ESAB Thoughts – A call for making student wellbeing resources more visible at UM
ESAB Thoughts – Internships at UM: Where we are and what still needs to be done

ESAB Thoughts – How we can make PBL more creative through mindfulness and gamification

This article is part of a series that elaborates on student perspectives and propositions regarding salient issues at Maastricht University from members of the EDLAB Student Advisory Board. This specific article focuses on the issue of making PBL practices more creative and was written by ESAB members Job Zomerplaag, Lena Gromotka, Kevin Varend, Rebeca Lopez Walker, and Eimen Hamedat. 


Maastricht University is known for its student-centred problem-based learning (PBL) approach. It was one of the first universities to adopt a whole curriculum  to PBL style and seems to be successful with this educational approach[1]. However, over the years students and staff members experienced a deviation from the day-to-day PBL tutorials and the initial 7-jump approach proposed by educational researchers. Students cut short different steps, reading summaries instead of finding their own literature, and are less and less engaged in the tutorials. So, the question arises why do students skip stages? How can we further develop our education approach to engage students? Moreover, how can we use the switch back to on-campus education to innovate our PBL system?

Our suggestion is to incorporate educational methods and from a transdisciplinary academic setting, merging approaches from business, psychology, and design education. Following this, we will shortly introduce three approaches and how we would implement them in our educational system: Mindfulness and gamification (including flow states).



To incorporate mindfulness into creative education practices, we suggest a centering practice to get everyone on the same page. In this practice, we invite everyone to have a common intention and have that single goal in mind throughout the session. This helps in unifying the ‘’group mind’’, which is greater than separated units.  For enhancement of group efficacy, we mention everybody within the session and have them express their state of mind, and work with shared responsibility for the group[2]. This shared responsibility means sharing goals, and incentivization. For this, certain questions/prompts would be used. These are needed for individuals to come out of their quietness into activity. How do we establish a shared responsibility? By using prompts that bring out shared goals, autonomy, distributed participation, and a collective self[3].



Gamification, the use of game-based elements in the classroom, is not a new education method. It is argued to increase engagement, induce flow states, and support learning in students. In a PBL setting, this  approach could be used in the post-discussion step. One example would be to create an educational escape room. Students would need to solve riddles, based on the literature, to “escape” the tutorial session[4]. This game could be adapted online as well as offline which makes it an adapted approach. However, the game must be carefully designed, as research[5] stresses that the context and the difficulty of educational games are very important as they influence the effectiveness and engagement of students.


Link to EDLAB projects

Both of these approaches could be linked back to the Study Smart project of EDLAB which indicated that self-testing is a more effective learning approach than simple repeating (which students often do in the post-discussion). Mindfulness during tutorials (pre-discussion) might help students to put more effort into the preparation of the next tutorial due to a higher sense of responsibility. Whereas a gamification approach (in the post-discussion) might help students to engage in the course content and set the newly gained knowledge into practice.

We love the PBL system. It is student-centred, active and problem-based but after 45 years of PBL education, it is time for supporting innovative methods that re-engage our students and bring back the enthusiasm to day-to-day PBL.



[1] Moust, J. H., Berkel, H. V., & Schmidt, H. G. (2005a). Signs of erosion: Reflections on three decades of problem-based learning at Maastricht University. Higher education, 50(4), 665-683.

[2]  Zeidan F, Johnson SK, Diamond BJ, David Z, Goolkasian P. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Conscious Cogn. 2010 Jun;19(2):597-605. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014. Epub 2010 Apr 3. PMID: 20363650. => for Mindfulness and cognitive performance

[3] Cleirigh, D.O., Greaney, J. Mindfulness and Group Performance: An Exploratory Investigation into the Effects of Brief Mindfulness Intervention on Group Task Performance. Mindfulness 6, 601–609 (2015).

[4] Eukel, & Morrell. (2015). Ensuring Educational Escape-Room Success: The Process of Designing, Piloting, Evaluating, Redesigning, and Re-Evaluating Educational Escape Rooms. Simulation & gaming, 0(0), 1046878120953453. doi:10.1177/1046878120953453

[5] Li, M.-C., & Tsai, C.-C. (2013). Game-Based Learning in Science Education: A Review of Relevant Research. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(6), 877-898. doi:10.1007/s10956-013-9436-x


About the Authors

Job Zomerplaag


Rebeca Lopez Walker


Lena Gromotka


Eimen Hamedat


Kevin Varend


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