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Liping Sun. Photo: Zhen Wei.

Dissertation: A Pedagogical model helps digital game-based learning in primary mathematics education


In her doctoral dissertation, MA Liping Sun explores and expands on the theoretical and pedagogical approaches that explicates digital game-based learning. Sun developed a pedagogical model for digital game-based learning which can help primary mathematics teachers to design a creative and innovative pedagogical practice that support pupils’ learning activities and outcomes in mathematics.

In primary education, mathematics is regarded as a fundamental subject in which arithmetic skills and logical deduction are the foundations of scientific and technological knowledge. However, many pupils consider it to be one of the most difficult subjects to master at school. Pupils often lack interest, and they struggle when trying to engage in learning.

MA Liping Sun explores game-based mathematic learning and scaffolding in her doctoral research. In mathematics education, there is a need to implement appropriate teaching methods and use novel tools to increase pupils’ interest and enhance their understanding of conceptual knowledge and arithmetic skills. One possibility is to increase the use of digital games in education.

"I wanted to find solutions for increasing pupils’ interest and engagement, and find out how teachers can scaffold pupils in their mathematics learning", Sun describes.

Digital game-based learning is considered essential as it allows pupils to explore conceptual knowledge, and it motivates them to learn in a different way. At their best, digital games can strengthen pupil’s attachment to the subject at the level of emotions, skills and knowledge.

Sun conducted two case studies in which pupils were allowed to play a game called Wuzzit Trouble in mathematics class. The case studies took place in primary schools in Beijing and Shanghai, China.

The Three-Phase Model: Orientation, Gameplay, and Expectation

Based on the results she created the Pedagogical Model for Digital Game-Based Learning in Mathematics. The model captures the phases of orientation, gameplay, and expectation in the digital game-based learning process.

"The model can be used for designing and implementing digital game-based learning in primary mathematics education. It guides teachers to adopt various approaches to scaffold pupils in the orientation and gameplay phases, in turn supporting pupils’ learning activities and outcomes in the expectation phase."

As Sun states, the use of digital games in the classroom requires both teachers and pupils to be interactive when exploring and participating in such game-based learning environment.

The outcomes of the study lay a theoretical and pedagogical foundations for teaching and learning with digital games in education. The model can also help teacher educators to identify new ideas for developing game based-learning pedagogy in teacher education programmes.

In the future, Sun plans to invite mathematics teachers and educational practitioners as co-designers to implement and analyse the pedagogical model.

"This will enable me to investigate further scaffolding approaches and use the proposed pedagogical model in different educational contexts and for other subject areas."

Information on the public examination

The academic dissertation Digital Game-Based Learning: Developing a Pedagogical Model for Primary Mathematics Education by MA Liping Sun will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lapland on 1st March 2024 at 12 pm (lecture hall C193, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi).

The opponent is Professor Kristian Kiili, Tampere University. The Custos is Associate Professor Signe Siklander from the University of Oulu.

The language of the public defence is English.

The public defence can be followed online at

 Information on the doctoral candidate

Liping Sun graduated from the Master’s Degree Programme in Learning, Education and Technology at University of Oulu in 2014. Following her MA, Sun worked as a mathematics teacher and teacher assistant in an international school in China.

She has worked as a researcher at the Media Education Hub of the Faculty of Education at the University of Lapland between 2018−2023. Her work has included teaching of international students and coordination in the Master’s Degree Programme in Media Education. She has also worked in AI in Learning project and Math Software Usage Research project.

Further information

Liping Sun
+358 44 474 4320

Information on the publication

Liping Sun (2024) Digital Game-Based Learning: Developing a Pedagogical Model for Primary Mathematics Education. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 375. ISBN 978-952-337-413-3, ISSN 1796-6310. University of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

Permanent address of the electronic publication: