It is a key element of good teaching practice that the teacher will begin from the place on the learning path that the learner is currently at and then help the learner progress further along that path. In order to achieve this goal the teacher must try to use tools and techniques that best engage with the learner and indeed provide the motivation and intellectual stimulation that learners at all levels of study and ability require. Technological developments, particularly in the area of communications, have very much changed the way learners react to educational stimuli. Engagement with the internet and the consequent access to information, social contacts, online gaming and other tools have modified the ways in which people learn and interact.
Our project proposes to develop a gamification system of educational delivery that taps into elements from the modern students real world experience and incorporate them into an integral framework that can be used to assess all kinds of learning (formal, primarily, but also informal and non-formal) within the classroom through the achievements the students make in their modules; a system that provides immediate and accessible feedback about performance and the level of mastery acquired and what needs to be learnt in order to progress; a system that improves teacher-student communication, and also student-student communication, a social dimension of learning, which is known to encourage deeper engagement with the activities.
The overall objective is committing the students to change their attitude towards learning, increasing their motivation and consequently enabling them to achieve their full potential.
All these game-imported elements encompass a need for the teachers to incorporate gamification as the base for class management, implying an effort to learn and master both the theoretical aspects of the framework and, on a more practical level, the use of the software for our everyday practice.
The project seeks to develop innovative methodologies and accompanying tools to put these ideas into practice aiming at making our students engage more in their own learning processes, therefore improving not only subject-specific achievement levels but also transversal skills in every educational level and, in lower educational levels like secondary or second chance education for adults, also basic skills like literacy and numeracy. In order to achieve our goals specific software will be developed by the Application Development students from some of the partner institutions. Once that tool, a set of web-based and mobile applications for both teachers, students and parents is developed, the partners will undertake a simulated test of the tools in order to evaluate them and make the necessary changes. There are six institutions involved in the project, implying more than 60 mobilities in a cross-sectoral way. Each one has a significant degree of expertise in educational delivery.
The participating institutions have expertise in training students with very different educational abilities and have worked in the past to develop strategies to motivate and assist students with learning difficulties while at the same time engage with more gifted students. The partners have worked on projects together in the past and a strong level of communication and sharing of educational ideas has existed between the partner institutes for close to ten years. While the primary focus of the project is at students studying in VET some partners also have experience in both secondary and tertiary education and it is our intention that the gamification framework being developed will be flexible enough to work both within and outside of the VET context.
The main result of the project will be
a web-based html5 version of the software that any educational institution can install and use on their own computer network. This version will run on any mobile device with a browser a native app for both Android and iOS supported by Firebase. Other results will include, results relating to the use of the methodology in the class and also the products specifically created for the project, such as documentation and Internet presence. These will include a user manual, a quick user guide for the applications and also different booklets and leaflets that will be compiled and edited as supporting materials for the meetings, introducing different aspects of gamification, from theoretical background, the basic elements and techniques to gamify an activity and how to put it into practice using software and other classroom dynamics. In addition, the information about the software and its use and the other innovative methods developed through the project will be published from the online dissemination platforms of the project. Once the project is completed both the Intellectual Output (the software applications and user manual) and all the other related materials specifically designed and created to put gamification into practice will be made freely available online.
Even though the concept of gamification is a very recent development in the field of business, the ideas behind it are not something strictly new in education. If we consider it carefully, we can even say that our western educational systems are instances of gamification: the students (players) are given a general mission (get a certificate) which they will achieve by overcoming different stages (years) gradually more complicated and integrating skills already acquired in previous stages. In order to keep them motivated to keep playing (studying), they get feedback (grades) at fixed intervals and intermediate rewards (promotion) or punishments (repetitions). In each of their subjects, they get points for doing activities to a certain standard (exam marks, for example) and are penalized when they don’t follow the game rules (lose behavior and attitude points or are sent off, for example). They even to have team up with other players (group assignments), develop new playing (learning) strategies to overcome unexpected difficulties, fight stronger enemies (final exams) and final bosses (like university entry exams).
All in all, there’s nothing apparently innovative in this idea. Or is there?
Gamification as a procedure to use (video)game elements in different non-gaming contexts in order to create increased motivation in real life activities, however, is a very recent academic and practical development. We have just described our educational systems as gamified systems but they certainly lack the powerful engagement that videogames create, meaning a high number of students get lost along the way or become underachievers. So there must be something missing, something in the very core of our current teaching practice that fail to engage the students to fulfill their potential.
What makes videogames so powerfully attractive and engaging then? What are the mechanics behind them that keep people playing relentlessly for hours? They’re challenging, yes, but sure is education. They develop gradually over progressively more difficult stages, but academic years adopt the same approach. Videogames provide immediate feedback to players’ actions but our systems’ feedback is delayed, sometimes several months, in relation to our students’ actions. Videogames involve a narrative, a continuity, a story. They give players choices, making them protagonists, decision-makers, vital to progress. Players get rewarded for their actions and can compare with their friends. Apart from this, modern videogames in every platform rely on social interaction, the same way most of our students do in their everyday lives (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to name a few…). And, above everything else, they are fun.
So it’s quite clear in which aspects games and education differ and which elements should be added in order to make education more engaging, motivating and, even, rewarding for the students. Immediate feedback, progression, meaningful choices, interaction, rewards, even a sense of fun and wonder is the methodological innovation we propose in this project; by bringing these familiar yet motivating elements into our educational systems we aim at creating a new learning experience which will adapt to our students’ everyday real life non-formal learning styles, dramatically increasing their chances at success.
Our project “The Learning Games” is a highly innovative approach to student engagement, as it has never been done systematically and cross-sectorally from within the very educational institutions, targeting the whole spectrum of the educational system, from secondary education to higher education and including VET and adult education. The project will not only develop this approach from a theoretical point of view using already existing tools like Additio or Classcraft but, as part of the project, we will endeavor to develop our own dedicated software according to the partners’ specifications to put this methodology into practice in the classroom.