What is Gamification?

Over recent years an innovative approach known as gamification has been adopted by educational institutions to help motivate students by using game elements in non-game contexts.

“Gamification informally refers to making a system more game-like.  More specifically, gamification denotes applying game mechanics to a non-game system.”  (Amir, Bilal & Ralph. 2014).  In other words, gamification is the process of adding elements of game theory to things that are not traditionally considered a game. 

What is it about gamification that motivates?

“About a decade ago it was demonstrated that the use of elements of computer games can have a positive impact on the psychological characteristics of students and learning behaviour” (Bernik et al. 2017)

One of the ways psychology looks at how gamification can generate motivation is through a psychological approach which focuses on observing how people behave. This approach was championed by American psychologist John Watson back in 1913 (Watson, 1913), and is known as behaviourism.

But it was psychologist B F Skinners work in the late 1930’s known as Operant Conditioning that really made us think about behaviour. Operant conditioning is a method of learning that involves rewards and punishment for behaviour, resulting in an individual making an association between a behaviour and a consequence (Skinner, 1948).

Skinner showed that positive reinforcement strengthens a behaviour by providing the individual with a reward. For example, if your teacher was to offer you £5 for completing your homework (a reward), then you are likely to complete your homework on time. This is known as Positive Reinforcement.

How was it done at UofG?

To help motivate and engage students, the Digital Learning Unit embedded gamification within our online programmes.  This was accomplished by using tools such as Articulate Storyline, implementing game elements with an aim to make student learning more engaging, dynamic, and interactive.

In this example, a game aimed at students studying Epidemiology of Diagnosis and Screening was developed. The object of the game is to try and diagnose which of the characters are more likely to require screening for Hypertension, based on their lifestyles.

By dragging and dropping lifestyle icons onto a character, the player must figure out which character is most at risk of hypertension before the timer runs out – creating a sense of urgency. Each time a lifestyle applies to that a character, then the lifestyle meter beside the character will increase in increments until the meter is full. If a particular lifestyle does not apply to a character, then keep trying until you find the ones that do apply. It becomes a race against time before the timer expires and the player has failed to successfully identify the character – encouraging the player to try again. The feedback received from students participating was very positive, with the majority of students stating that they would definitely find their course more engaging if the course contained more interactive elements such as game-based learning.

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