Gamification - a win for student engagement

by Sarah Bachman21 Sep 2016

Today’s school students are ‘digital natives’. According to education speaker and author, Marc Prensky – who coined that term a few years ago – it means that they think and process information fundamentally differently from the generation before them. 
He believes that, raised in a world saturated with digital technology, today's school students have developed a different blend of cognitive skills.
They receive information at ‘twitch-speed’, parallel process and multi-task, and they prefer graphics first, text second. Gamification is an effective way to teach them in their native language.
So what exactly is gamification in education and how does it work?
Gamification is the application and integration of game mechanics, principles and design techniques into traditionally non-game tasks. Typical elements of a gamified program include levels, badges, points, rewards, time constraints, and being able to challenge or compete against others.
Gamification is used as a means to encourage customer engagement in various industries, but its use in school based education tools is more recent. Now it’s firmly part of the mix and growing in popularity.
Mark Sampson is Client Services Director for LiteracyPlanet, a digital resource developed in Australia for schools to support the teaching of English from early primary to late secondary.
The program’s developers turn best practice and curriculum aligned literacy education content into digital games. It is an interactive program with personal avatars, leaderboards, instant feedback, multi-player games, points and virtual trophies. 
The company also recently hosted Word Mania 2016, a national literacy competition for schools based on one of its word building game. More than 260,000 students participated, making it the most popular literacy competition in Australia.
Sampson told The Educator the most frequent feedback LiteracyPlanet gets from educators once they start using the program is how much their students enjoy it.
“Teachers and students tell us that they ‘love’ LiteracyPlanet and that it is ‘awesome’. Not the kind of words you’d typically expect students to use to describe their learning tools, but it’s because they actually have fun when they use it; it’s a great example of ‘invisible learning’”.
The benefits of gamification flow on from this high level of student engagement. Studies have found it has positive effects on learning, psychological and behavioural outcomes, with improvements to participation, motivation, enjoyment, sense of achievement and accomplishment, and performance.
Lachlan Ferguson, teacher at Aberfeldie Primary School in Victoria, uses digital programs including LiteracyPlanet for his Year 5 and 6 students. Ferguson told The Educator:
“Gamified learning has really assisted my classroom in terms of learning outcomes and student engagement. Students have a viewable leader board related to times tables and spelling challenges, and are challenged to try and improve their ranking by achieving higher scores than others. 
“I think gamification is an incredibly important component of this digital age of learning,” Ferguson said.