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

My Tech Learning Journey

I have so much to say about my experiences and learning in IFN612 this semester that it is hard to know where to start. So perhaps I will start at the end and say straight up that I think this may well have been the best subject I have ever done – a big call, I know, but there it is.

On Expectations and engagement:

I learned so much, and had the opportunity to play with a lot of technologies I would not have thought to explore on my own; e.g. editing Wikipedia, or making an infographic. Who would actually do that, unless, for example, it was set as a task in a university course? And this was deep learning, too, involving hours of my time immersed in these activities. I edited Wikipedia for so long, I didn’t get out of my pjs all day!

And I would never have found out about:

And I would never have come to terms with the phrase “personal brand”.

Now I might go back to the start, and think about what I was and wasn’t looking forward to in Week 1. I am sure I had a whole host of worries (because that’s what I do – I worry… a lot. I have had help for it though; so I guess you could say I am a recovering worrier, still subject to the occasional relapse). I was probably worried that:

  • I wouldn’t be able to do the play activities
  • I wouldn’t “get” the emerging technologies
  • I would be forced to join up with another social network that I had no wish to belong to
  • I wouldn’t be able to do the blogs
  • I wouldn’t be able to meet the community participation requirement
  • I wouldn’t be able to do the persona poster

But what was I looking forward to? (This may be a shorter list than my list of worries)

  • And, so it is. I can’t remember what I was looking forward to.

Well, as you can see from my first paragraph (that IFN612 was the best subject ever), the reality of the subject certainly exceeded my worried expectations. (I guess it wouldn’t have been hard to do that).

On the learning environment and assessment:

The learning environment worked for me.  This is what I liked:

  • I felt like this subject worked really well for online students.
  • I liked the mix of fortnightly lectures and workshops and the online learning resources and learning activities to do in our own time.
  • I thought that the learning resources provided good coverage of the topics and issues presented.
  • I loved the variety of resources, especially the video resources, as I could fold washing or do ironing while viewing.
  • I liked that there was always a variety of play and reflect activities to choose from. There were some that I would have liked to try, but didn’t get to (e.g. MOOCs – I have downloaded Coursera, just waiting until I have a bit more time to explore and enrol in something)
  • I liked the balance between practical tasks and thinking tasks.
  • I liked that the tasks we spent most of our time on, i.e. the play and reflect activities and blogging about them, made up the bulk of our assessment.

This is what I didn’t like:

  • I don’t know whether it was WordPress or my lousy internet connection, but WordPress takes forever to load on our computers at home, and sometimes loads only partially or not at all.
  • Group assignments:  difficult for all students, but I feel that there are additional barriers for online students, particularly when you don’t know anyone else in the course.  After doing some research on issues arising in distributed / virtual teams (for the group assignment, ironically enough), I found that Jang (2013)  cited the development of trust as essential to collaborative work. Trust develops with repeated interactions between participants, and lack of physical proximity makes it much harder for virtual team members to communicate and coordinate with team members and build the necessary trust relationship to collaborate well.

I collaborate willingly in my work life, with people I know and trust, who know me.  I know their strengths and weaknesses, and we work together just fine because I know these things. But it took time to develop those relationships. It is difficult to put people together who don’t know each other, and expect them to work together successfully.

That’s how I feel about online group work as a university student, but I do understand that it is probably considered an important learning outcome for graduates, and an important component in gaining accreditation for the course overall. I did have to do group work in my first degree as well.

These are minor criticisms. Overall, the positives of the unit far outweighed the negatives.

On challenging activities:

I found that designing the infographic was definitely the most challenging play activity I did. I didn’t set out to do the most challenging task; in fact I thought it was going to be easy.  I only found out after I was committed to the task that I was sadly mistaken. Despite the difficulty of the task, I was successful in the end, and I felt a real sense of achievement for wrestling with PiktoChart and coming out victorious. I felt like I really benefited from the experience, and learned a lot. You can read about my experience here: Playing with Infographics.

Another activity that I found really challenging was Week 2’s Reflect Activity, in which I tried to work out who I am and who I want to be online. Did I have a digital footprint? No. Did I want one? Maybe, but I’m not ready yet. There is still a lot l have to think about and work out – how much am I prepared to share online, and what will remain private? I am fairly confident that my personal online identity will remain private, but what of my professional identity?  Will I have separate professional identities for Michele Smith – Speech Pathologist, and Michele Smith – student / fledgling Information professional?  I am still working these things out. As I said in my blog post that week, “You can’t rush the evolution”. It will be an ongoing, developmental process.

One good thing to come out of my Week 2 reflection is that I have had a turn-around on the concept of “personal brand”.  I had a real issue with the concept, as the meanings I associated with “personal brand” were about selling yourself, promoting a product or business, and presenting something slick, commercial, and to my mind, fake.  Now that I have thought about it a bit more, I’m coming to an understanding of “personal brand” as the way you present your professional identity online.  Because you do need to think about how you are going to present yourself online, and you do need to spend time constructing that professional online identity.

I probably still won’t use the term, “personal brand”, because there is the risk that others will have the commercial product marketing meaning in their minds (as I did).  Perhaps it needs to be renamed “Professional brand”. I think I would be more comfortable with that. (I thought I just came up with “Professional brand”, but as soon as I googled it, a blog came up from Alison Doyle “How to create a professional brand”, so I can’t claim to be the first in line to come up with that gem. Are any thoughts original anymore? )

Ethical issues of the information age:

I found that the ethical issues of accuracy and access most resounded with me this semester, and I did think about these issues a lot. I’m not sure why I’m not as bothered about privacy and property.


Misinformation on the internet was the aspect of accuracy I found most powerful, and a bit scary, particularly in terms of the rise and rise of pseudoscience, and the psychological effects of confirmation bias that works to prevent people changing their misinformed beliefs.  I don’t believe that information literacy skills will help to change misinformed beliefs that people hold very closely, due to their distrust of science and expert opinion, or confirmation bias.


I thought that access was an important ethical issue, too, and mainly considered access to technology and the internet, rather than who has access to our information. As Kathleen pointed out to us, it’s not all about the advantages that the bright and shiny new tech will bring; the digital divide / digital exclusion is everywhere there is disadvantage, including here in Australia, a first-world country where most of us have a fantastic standard of living, but where almost 4 million of us are not online.

There are several aspects to the ability to access technology and online content:

There’s physical access in terms of people not being able to afford the technology; and also about people with disabilities (e.g. vision, and physical impairments) not being able to interact with the technology and online content because they can’t see it or use the keyboard/input method – it is not in an accessible form for them.)

Another aspect of access is intellectual access:  people may not have the skills to use the technology or access the content due to lack of education, literacy or learning skills, or technological skills.  I discussed the issues surrounding access in my “Playing with Infographics” blog.

Digital exclusion brings me to Manuell Castell’s theory of “informational capitalism”, particularly his words about countries and communities being excluded from participating in the global economy because they lack the infrastructure (social, cultural, educational, technological, and physical) to support the development of information technology to enable them to participate in the global economy.  This has the effect of delaying their development, and keeping them disadvantaged, poor and excluded.  I liked his wish for a “global solidarity” to bring everyone along to share the benefits of the information age.  I would love to see that happen.

Final words and thanks

I really enjoyed “The Game”, so thank you Katya for facilitating the activities for us.

And thanks Kathleen for providing us with so much engaging, current content. I was surprised how often something we had just covered in lectures and learning activities came up in the news the following week. You were really on the mark!

Gamification will save the world!

GAMIFICATION!!  I feel like this is a concept that needs all caps, because clearly, gamification is going to save the world… according to Gabe Zichermann and Yu-kai Chou, anyway.

Gamification rules!

Achievement badge for showing up!; Author: Steven Johnson; Source: https://goo.gl/ucHKXE; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Achievement badge for showing up!; Author: Steven Johnson; Source: https://goo.gl/ucHKXE; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I watched this Google talk by Gabe Zichermann “Gamification Revolution”; and this TedTalk by Yu-kai Chou “Gamification to improve our world”; and these guys talk about an amazing gamified world in which elements of game design will be used to provide us, in our real lives, with the intrinsic motivation we receive from games! I can’t wait!  There will be no more divide, in Yu-kai’s words, “between what you have to do, and what you want to do”.  Zichermann also suggests the need to fix and help our “slow, grey world” (reality), not the reinforcement-filled, “fun, friends and feedback” world of games.

I needed a cooling off period after watching all of that.  It was so persuasive to hear them talk about how gamification could change the world.  It sounded utopian, and just the place I would like to live.  Could it be possible to get that kind of rewarding experience in real life?  Zichermann and Chou clearly believe that we can, but it is just as clear that we are not there yet.

Why aren’t we there yet?

Zichermann noted that not

Gamification; Author: Jurgen Appelo; Source: https://goo.gl/W6V02u ; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Gamification; Author: Jurgen Appelo; Source: https://goo.gl/W6V02u ; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

many employers have embedded gamification as a strategy in their human resource management processes to date.  Chou also said that true gamification is not just a matter of using the technology to put game design elements onto an experience (e.g. work). He said that just adding badges, levels and leaderboards won’t work; and I have a feeling that those obvious markers of gamification would be the easiest for employers to add to an employee’s work day to increase motivation.

Chou said you needed to engage with people’s motivational drivers, and went on to list 8 core drives that motivate people, even dividing them in to black hat (more externally focussed) and white hat (internally focussed) motivators.  So, it sounds like true gamification is harder to achieve and implement than it seems.

But is gamification new?

Gamification  isn’t new; it’s based on well known behavioural techniques.  I use these techniques myself, every day, in my job as a speech pathologist (although I wasn’t aware it was called gamification – is that a term confined mainly to business enterprise, I wonder?)

Deterding, Khaled, Nacke, and Dixon’s (2011)  definition: “Gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts”; fits what I do – i.e. the use of reinforcement, rewards, and motivation in speech therapy to motivate my clients to engage in therapy, and produce the multiple responses required for them to learn a new speech sound or language skill.

The right reinforcement

The right reinforcement may be different for every child, and also for every adult.  Some reinforcers I have used include:

  • iPad games
  • physical games: skittles, bean-bag toss, ball games
  • favourite toys: e.g. cars, dolls, potato head
  • novel toys: e.g. cause-effect toys, jack-in-the-box
  • board games
  • stickers, stamps
  • puzzles
  • favourite foods
  • praise
  • high 5s
  • tickles
  • music
  • dancing
  • bouncing on a gym ball
  • bubbles (you have no idea how much I hate bubbles after being a speech pathologist for 15 years – it tends to be a very powerful motivator for kids; but eww… it makes my fingers sticky!)

Why do I need to use reinforcement?

The children I see mostly don’t care if people don’t understand their speech, or if they have an error pattern in which they substitute a “t” for “k” (e.g. “tat” for “cat”).  Their parents care, because they can see what might happen a few years down the road if that cute speech error isn’t fixed (teasing, ostracism, behavioural issues, withdrawal); but without an intrinsic motivation in the child for learning and behavioural change, I need to provide the motivation to encourage them to participate.

Speech Therapy with Ben; Author: Wayne Hilber; Source: Personal photo; Used with permission.

Speech Therapy with Ben; Author: Wayne Hilber; Source: Personal photo; Used with permission.

See the photo above? That’s double high 5s right there, and Pop-up Pirate.  My philosophy is to give the child something to make it worth their while to participate. I want them to have as much fun as possible in their sessions with me because changing a motor pattern in speech is hard work – really hard work.  Take a minute right now, grab something to read, and start reading it out loud.  Now, every time you see the letter “k” or “c”, say “t” instead, and when you see a “d” say “g” instead.  You will see that it takes a lot of conscious thought and effort to insert a new sound into words and sentences in everyday speech.

In speech therapy with children, there are many steps along the way to mastery (e.g. target sound in isolation, target sound in nonsense syllables, target sound in words, in phrases, in sentences, in everyday speech).  Clearly, there is a need for a lot of motivation during speech therapy, because it can take a while to generalise those new speech sounds to everyday speech.

But where is my motivation and reward for going to work?

The Bait; Author: nist6dh; Source: https://goo.gl/Hm2RIZ; License: CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

There is also a need for a lot of motivation during work, too for many people.  Sometimes (often-times) the money is not the be-all and end-all.  However, if I had someone next to me rewarding me with my favourite things every time I did something work-related, that would be pretty awesome.

Habituation is the enemy!

But as Zichermann says, “habituation is the enemy”. You don’t want to overuse that reinforcer, or it will lose its effectiveness. In speech therapy, I have to be on the lookout for waning motivation, and switch activities before I lose the child’s engagement.

But can you ever stop providing reinforcement?

Well, that depends.  Of course it would be great if I didn’t need to provide all of that reinforcement during speech therapy.  It would save me a lot of time.

But it wouldn’t be a lot of fun for the child, and I would run the risk of losing their willingness to participate and work hard.

And their parents would find it pretty hard to get their children in my door.

And I don’t think I should expect a child to do this hard work for nothing.

There are many reasons for always being reinforcing!

One cool thing I have found is that I can often reduce the amount of reinforcement I provide as the child experiences more and more success, and suddenly becomes internally motivated as they achieve mastery! Of course, then I usually need to move on to another target, and the process starts over again, with the requirement for more motivation at the start when it’s really hard going, then gradually decreasing again as the internal motivation kicks in, and the successes start adding up.

Maybe that’s how motivation should be provided in the workplace. Maybe I need that person sitting next to me showering me with praise and tangible rewards when it is hard going, but then once I get going, they can tiptoe away.