Improving Student Attitudes Toward the Capstone Laboratory Course Using Gamification
Gamification, or the introduction of game-like mechanics into non-game contexts, has received increasing attention recently, largely for its perceived ability to motivate participants into desired courses of action by making mandatory or mundane tasks rewarding in some way. Examples of this in the business world include frequent flyer reward programs, social programs such as FourSquare or Facebook Check In, and app-type gamification of to-do lists, weight-loss programs, or exercise programs.
Application of gamification to education is a logical extension, as it has the potential to motivate students to perform extra learning tasks that they might not otherwise do by couching those tasks in the larger context of a game, or by providing small but tangible non-grade rewards for their completion. To study this phenomenon, we chose to overlay a collaborative team-based game context over the traditional senior capstone chemical engineering laboratory course. As a laboratory course, the structure is such that students are naturally clustered into teams working on different experiments. This allowed us to easily divide the students into randomly assigned teams (‘guilds’ in our example) that were united by a common purpose – completing their major experiment. By completing required tasks such as lab reports and presentations, students earned XP (experience points), which translated directly into a traditional grade. In addition, other, optional tasks were added that could earn a student additional XP (effectively extra credit), but also another resource, called Reputation. While reputation did not affect a student’s grade directly, by working collectively with other students in their guild, students could pool Reputation to effectively ‘win’ the game. In this context, the guild with the most reputation at the end of the semester was allowed to choose from several rewards (dinner out with the faculty, the ability to choose an experiment the following semester, a small boost to one of their best grades, etc.). Optional tasks were ones that the instructors thought would benefit the students, but in practice, without incentivization, few students attempted. Examples include peer evaluation of their work, seeking out and using external references in their writing, and performing data analysis during the course of the experiment and using that information to modify their experimental plan.
Both pre- and post-course surveys were carried out, which collected data on the students’ experience with a multitude of game types, as well as their personal habits. Additionally, their attitude and perceptions about gamification and our particular implementation were surveyed both prior to the start of the class and after the semester ended to compare differences. After one semester of implementation, comparison of scores on lab reports from a non-gamified offering of the class with the gamified version showed no statistical difference. However, the student participation in incentivized tasks was high, and showed a broad appeal across different levels of academic performers. All students participated at least at some level, even though the game tasks were completely optional. Most students reported that it was a refreshing change to a standard course offering, and when polled, 86% (43 out of 50) wanted to continue with the gamified version in the spring semester.
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Authors: Prof. Daniel D. Burkey, Mr. Daniel D. Anastasio, Dr. Aravind Suresh, University of Connecticut