning activity. 

Pharmacology is a dry subject requiring undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Clinical Science to recall a lot of information and explain how the body affect the drugs and the effect of the drugs in the body.

Dr Marina Junqueira Santiago

Pharmacology games

The teaching challenge for Marina is how to engage and motivate students to learn the vast amount of ‘dry’ information. To this end, Marina has redesigned the format of Pharmacology Tutorials; they are no longer ‘question and answer’ based but ‘play’ based.  Each tutorial has at least one game (depending on the learning outcomes) in a 2-hour session.  Marina has developed a ‘Pharmacology Name Game’ using the same format as ‘Pictionary’ and ‘celebrity heads’ name game.  That is, students have to guess the name of a drug depending on the clues provided. If they get it correct, they get a point. The team with the most points wins. Later, the players need to recall and explain information taught which helps with the learning process.

Another pharmacology game requires groups of students to research and then visualise an ‘ion channel’ with the help of play-doh.  Visual representation of an ‘ion channel’ with play-doh sounds deceptively simple, right, but students need to apply basic structural knowledge to the design project.  The ‘play’ provides students with a better way to visualise the channels and where the drugs bind. An individual 2-dimensional drawing cannot achieve the same learning outcome as a group of students co-constructing a 3-dimensional image.  This is followed by a competition of who can find more similarities and differences between the channels constructed.  I instantly want to be in Marina’s class – playing is motivating and enjoyable and stimulates independent thinking. 

The ‘ion channel game’ has the four core elements of a game – a goal (aligned to the learning outcome), rules, instant feedback and participation.  When used in a learning context, game elements might work towards student motivation, empowerment, independent thinking, and encouragement. Play is an integral part of our personal development. As children, we learn through meaningful and imaginative play. 

The experience of play is a valuable learning tool. Play provides excellent opportunities for repeated practice, not least because play attracts an outcome and consequence through advancement and completion within a structure – the risk of failure and the motivation for improvement assist the development of the player.  In their literature review of games in education, McClarty et al (2012) conclude that a game really can provide a solid and continuous learning platform.

The distinction between ‘game-based learning’ and ‘gamification

There is a difference: Gamification relates to introducing game-based elements, to nongame situations, such as a learning process. For example, using a leaderboard quiz block in iLearn to ‘gamify’ quiz results.  Game-based learning, on the other hand, relates to the application of games themselves to the learning environment. It is the game itself that motivates the learning. 

Planning for learning

Marina is a passionate educator who puts considerable time and effort into planning for learning.  Planning for what students will do (Biggs, 1999) is the antithesis of, and more important than, planning for what teachers will do.  However, the research tells us that the impact of preparation and planning is still significant on student learning.  While it may seem unorthodox for under-graduate students to play with play-doh, there is a whole body of research that supports game-based ‘play’. Importantly, Marina has derived many game ideas from other academics at international pharmacology conferences. Marina states …

The games engage the students more than any other activity, and they keep asking for more.

Dr Marina Junqueria Santiago
Watch this amazing short video to see an experiment aimed at getting people to use stairs instead of an escalator – if only we had stairs like that at Macquarie! ‘The piano game’ had the power to change people’s behaviour, moving them from the escalator to using stairs.

Biggs, J. (1999) What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning, Higher Education Research & Development, 18:1, 57-75, DOI: 10.1080/0729436990180105

‘Fun theory’ video:

McClarty, K. L., Orr, A., Frey, P., Dolan, R., Vassileva, V., & McVay, A. (2012, June). A Literature Review of Gaming in Education: Research Report. Pearson

Posted by Lyn Collins

Senior Instructional Designer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

One Comment

  1. […] have been inspired by some of the teachers we have showcased on Teche: Marina Junqueira Santiago on the power of play and Hector Viveros Tapia’s Where’s Wally-inspired scavenger hunt. We’d love to showcase your […]


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