HBMSU's EduGame is a new gamification system that integrates games into learning Video Credit: Supplied

Smart learning environments can provide effective learning experiences that allow students to deepen levels of engagement, motivation and involvement in the learning process. UAE’s Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) has introduced the concept of EduGame – a new gamification system that integrates games into learning – with the aim to make the learning experience more futuristic, skill based and fun.

In recent years, the growing popularity of gamification in learning-organizations around the world has shown that it has the potential to become an integral part of both traditional and online education at different educational levels. Education institutes have begun to recognize the value of a successful gamification strategy in motivating students and stimulating the effectiveness of the learning process.

A recent World Government Summit report in cooperation with global analysis and advisory firm Oxford Analytica says that one of the most crucial ways in which gamification can serve the educational process is by permitting a cost-effective way for school systems to personalise the learning process. It is generally accepted among educational specialists that smaller class sizes lead to higher student achievement. In a gamified environment, the student, by choosing the pace of learning (through an incremental progression system and a freedom of effort) or the area of learning (with a freedom to experiment), tailors the educational agenda to his or her own preferences. This has the effect of simulating a class size of one student, allowing school to offer the benefits of small class sizes without hiring additional teachers.

HBMSU is the first institution in the Middle East to introduce the innovative EduGame concept for graduates of the future. The university has been committed to adopt an advanced educational model that can help prepare an empowered generation of innovators, knowledge ambassadors, nation builders, and future makers.

The university’s modern approach to learning is based on the three key pillars of innovation, disruption, and transformation and is in line with the directives of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and University President.

Education institutes have begun to recognize the value of a successful gamification strategy in motivating students Image Credit: Supplied

Gamification in education

Gamification in education is used to increase a student’s engagement in the learning process with the inclusion of game elements in traditional classroom training materials, and the Learning Management Systems (LMS). In recent years, the term “student engagement” has grown in popularity as more and more educators realize the role certain intellectual, emotional, behavioral, physical, and social factors play in the learning process.

In the national school system of Hungary, for example, an increasing interest in gamification was observed in the last few years. Educational games proved to be more effective if they had a primary purpose of acquiring knowledge and a secondary purpose of entertainment. Such gaming elements were believed to transfer knowledge, develop students' professional, personal, social and learning competence, ability to adapt to different situations, while the secondary objective was to make “learning fun”.

The use of graphics and virtual worlds, as part of the gamification process, create an attractive, motivating, innovative learning environment for the learner, where the learner's curiosity and discovery desire is the driving force of teaching process.

Game-based learning and gamification

An important distinction must be made here between game-based learning and gamification. Game-based learning provides students with games that have an educational objective. These games can supplement frontal teaching or replace it, but it is clearly a game. The essence of gamification is that it occurs in a non-game context. Therefore, it would be applied in such a way that would not change the existing practice of learning and instead focus on making it more engaging and challenging for students.

HBMSU’s EduGame has integrated gaming elements to create a highly engaging learning environment that motivates students to take part in community activities, interactive discussions, and volunteering, aligned with HBMSU’s five institutional outcomes that include: Academic Excellence; Innovation and Analytical Skills; Passion for Knowledge; Effective Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills; and Pride in National Identity and a Sense of Belonging.

Each institutional outcome consists of a list of activities, whether producing research, solution, prototype, extended abstract, poster, published case studies or paper or any education or scientific matter. It also includes extra curricula activities that are defined and aligned to each institutional outcome. Learners earn points for completing any of the activities. This make radical changes in the learning process to make it an enjoyable and interesting journey. For example, activities such as volunteering in university-based or national initiatives with authorities such as Takatof, Sanid, UAE Red Crescent Authority, Dubai Cares, Dubai Autism Centre, or even creating short videos on tolerance published on the university social media accounts can earn points for students.

Point system

The use of gamification in higher education has shown to have a positive impact on university students’ personal capabilities such as motivation towards goal achievement as well as team work and interpersonal interactions. The most common game elements are points, badges, leaderboards, progress bars, avatars, levels, feedbacks, competitions, challenges, stories/themes, clear goals, rewards and teams.

Since EduGame is linked to HBMSU’s institutional outcomes, each outcome is allocated 20 points, hence the total number of points you can earn is 100 in a semester. At the beginning of every semester, the EduGame points will reset to zero. However, all the points students have previously gained will be added to their academic year points balance and the accumulated points balance. Each activity is assigned a certain number of points that only can be earned for one time per semester. For example, an activity requires you to win an award in the semester. So, you will only be awarded once even if you win 2 awards.

Gamification in education is used to increase a student’s engagement in the learning process Image Credit: Supplied

What happens when students receive a badge?

You will be recognized on the Leaderboard, which is updated every semester on HBMSU website on a special page for EduGame. The highest graduating learner of accumulative points will have special recognition at the graduation ceremony. The highest achievers of semester points will be recognised at learner-related events. When you earn a gold or silver badge, you will be recognized in HBMSU’s social media channels, will be recognized on the virtual learning portal and will receive acknowledgement letters.

A forward-looking model

Universities need to define their own characteristics which their graduates need to adapt and based on that they can setup and design their EduGame activities.

The use of EduGame boosts participation levels and making the learning process more engaging and interactive. It also enhances the learners’ skills and competencies when performing and completing the different activities. In the last few decades there has been a rapid growth of entrepreneurship education programmes due to the critical impact of entrepreneurship on economic development, innovation and employment in both developed and developing countries. Since majority of entrepreneurship education programmes still use the traditional teaching methods, experts have suggested introducing gamification as an influential method to improve the effectiveness of such programmes.

The way forward

A successful gamification system will look to use what Scot Osterweil, creative director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Education Arcade, calls the “four freedoms of play”:

• The freedom to fail: games allow mistakes to be made with little consequence;

• The freedom to experiment: games allow players to explore and discover new strategies and pieces of information;

• The freedom to assume different identities: games encourage players to see problems from a different perspective;

• The freedom of effort: games allow players to go through periods of intense activity and relative inactivity, so that players can pause and reflect on tasks they have accomplished.

To measure the success of EduGame system, the focus should be on engaging students in activities that results in their adaption to the HBMSU learner characteristics to sustain levels of engagement.