Getting ahead of the game

Carlos Gonzalez Morcillo, Academic Director at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha shares insights into the world of gamification ahead of the Turning Technologies User Conference 2018

What exactly is gamification?

Gamification can be defined as the use of game-based mechanics (levels, badges, scores…), aesthetics (good graphics) and designs (design the experience into an activity with elements of competition, cooperation, exploration and storytelling) to engage people, motivate action and promote learning.

Why use it in teaching?

Gamification techniques have been used extensively in the field of marketing strategies to achieve specific consumer behaviour, improving their motivation and engagement. In recent years gamification has also been used in a wide range of educational programmes helping teachers to achieve their pedagogical goals and adapting them better to the learners’ requirements.

In Scopus (the famous database of scientific references maintained by Elsevier), the first term related to “Gamification” is “Education”. There is an enormous interest of the scientific community in applying gamification to improve education, and good proof of this is the evolution in the number of papers published with these key terms, which have been duplicated in the last four years.

How are you using classroom response systems to replicate this in the classroom?

In any game, we can distinguish three fundamental features that must be present: interactivity, feedback and quantifiable results. The use of classroom response devices facilitates the creation of gamification-based dynamics without the requirement of working with very small groups. Thanks to this type of technological solutions, it is possible to apply gamification techniques to large groups of students in an agile manner.

What’s your most admired case of gamification right now and why is it so successful? 

There are many good examples of the use of gamification techniques in several domains. There are several examples of large companies such as Google, Microsoft or Cisco that use gamification-based solutions to achieve better results for their employees.

Some of the end-user applications include Google Local Guide, a tool that guides travellers to find the best activities in each city. The gamification-based approach allows users to contribute and provide a great deal of information to Google as they move up a level and achieve better social status. The simplest approach is based on a system of points and badges.

In the learning environment, Memrise is an application that combines the latest scientific advances in learning with a very well-thought-out use of gamification. In addition to the classic points, badges and rankings, Memrise has a well-designed system of levels, a mini-game system that describes precisely what the student will learn at each stage, and perfect timing of the activities.

Finally, Classcraft is a successful tool that transforms the class into a cooperative game with many elements of adventure and discovery. With more than 98% satisfaction rate from teachers and students, the results of this approach are clearly positive and deserve to be studied.

What are the challenges delegates should be aware of when adopting gamification techniques in the classroom? 

Gamification is not the result of trivialising learning, it requires meticulous planning. The main idea is to accelerate the learning curve in the teaching of complex subjects. Although most of the fundamentals of gamification are applicable in any scenario (they are transversal), there is a tendency to lose ground and try to apply to all learning events. It is not a “panacea”, and there should be a prior analysis of how to intervene appropriately.

What are your top five steps to adopting gamification techniques in the classroom? 

A series of steps can be defined that must be followed when applying gamification techniques in an appropriate way.

  • Step 1. Identify the context. We must understand the audience of the formative program, their initial skills and formative levels, the number of students and the possible specific weaknesses in our course (lack of motivation, focus, skills, physical factors, nature of the course…).
  • Step 2. Define the learning objectives. Both general and specific objectives of the course. These objectives can be both instructive and behavioural (increase concentration, solve a task in less time, etc.).
  • Step 3. Determine the structure. With the results of the two previous steps, it is necessary to define the sequence at the time of presenting the contents, as well as the aids that the student can receive to overcome each step.
  • Step 4. Identify the resources. In each stage of the previously identified structure, it is necessary to define what resources can be used to measure the progress of the student, in terms of time, level of execution, rules to validate the progress (for example, it is necessary to deliver the task before the deadline and must answer a questionnaire correctly), and mechanisms of immediate feedback.
  • Step 5. Apply the gamification elements. In this last step, the specific gamification elements are applied. These elements include both individual drivers (points, levels, badges, virtual goods…) and social and group drivers (leader boards, interactive cooperation, storyline…).

What’s next for gamification in elearning? What should we look out for in the next five years?

It is very difficult to foresee the future in a field of continuous research and change. In the coming years we will probably have an even more effective integration of the physical and digital world. Mobile phones and the Internet of Things offer scenarios with novel applications. The large screens in classrooms, the ability to synchronize data in the cloud from any device and new interaction paradigms (such as mixed reality glasses) will open new possibilities in the field of gamification from which we will all surely benefit.

Carlos will open TTUC with his keynote presentation. The Turning Technologies User Conference takes place on 7th November 2018 at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Casa Convalescència, Spain. View the full agenda here