Are all students into it? #gamification

A series of focus groups were recently conducted by the Teaching Enhancement Unit at DCU, with students enrolled on entry and advanced level research methods and statistics courses on the BSc in Psychology. These focuses groups were part of a larger scale research project (D-Step) which aims to develop staff to enhance students’ experiences of learning statistics through gamification.

From these focus groups it emerged that across levels, students have mixed experiences of learning statistics. The entry level students expressed negative expectations, yet they reported positive experiences of learning statistics, with one student stating:

research methods was the thing that I was dreading the most and it’s actually one of the classes that I look forward to the most, I really enjoy it.”

Positive experience despite negative expectations appeared to stem from a safe learning environment, where students are free to learn through trial and error. A gamified approach to teaching statistics employed by their lecturer seemed to be the essential ingredient in creating this environment.

On the other hand, advanced level students expressed negative experiences of learning statistics and research methods. These negative experiences stemmed from a learning environment which is created by a traditional approach to teaching statistics and research methods. Students felt that this environment was not conducing to learning and resulted in an “awful” experience.

Across levels students were open to gamification as a tool for enhancing their learning experiences. Students could see how gamification fit with the teaching of statistics and its potential for transforming the learning environment. One student stated:

Using this tactic in research would be the most beneficial… it’s building blocks and you really need to know… understand from day 1 what you are doing and why you’re doing it.”

The game elements that students were most interested in was a freedom to make mistakes, rapid feedback, rewards, avatars, and time restrictions.

Despite being open to gamification, students also express concerns about the peer comparison. Students do not like peer comparison and are concerned that it will alter the class culture by creating a tense competitive rather than cooperative learning environment. One student stated:

“I wouldn’t like the competitive nature of it. Like, I know in normal games it is fun, but when you are comparing, like we don’t like, our class isn’t like that, we don’t talk about results… so, I think that it could create an element of tension.”

If gamification were to be implemented it has to be designed in a way that it addresses the learning needs of students. Students expressed that they need statistics to be broken down into steps to increase comprehension and ease anxiety, and they also need to be able to practice statistics without consequences. One student stated:

It’s a practical subject, so if it is going to be practical it needs to be practiced.”

Students also report that they need more interaction with peers and they see advantages in collaborative peer support for statistics. Rapid feedback cycles are also valued by students as a mean to helping them perform better, achieve goals and re-evaluate their lesson. Although students do not like peer comparison, they express the need for a ranking system which uses standardised scores without introducing leader boards.

In relation to rewards, students expressed that they will need real and not token rewards to be motivated to engage with gamification. The rewards students are most motivated by are grades:

The only thing that I would really be rewarded by though is if I completed a certain amount that you get a percentage you know off your grade”

The findings from these focus groups will be used to inform gamified software for teaching statistics that caters to students learning needs and concerns in relation to gamification.


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