Centro di Ricerca sull'Educazione ai Media all'Informazione e alla Tecnologia

[GLOBAL CREMIT] Gamification

[GLOBAL CREMIT] Gamification 3 Aprile 2019

Article by Alejandro Quintas Hijós

The gamification has been introduced continuously and with great speed in the last 10 years in the business and entertainment industry. However, it is very necessary to rethink the gamification from the educational approach, and check its effectiveness and compatibility in this field.

There are multiple definitions of gamification that affect different aspects, so I propose an adjusted combination of the most accepted (Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011, Kapp, 2012). Gamification refers to the use of design elements of video games in non-play contexts to modify behaviors in people through actions on their motivation. The difference of this definition with respect to others is the focus on videogames. The essence of educational gamification is to imitate those virtues of video game design, and take advantage of them to motivate learning. It is an approach, a design, an architecture, so it is not strictly necessary to introduce digital technology, games, or videogames in the classroom -although they are facilitators-.

However, there are already investigations that show an improvement in motivation thanks to the application of gamification, as in biotechnology (Bonde et al., 2014), natural sciences in primary education (Boticki, Baksa, Seow, & Looi, 2015) , university computing (Hakulinen, Auvinen, & Korhonen, 2015), or in physical education and music (Quintas, 2019, Quintas & Bustamante, 2019).

The gamification has been based on psychological theories of motivation, such as the Theory of Self-Determination (Deci & Ryan, 1985), Theory of Flow (Csíkszentmihályi, 1988), Theory of Fun (Koster, 2004) or Theory of the Establishment of Objectives (Locke & Latham, 2002). A very recent review study (Dichev & Dicheva, 2017) shows that there is a very inflated expectation of the motivating power of gamification, given that there are not many scientific studies that support such psychological power. Recent studies indicate that the main limitations of scientific research in gamification is due to its major application at university level and not in obligatory educational stages (Dichev & Dicheva, 2017), the absence of comparative research designs (Hanus & Fox, 2015 ), and the lack of validity of the data collection (Hamari & Koivisto, 2014). Likewise, a limiting factor is the lack of a rigorous theoretical framework that limits the concept of gamification and its practice.

The three most widespread gamification modes are the PBL architecture -points, badges and leaderboards- (Werbach & Hunter, 2012), the MDA architecture -mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics- (Hunicke, LeBlanc, & Zubek, 2004), and the Octalysis architecture (Chou, 2014). The PBL architecture has been criticized for being too simple, encouraging a short-term motivation (useful therefore for a session but not for a subject), or being useful only in students-players of a achiever profile (Bartle, 2003). On the other hand, the Octalysis architecture is very complete and holistic, but it has little scientific support. Therefore, I propose a refocus of the MDA architecture, which already includes the PBL, so that it can be applied to the educational context (Quintas, 2019). The MDA architecture refers to the three pillars of video game design, in this case applied to a gamified system:

1) Mechanics: is the set of constituent elements of the system, the relationship between them, and the way in which a system can operate routinely. Determine the limits of how you can play or act within the system. This is the aspect of the architecture that the designer-teacher can control directly, since the following will not be fully controlled. Example: when a student-player submits a task within the established term, he receives 1000 academic points. Elements: points, badges, scoreboard, classifications, challenges, levels, avatars, personalization, virtual-symbolic market (for a precise definition of each element, with examples of each of them, see Quintas (2019)).

2) Dynamics: it is the way in which mechanics is effectively working, that is, how the player-student interacts with mechanics. These actions will be determined by the wishes of the player, which in turn will be determined by the mechanics of the game. Example: the student who has received the most points for reading the musical score well during the week, receives the symbolic badge of the best musical reader. Elements: reinforcement (Skinner, 1971), accumulability, collectibility, progress, status, competition, cooperation, self-expression.

3) Aesthetics: refers both to the sensations-perceptions produced by the mechanics as it is designed, and to the sensations-emotions experienced by the player-student while playing. Example: I divide the class into four groups, each with a name and an identifying icon, so that they can solve a virtual questionnaire together. Elements: fun, immersion, satisfaction, pleasure, identity, social belonging, external beauty, interest.

Although they are not strictly necessary, to apply this gamification architecture there are already many digital tools that facilitate their didactic introduction: ClassDojo, Socrative, EdPuzzle, EducaPlay, Kahoot, Plickers, Symbaloo, Celebriti, Flippity, MakeBadges … The important thing to be a gamification professor, is to know didactics, pedagogy, psychology and sociology of education. More empirical research is needed in the field of educational gamification, especially in compulsory educational stages.


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Alejandro Quintas is a Predoctoral Researcher at Faculty of Human Sciences and Education of the University of Zaragoza, Spain. He is a member of the Eules Network, and researches on didactics and technology for students of the Teaching Degree in Primary Education, in particular, augmented reality, audiovisual production, and videogames.

Alejandro Quintas became involved with CREMIT during his doctoral research in education. Subsequently, he kept collaborating with the center during several Erasmus + visits, during which he tried to share and export new teaching approaches and the work done by CREMIT to his home department at The University of Zaragoza (Spain ).

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