In autumn 2017 I stumbled upon an interesting question from a student: “Is there anything fun in the course?” Usually the question is about is there anything interesting in the course, but this question about ‘fun’ stayed lingering in my mind.
The concept of gamification, i.e. incorporating game-like features into ordinary activities, has been applied in business for the purposes of motivating employees and creating competitive teams, increasing customer loyalty or generating buzz in social media. Examples of organizations which have applied gamification include, among many others, the World Bank, Nissan and Samsung, where their communities participated in problem solving and development tasks, and thereof received rewards and progressed up the levels of a game.
Already in pre-school and the first grades, children learn via games, play, and group projects, where the content is conveyed through activating and entertaining tasks that involve and engage the students in problem solving, brainstorming, and creative thinking, to name a few examples. In this pedagogical approach, students absorb new content and learn in the midst of doing something motivating, while also simultaneously learning how to apply the newly learned content. This issue is not a new invention in higher education either, with examples like Kahoot! and virtual team work challenges, including tasks of increasing difficulty level, being all well-known around TSE already. Although, in gaming contexts, students are competing against each other, they are more importantly developing themselves in the process. In relation to this, gamification ought to be the means, not the ends; learned content together with skills, and knowledge about how to apply these skills in (working) life competitively, analytically, and critically, is the reward – rather than momentary game leaderboard scores, virtual trophies, or passed tasks. It is widely known that attitudes influence how one perceives and adopts new things. A positive and curious attitude can help in absorbing new content. Additionally, the aha-moments, feelings of achievement and sensations of accomplishment, especially when exceeding one’s own expectations, are rewarding, and leave a strong imprinting in the mind. One needs motivation to learn for it to leave a permanent engram in one’s thinking.
Currently at the university we are working on the course descriptions for the next two academic years 2018-2020. In these descriptions the learning objectives take center stage. Similarly, in the AACSB accreditation process, where TSE is currently progressing, the Assurance of Learning (AoL) theme is in the foreground. Goals ought to be unambiguous, clear and relevant to indicate the target and the context, answering the “what should be learned?” and “why it should be learned?” questions. However, the question of “how it should be learned?” is also essential, as just stating the goals and topics do not by themselves run the learning process. When thinking about the “how?” question, we might start to think, also, about how entertainment and fun aspects can enable learning.
Experiences in teaching expectedly boring and dry topics such as research methods (though very juicy to the [odd] enthusiasts) has taught me that entertainment and fun are almost necessary to keep students, firstly, awake and, secondly, to indicate that these topics have some practical applicability and relevance. So far I have used stand-up comedy, crime stories, ethical dilemmas, roleplay, psychological tests and experiments, as well as dancing, to increase at least my own enjoyment in class. Based on the course feedback I luckily haven’t been completely on the wrong track. In the future course descriptions for the years 2020-2022 I might add, also, assurance of fun and entertainment objectives
University Research Fellow