Gamification and Game-based learning are well-studied fields in education, the effects of which generally positively impact learning. From ISTE standard 1.1.c “Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.” (Brooks-Young, 2017), the question that I set out to investigate is: How effective is gamification in a learning tool in terms of feedback to a student? The conclusions in this post will help improve a programming practice web application currently in development. The current iteration of the application has a series of programming challenges that a student can work through. The student can submit a program to any programming challenge and immediately receive a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ on the problem. I aim to determine what game components and digital feedback techniques should be added to improve this online tool. The long-term use and integration of such a tool into a classroom setting to provide teachers a tools for providing practice problems for students. Under the TPACK model, the pedagogical view would be a game-based learning tool that allows students to level up as they gain more experience, the technology would be the programming platform on the web application, while the content knowledge would be gained by the programming itself.
Gamification, Game-based Learning, and Serious Game
In Teaching in a Digital Age, the author distinguishes between the following terms. Serious games are game-like interactive systems and “are referred to as entertaining tools with a purpose of education, where players cultivate their knowledge and practice their skills through overcoming numerous hindrances …” (Zhonggen, 2019, cited in Bates, 2022). Game-based learning is “the pedagogical approach of utilizing games in education.” (Anastasiadis, Lampropoulos and Siakas, 2018, cited in Bates, 2022). Gamification is the “use of game design elements in non-game contexts” (Deterding et al., 2011, cited in Bates, 2022). Game design elements for gamification include player profiles, experience points (XP), levels, badges, leaderboards, team collaboration, quests, social graphs, and certificates.
According to these definitions, my tactic is the gamification of an existing learning tool using a game-based learning pedagogical approach. I would not call the current web app a serious game since it does not possess game-like characteristics. It is widely accepted that gamification increases the app’s usability, so we seek to find the types of feedback that would prove most beneficial for the programming app.
There are primarily two forms of feedback: explanatory and corrective. Both types of feedback inform the player of the correctness of their answer, but explanatory feedback provides the player with an additional principle-based explanation. Currently, my application provides only corrective feedback. A 1993 study using a digital game designed to teach environmental principles found “… that a version incorporating explanatory feedback significantly improved recall performances compared with a version where no feedback was available”. (Leutner, 1993, as cited in Erhel et al., 2013). Another study “… of the Design-A-Plant game showed that the use of explanatory feedback improved learners’ transfer performance more than corrective feedback did.” (Moreno and Mayer, 2004, cited in Erhel et al., 2013).
It is also essential to distinguish between generic and tailored feedback and negative and positive feedback. Generic feedback is a general statement, whereas tailored feedback is specific to the player. Negative feedback focuses on improvements that can be made, whereas positive feedback focuses on what the player did well during the last session. It is found that negative feedback is most effective when the player immediately has another turn, and positive feedback is more effective when the turn is delayed or non-existent (Burgers et al., 2015, cited in Welbers et al., 2019). Another study found that generic feedback was more effective than tailored feedback. This contradicts conventional thinking, and the authors quickly noted that it was due to corrective feedback. It is conjectured that tailored explanatory feedback, especially if accompanied by hints tailored to the player, could encourage participation (Welbers et al., 2019).
One theme prevalent in these studies is the idea of instant feedback within games. Azumi (2015) highlights the addictiveness of massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). These games require players to work together to accomplish a goal. Including a gamified collaboration element benefits programming education students in the learning process as they attain immediate feedback from peers (Azumi, 2015). In fact, “feedback in serious games and game-based learning can also take the form of responses from dialogues with non-player characters or instant feedback messages related to game controls and challenges performed.” (Laine & Lindberg, 2020, cited in Krath, 2021). Intuitively, immediate feedback allows players to make instant adjustments to quickly correct failures and set new goals.
Other Lessons Learned
Although unrelated to feedback, it is interesting to note that gamification applications in Computer Science have mixed results. A gamification platform that contained game dynamics was used to teach a course in Software Engineering where the students did not feel interested in the gamified environment. It is conjectured that older students and those who have much experience with lecture-based learning is less receptive of game-base learning (Berkling and Thomas 2013, as cited by Nah). On the other hand, a course in Information Systems and Computer Engineering introduced multiple game design elements into the course design itself. This increased student engagement and lecture attendance but did not significantly improve student grades (Barata et al., as cited by Nah). We must ensure that online tools do not replace the programming learning experience which only comes from solving real-world problems.
From the readings and conclusions above, the following actions should be taken to incorporate gamification elements in the programming application.
- Since a student can debug, alter, and resubmit an incorrect program immediately, the application should give immediate negative feedback, displaying elements of the code or test cases that failed in the execution of a program.
- Lessons should be drawn from the MMORPG. We should add a collaborative element, allowing students to form teams to solve problems. Students can gain peer feedback and also benefit from developing a personal learning community.
- Welbers et al. (2019) noted that tailored explanatory feedback might encourage player engagement and participation. One way to do this is to give feedback by sending weekly progress reports and questions tailored to the user’s skill level.
- Programming challenges beyond a student’s skill level should be hidden until the required experience points are attained. This is a form of positive feedback which is most beneficial when the game play is delayed.
Erhel, S., & Jamet, E. (2013). Digital game-based learning: Impact of instructions and feedback on motivation and learning effectiveness. Computers & Education, 67, 156–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2013.02.019
Welbers, K., Konijn, E. A., Burgers, C., de Vaate, A. B., Eden, A., & Brugman, B. C. (2019). Gamification as a tool for engaging student learning: A field experiment with a gamified app. E-Learning and Digital Media, 16(2), 92–109. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753018818342
Nah F.F., & Zeng, Q., & Telaprolu, V. R., & Ayyappa, A. P., & Eschenbrenner, B., (2014). Gamification of education: A review of literature. HCI in Business, 401-409. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-07293-7_39
Azumi, S., Iahad, N., & Ahmad, N. (2015). Gamification in online collaborative learning for programming courses: A literature review. ARPN Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 10(23).
Krath, J., Schürmann, L., & von Korflesch, H. F. O. (2021). Revealing the theoretical basis of gamification: A systematic review and analysis of theory in research on gamification, serious games and game-based learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 125, 106963. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2021.106963
Bates, A. W. (Tony). (2022). Chapter 8: Pedagogical differences between media. Pressbooks.bccampus.ca. https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/teachinginadigitalagev3m/part/chapter-8-pedagogical-differences-between-media/
Brooks-Young, S. (2017). ISTE standards for students: a practical guide for learning with technology. International Society For Technology In Education.