Motivation and manipulation: a gamification approach to influencing undergraduate attitudes in computing

Nicholas Mitchell, Nicky Danino, Lesley May

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


This paper describes how the introduction of competitive elements to an introductory undergraduate module in Computing at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) enabled the teaching team to motivate, engage, and influence the behaviour and expectations of new students. The Four Week Challenge (4WC) forms the first module that all students encounter on a number of different Computing courses. It is run in full-time "burst mode" during the students' first month at UCLan, with the start of regular teaching delayed until after this module has finished. It is designed to lead students through a challenging (yet highly scaffolded) project to show them where their course could take them. The students work in teams of six on a series of incremental challenges. The ultimate goal for teams on the module is to build a sophisticated mobile phone game, market it on-line, and present it in an academic context. Moreover, the module itself is run as a game, with teams competing against each other not only to build the best game, but also to be the most effective team. Important in getting the students to embrace the idea of the module as a game was instilling a belief that the teams were fairly matched, and that each had an equal chance of success. To this end we devised a method of sorting students into balanced teams based on: a) their chosen course within Computing; b) their preferred team role; and c) their existing competence at computer programming. The challenges in each week follow themes within computing, giving the opportunity for different individuals in each team to come to the fore throughout the module according to their interest. Points were awarded to each team on a daily basis for various activities, and a running total displayed as a Leader Board in the foyer of the Computing building. This public and regularly updated display fuelled a strong sense of competition between the teams, motivating them to work harder and achieve better results. Since the 4WC is an assessed module (10 ECTS credits) both output and teamwork are graded each week. As well as contributing to the teams' final grade for the module, these marks are also translated into points for the Leader Board. Besides academic learning outcomes, the 4WC has been designed to address issues of retention and engagement in Computing at UCLan. One aim is to foster a culture of peer-support, where no student would feel isolated on the course. Specific activities where points are awarded only if all members of the team make a defined contribution encourage the stronger team-members to support the less experienced. Again with the promise of points, students are encouraged to share knowledge and techniques. In presentations, students are supportive of other teams, asking questions and offering advice. By the end of the month are publishing their own tutorials and running their own help classes. An awards ceremony is held at the end of the module, with prizes for the overall winning team, and also in several other categories.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 7th European conference on games-based learning
PublisherInstituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto
ISBN (Print)9781629931395
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes
Event7th European conference on games-based learning - Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, Porto, Portugal
Duration: 3 Oct 20134 Oct 2013

Academic conference

Academic conference7th European conference on games-based learning
Abbreviated titleECGBL 2013


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