Study of Gamification in the Classroom

Brian Fediuk

New York Institute of Technology

 

Abstract

The effects of a gamified classroom environment in a high school computer science class were analyzed to determine if a gamified learning environment leads to higher achievement than a traditional environment. Upon comparing the results, students participating in a gamified classroom environment obtained higher levels of achievement than a traditional setting. The study suggests that there is a benefit to exposing students to a gamified learning environment in a high school computer science classroom.








Study of Gamification in the Classroom

One of the most difficult issues for teachers is motivating students to strive for academic success. Students sometimes can find the importance of learning skills that relate to everyday life, but many students question the importance of academic success. Often, bright students are not placed in advanced classes because the student does not strive to get good grades. Often, students will “coast” to simply pass the class, which is good enough in their eyes.

Teachers often use motivations in the classroom to encourage higher grades. Some teachers offer celebrations and parties for success, while others use punishments such as detention. Either way, students should always strive to do the very best they can, and have their grades in the class be a strong indication of academic participation. One way to increase student motivation and participation is to apply aspects of addicting games to spark the competitive and collective nature within students to encourage more participation. This practice, known as the Gamification of Education, has been shown to be useful in both the business and educational world.

This style of rewarding positive behavior and successful actions is nothing new. An article discussing Gamification states “In elementary schools, students receive incentives in the form of stickers, new erasers, more recess time and popcorn parties. In secondary schools, they are offered food, videos and extra-credit grades.” (Jenkins 2012). Gamification is merely taking these rewards and converting them to a digital level.

One of the biggest aspects of culture for children is games. From birth all the way up to retirement, there are successful games that have been developed that catch the attention of players and keep them playing for extended amounts of time. Game consoles such as the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 use achievements and trophies to encourage players to continue playing on the system. These rewards are displayed publically and players can compare their rewards to their friends, thus sparking a competitive nature to the gaming console. While the gaming companies have offered these rewards to give players an incentive to continue playing and buying video games, this method of rewarding players for continuous play can be proven useful in other ways.

In the business world, addictive aspects of video games are applied to the workplace, to encourage employees to strive to succeed, instead of simply producing the minimum of what is required of them. Employers may use motivations such as bonuses, rewards, tracking statistics, and leaderboards to encourage employees to desire success as a result of their work. Through this process, many businesses have claimed more successful and motivated employees, thus indicating success through gamification.

Games are often seen as a way to entertain and challenge ourselves to accomplish seemingly great things (Bates 2008). One of the biggest driving forces behind gamification is the ever popular Facebook. Users are participating in games and performing game-like tasks through this social network without even knowing it. Most of these people would never be found playing an actual game console, but are still constantly playing these games (Todd 2012).

We often use games to distract ourselves from our daily lives due to many reasons, such as boredom or being miserable (Bates 2008). Games often encourage us to perform tasks and chores that are normally considered boring (Tech Talk 2011). Gamification is a term that is quickly emerging among businesses and educational settings, with an already strong background in business. The appeal of gaming in an educational setting is the addictive nature that influences people to do things in which they would not normally find motivation (Renaud 2011). While the term gamification is a broad term, the general idea is that educators are starting to take the addictive qualities of games and apply them to the educational setting to give students motivation to succeed academically, whether it be through a system of growing difficulty, rewards, or public recognition (Delacruz 2011).

Gamification also uses motivation and rewards to encourage the individual to pursue goals while learning (Saunderson 2011). By changing the experience of the student in a school, one can change the student’s motivations and enjoyment of the class (Jensen 2012). Instead of the student consuming, the student gains a feeling of producing, and also has a sense of control in his or her learning progress (Renaud 2011). Gamification has the potential to make learning engaging and entertaining to the point of where students will desire to learn (Saunderson 2011). With the human brain programmed to chase goals, the trend to gamify good habits is likely to grow (Adams 2012).

In many studies, reward systems have proven to increase student motivation (Chen 2006). If a student is praised or rewarded through a certificate or reward, the student will strive to live to this expectation, and earn the accomplishment again (Chen 2006). Pride is a huge factor when it comes to gamification. Participants feel a sense of accomplishment that grows with their dedicated participation in the system. By receiving feedback for comprehension and skill, the participant is recognized by the system (Saunderson 2011). A study of a company using Gamification to increase their user activity reported a 47 percent increase in users returning to the site daily, and 36 percent increase in users returning weekly (Anonymous 2012).

While rewards may increase motivation and enhance participation, a set of meaningless rewards will not carry the same impact as a set of carefully-developed rewards that appeal to the participant’s interests (Jensen 2012). In every instance of gamification, rewards must reflect autonomy, mastery, and purpose (Danforth 2011). As later noted by Jensen, rewards must be measurable and meaningful in the eyes of the player (Jensen 2012). While suggesting how libraries can gamify their environment, an author noted that he would like to see how many pages he has read in the past year (Woodward 2012).

In the business world, gamification has become a huge trend (Badgeville 2012). Gamification increases loyalty, motivation, and participation amongst employees by more than twenty percent, and in some cases, as much as two-hundred and fifty percent (Badgeville 2012). Businesses have used gamification to attract exceptional candidates, increase worker motivation, increase teamwork and increase communication (Cook 2012). By doing tasks such as completing a job early, helping fellow workers, providing innovative insight, or maintaining fantastic attendance, workers can earn badges and rewards that can be claimed for prizes or other rewards (Cook 2012). In other methods, there is a social system where badges and accomplishments are handed out by the CEO of the company. These rewards are made public to all workers through a profile and workers are notified when achievements are earned (Singer 2012). Instead of waiting for scheduled meetings to discuss performance as a worker in the company, workers who are positive contributors are immediately recognized for their accomplishments (Cook 2012).

In the consumer world, there have been countless gamified motivators to keep customer loyalty and participation (Todd 2012). Rewards such as coupons, frequent flyer miles, and credit card sign-up rewards are examples of gamification that have been used for decades (Todd 2012). Other examples of credit card games are enrolling customers in lotteries when they use their credit cards, or earn rewards points for every dollar spent which can be exchanged for items or money. One of the major appeals of gamification in business is that younger customers are not reacting to advertising as much as they used to, so the gamification process is a new approach that attracts these types of customers (Reuters 2012).

One of the most notable and successful gamification examples in the business world is Foursquare. Foursquare rewards points and badges for “checking in” to stores, events, and locations (Danforth 2011). If a player earns enough rewards, he or she is given the title of “mayor” of the business for showing their loyalty and dedication as a frequenting customer (Danforth 2011). Other related programs that reward behavior in a social manner are GetGlue and Cityville, both projects from Zynga (Danforth 2011). Other methods of gamification for customers include progress bars, visual meters indicating progress towards the next reward, social networking profiles, trading of rewards, challenges between users, and inclusion of mini-games within the business model (Tech Talk 2011).

SaveUp is another popular gamified system, which encourages players to intelligently manage their money. Users can perform tasks such as putting money into a savings account, pay a credit card bill, or learn more about money management through a sponsored video. Through participation in this system, players are able to earn credit which can be spent on notable prizes such as an iPad (Reuters 2012).

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of badges in a gamified environment is a social aspect, where participants can see leaderboards and compare their own accomplishments to their peers (Saunderson 2011). In the previously mentioned Foursquare, players are awarded the title of “Mayor” when they earn a certain number of points and rewards (Danforth 2011). When players are matched against peers, competition increases motivation to succeed at the available task. This is one of the most important aspects of social gaming (Remmele 2009). Being the Mayor of an establishment earns the player a sort of “respect” from their peers, which is highly-valued in the gaming world (Bates 2008). An article discussing various types of gamification referenced a site called Redding.com, where users could award points to other users for insightful comments, gamification is shown as yet another motivator to keep users participating in their community. As further discussed, “Another important benefit of community ranking is its ability to raise the level of discourse in online comments by elevating the profiles of commenters opinions are judged to be noteworthy and by sinking the less desirable rants and flames” (Kho 2012).
While gamification receives much praise and enthusiasm from businesses, educators, and others, there is a noticeable amount of skepticism when it comes to gamification of education. Studies in psychology show that rewards that are not related to the accomplishment are not as strong of a motivator (Danforth 2011). While some systems may produce this result, one of the overall accomplishments of badges and similar rewards is a development of pride in the participant (Saunderson 2011). Similar uses in the business world show that companies can engage customers in a more effective way (Singer 2012). Visitors to Samsung that received recognition for their participation on a website visited the website more frequently and also explored deeper to learn more about the company and their products (Singer 2012). In the educational setting, teachers could use badges to reward attendance and participation to express their appreciation for the student’s exemplary behavior (Smith-Robbins 2011).

The use of gamification in education can also increase motivation in students through competition (Hong 2009). Studies show that one of the major appeals of successful games is a cross between cooperation and competition (Delacruz 2011). The desire for competition with peers is a very powerful motivator in gamification, where players compare their achievements to other players, especially if they are in the lead (Remmele 2009). In the gaming world, respect from peers and co-players is one of the most important parts of the game (Bates 2008). In one library, students are using BiblioBouts, a database resource collecting program, to competitively strengthen their skills in literacy while still being entertained by the competitive aspect (Danforth 2011).

Competition can even bring on social pressure to work harder. In one study, one team realized that another team had collected more rewards in the game, and encouraged members of the group to work harder to catch up (Amory 2010). In one experiment, students stated that the point of the game was to have fun, yet when they went home, a group of students continued to play the game and present their achievements to their peers the next day (Bates 2008).

The review of literature shows that gamification will not only turn the classroom environment into an entertaining experience with students, but it will also encourage students to strive towards academic success. Badges will reward positive behavior such as attendance, completion of assignments, going above and beyond, and collaboration in the classroom. Through the creation of an online badge system, where students are given digital awards for various aspects of academic success, student participation and performance will increase in a high school information technology class.

Students that participate in a “gamified” classroom with digital badges and awards will show a better academic participation and behavior than those who do not. Traditional classroom methods rely on a grade system primarily as an indication of academic success.

Method

Participants

Convenience sampling was used to select the students for this study from a city school district in New York. Thirty-one students were used in the experiment and from two different classes. The first class had fourteen students and the other class had seventeen students. In the first class, four students were female and ten students were male. In the second class, three students were female and fourteen students were male. Students in both classes were between the ages of 15 and 17, and were either in their sophomore or junior year of high school.  Since the sample of students was small, results cannot be generalized beyond the participants in this study.

Instruments and Materials

This experiment was conducted with the use of a Content Management System called Joomla. This allows one to create a website with many free tools such as a chatroom, custom web pages, user profiles, and much more. In this system, the researcher created a series of digital badges that rewarded excellent behavior such as doing multiple assignments in a row, bringing in external information for the class, helping a fellow student out with a problem, or participating in a weekly graded event in the classroom. Students signed up through the site and were able to make user profiles. Once a student registered, he or she was eligible for digital rewards to be placed on their profiles. This practice of giving rewards for positive behavior is often noted as a “gamified environment” for its close relation to modern day video games, which offer rewards for accomplishments in video games.

To assess the effectiveness of a gamified learning environment, the researcher tracked student grades for four weeks. The first two weeks were recorded without a gamified environment. The second two weeks were recorded with a gamified environment created by the researcher. Since this is a project-based learning environment, daily assessments were used to record the effectiveness of the gamified learning environment.

Design

This experiment was conducted as a two-week observation of completion of assignments. The first observation was for both classes where the grades would be observed under a traditional classroom setting. The next two weeks consisted of an introduction to the gamified environment and the ability for students to earn badges. Grades on assignments would be observed over the two weeks to see if the average of the class would increase or decrease.

Procedures

The participants of this experiment were sophomore and junior students enrolled in the Academy of Information Technology, a set of courses that focus on computer science. The students in this class were taking the introductory course that covers the basics of every other course the students can take. The experiment was done during the first quarter of the 2012-2013 school year in an Orange County, New York high school. The students involved were given two weeks of observed performance in a traditional classroom environment and then two weeks of a gamified environment. The students were scheduled into these two classes by the school’s guidance department and were added based on interest and academic performance. Throughout the course, students were given digital awards for positive behavior. The students use the website for daily assignments and information, so they were exposed to the site every day. The two courses had near identical coursework and the work from the first two weeks was very similar in difficulty and complexity to the second two weeks of the class.

 

 

Results

In this experiment, the researcher tested the effectiveness of a gamified classroom environment. The teacher offered students digital rewards for exceptional work and participation in the classroom. Students were given rewards for positive behavior such as exceeding expectations for an assignment, helping a fellow student, participating in a Dress for Success on Wednesdays, and other activities. The researcher hypothesized that a gamified environment would cause stronger academic behavior. For two weeks, the classrooms experienced a traditional non-gamified environment where grades were the only initiative for academic success. For the following two weeks, the classroom experienced these digital rewards. After recording all data, the researcher found mixed results. Male students seemed to respond positively to the gamified environment while female students responded negatively.

At the start of the experiment, the researcher took two weeks of material to teach and assess. After those two weeks, a gamified environment was introduced to the students with material of similar complexity and rigor. The first two weeks had a bi-weekly average of 84.149%, while the next two weeks had a bi-weekly average of 91.356%(see Figure 1).

The researcher also calculated the average scores for male and female students to determine if Gamification was beneficial to a specific gender. The experiment showed that male achievement increased greatly while female achievement decreased slightly. Male student grades increased by nearly 10 points when introduced to a gamified environment (see Figure 2), but female student grades decreased by nearly two points when introduced to the same environment (see Figure 3).

The researcher also gave a Likert Survey after the experiment to see how students felt about a gamified classroom environment. It was found that many students leaned in favor of competitive nature, feedback, recognition, and public display of excellence. Each question was measured for the frequency of “Strongly Agree”, “Agree”, “Neutral”, “Disagree”, and “Strongly Disagree”.

The first question of the Likert survey asked students if they enjoyed engaging in competitive activities with peers. Some badges rewarded group work and assisting fellow classmates. A strong majority of the students agree with this statement strongly, while only a few agreed or were neutral about the statement (see Figure 4).

The second question prompted students to voice their opinion about receiving feedback and how it would help them stay on track. The badges in the experiment reflected extraordinary achievement, helping others, and many other positive aspects students could be expected to accomplish. Once again, the majority of students strongly agreed with the statement, while only a few voted to agree and even less voted neutrally (See Figure 5).

Next, students were asked about being recognized for excellence and if that made them more likely to continue performing at that level. Many of the achievement badges reflected hard work and positive behavior in the classroom. Students mostly voted that they strongly agreed, and only one student voted that they agree (see Figure 6).

Students were next surveyed about their preference about public acknowledgement for good actions. The achievements in the classroom were made public, and most students would announce their achievements in class. Others recognized their achievements silently. Many students leaned towards strongly agree, some leaned towards agree, a few leaned towards neutral, and three stated they disagreed with the statement (see Figure 7).

The fifth question asked students if they enjoyed having short-term and long-term goals in their classroom. The badges served as daily goals sometimes while other badges rewarded hard work over multiple days. Once again, most students chose that they strongly agree, some agreed and a few were neutral (see Figure 8).

Question number six asked students if they liked collecting things as they go along as a motivation for staying focused. The main goal of offering badges was to give students the motivation to collect as many badges as possible. Most students chose strongly agree, while a few chose agree and a few chose neutral (see Figure 9).

Question seven of the Likert Survey asked students if they liked getting near-immediate feedback for their actions. The researcher made it a goal to have all daily badges awarded by the end of the school day, so students saw the results the next morning. Students once again voted mostly to strongly agree with the statement, while a few voted to agree and a few were neutral (see Figure 10).

The eighth question asked students about their preference of immediate feedback on assignments versus one assessment in the end. Badges were used as a way to tell students they were doing an exceptional job for their work. Most students strongly agreed that this was true, several agreed with the statement, and one was neutral (see Figure 11).

The ninth question in the Likert Survey asked students if they would like to be at the top of the class in terms of performance and behavior. The badges acted as an indicator of behavior and performance in the class, so a student with more badges would be regarded as a more productive member to their peers. Most students chose that they strongly agree with the statement, while only 3 chose that they agree (see Figure 12).

The final question of the Likert Survey asked students if seeing other classmates receive awards would cause that student to strive for the same reward. Surprisingly, students’ opinions were not as heavy leaning as the other questions. While more students chose that they strongly agree more than any other category, only ten had chosen that they strongly agree. Eight chose that they agreed, eight were neutral, and five disagreed. While the badges were awarded to the user, they were made public so other students could observe their peers (see Figure 13).

The data from the experiment and the Likert Survey both support the original hypothesis that gamification of the classroom increases the overall performance and behavior of the students, especially with class requirements such as Dress for Success. The badges motivated students to strive for excellence rather than completion, as supported by the increase in overall class averages. However, it should be noted that in this particular experiment, female students had a decline in performance in the gamified state. It should be noticed that the female population in these computer courses is at a much lower percentage than other courses offered. From the 31 students observed, only 7 were female, leaving 24 students being male.

 

Discussion

The intent of this study was to determine the effectiveness of introducing a gamified classroom into a high school computer science class and the impact that this gamified environment has on grades and frequency of assignment completion.  The study tested the hypothesis that by incorporating a gamified environment into the classroom, the students’ grades would rise more than if they had participated in a more traditional classroom environment.

After administering the experiment, the results showed that a gamified classroom increased the frequency of assignments and the overall average of the class grade. On average the students’ grades rose by over 7% when operating in a gamified classroom.  It was evident that students enjoyed receiving digital rewards for positive behavior based on feedback and an overall boost in enthusiasm that was apparent to the researcher. Lastly, students were aware of what types of expectations were made for them based on the award system implemented in the classroom.

Some of the variables that may have affected the results of the study are the differences in activities over the two weeks. While the assignments from the two periods of time were of similar difficulty and rigor, there was a noticeable difference in the nature of the assignments. However, these four weeks were very similar in difficulty, rigor, and style of assignments. Students worked through guided activities, experiments and written assignments.  In addition, students were newly introduced to this concept, so the appeal of a new grading system may have influenced them to explore the results by focusing on achievements.

This study’s results confirm and relate to the previously mentioned studies by reiterating the fact that many students’ grades would benefit from a gamified learning environment (Saunderson 2011). This gamified environment also created a competitive environment for students, since they could see what their classmates had achieved. This competitive motivation was an excellent way to encourage students to achieve to the best of their ability (Hong 2009).

However, the researcher did find that the average grades of female students slightly declined. As some psychology studies note, digital badges are not strong motivators (Danforth 2011).  It is possible that female students did not find as much motivation in the digital awards as males. It was observed that many male students compared the gamified classroom environment to Xbox Achievements, which are rewards for players that accomplish tasks on the gaming console.

The results provided from this study could help guide teachers who wish to include a website in their classroom, or wish to use rewards as incentive to motivate students to strive for excellence. By demonstrating the boost in the classroom average, it will clearly help to encourage teachers to incorporate this system in their classroom to benefit students and teachers in the way grades and achievement in the classroom is perceived.

The results provided from this study could help guide administrators and teachers when they are deciding on new technologies to invest in for their schools.  By demonstrating the degree of impact that this technology can have on student learning, it will clearly help to initiate the implementation of this technology into more and more classrooms to benefit student learning and reform the way teachers instruct in their classroom.  If this were to develop into a bigger trend, it could benefit students greatly in the long run with their comprehension of content and overall grades.

The researcher’s recommendation for further study would be to administer this experiment again at different grade levels and subject areas, and to have the experiment span over a longer period of time than two weeks. Gamification would need to be tested over a longer period to ensure that the “new” feeling of the environment isn’t simply a fad and would hold over an entire school year to motivate students to constantly achieve these badges.  This modified experiment would give stronger results and evidence that Gamification is an effective approach to remodeling a classroom environment. This updated experiment would also provide the researcher with a stronger sense of balance in the classroom, and how to handle long-term issues that may arise. The results could then lead an administrator in deciding if this is a proper environment to introduce to each grade.

The findings of this study are significant because they could encourage stronger behavior and participation in the classroom, and remodel the current instructional model where feedback is given only by numeric grades. By referring to these findings, an administrator or educator could decide if Gamification is correct for their school or classroom, and choose which achievements would be appropriate for their classroom.  Lastly, this tool is important to education because it will bring a sense of fun to the classroom, while encouraging students to achieve academic excellence.

 

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