26 August, 2016: Problem-based learning in the digital space: How gamification can maximise engagement with digital literacies.

This 1-hour webinar, Problem-based learning in the digital space: How gamification can maximise engagement with digital literacies, was produced by Digital Literacies ANZ, a community of practice (COP) for professionals across Australia and New Zealand to share, learn and have ongoing conversations about digital literacies.  The goal of Digital Literacies ANZ is to provide a forum, or space, in which to explore the skills and abilities required in today’s digital world; and how digital literacies can be developed and improved in their organisations and communities.  Digital Literacies ANZ has monthly webinars scheduled in 2017 from March to November.  The webinars are free to attend or view later.  Each of the webinars I have viewed from 2016 included a presentation component, and a questions/comments component for listeners / viewers to interact with the presenter.

This webinar, from August 2016, was presented by Eng Ung, Senior Coordinator Digital Experience, LaTrobe University Library; and in it she discusses the game she developed to help orient new students to the physical space of the library.  Ung went into detail during her presentation to describe:

  • the background and rationale for creating a game with online and physical elements to replace the library tour (i.e. to increase student engagement)
  • the key design elements used (e.g. use of engaging puzzles, building in tasks to demonstrate navigation, reinforcement for successful task completion, immersive storyline, use of tactile elements)
  • the creative process (i.e. how the game was made), and took the webinar participants through an ideation activity
  • data collection and evaluation
  • “pain points”
  • The ideation process

Ung had a number of outcomes that she wished to achieve, including:

  • that as many students would play the game as had signed up for the traditional library tour in the previous year
  • that students would learn something playing a game using problem-based learning principles
  • that students would have fun doing it.

Ung’s results indicated that students who played the game did learn and had fun, but unfortunately fewer people played the game than had participated in library tours the previous year.

I was interested to view this presentation because of my interest in gamification, sparked by covering the topic during the subject, IFN612 – Emerging Technologies, in 2016.  I wrote a blog about it, and the entire class also had the opportunity to play “the game” one week, completing a series of tasks in order to gain points or rewards.  What was interesting to me is that some people were completely engaged by the gamification of the play activity that week, whilst others did not engage at all.  As someone who was completely engaged, I was surprised that others were only mildly interested in playing the game, and some were completely turned off by the idea, and chose to engage in a different play activity that week.

Clearly, gamification works to engage a proportion of the population, but does not work for everyone.  There was a competitive element to the game (rewards, points and winners at the end), as there is with all games, and I wonder if some of the people who were not engaged by the game did not like the competitive aspect to playing.  There could be any number of influencing factors and explanations, however, including time pressures, competing obligations and interests, mood, etc.

I can’t help but wonder if people would engage, if the conditions were right, and the motivation was right for the person.  I am a firm believer in making a person’s participation “worth their while”, and making learning fun by offering incentives, rewards and reinforcement.  It is the behaviourist in me, from many years of doing speech therapy with young children who need the right motivation to encourage their participation. The trouble is that the “right motivation” is different for different people, and without individualisation, not everyone will be engaged.  Whilst I can see how gamification strategies could be used effectively with the student population to increase their engagement and learning outcomes, and I think it highly likely that I would implement strategies such as these in any digital literacy programs I run with students in the future, I understand that not everyone will be engaged by such strategies, as their individual motivational needs may not have been met.

Image attribution:

“Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”, by Duncan Hull.  CC BY 2.0

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