Embracing gamification
By Sunny Thakral

The British School New Delhi won the outstanding use of digital technology in learning initiative at the 2019 International School Awards. Here, Head of Technology and Communication at the school, Sunny Thakral, explains the initiative:

 

Children love games, in fact we all do! So, two years ago, as part of a school action research project, we investigated the impact gamification makes on attitudes, engagement and learning outcomes.

 

Needs and options

We started a project to look at how gamification principles, like leaderboards, levels of challenge, rewards and competitions, could support learning. We reviewed a number of platforms and mapped their impact on our processes from a pedagogical point of view.

Being an inclusive school, we support a varying range of abilities amongst our mostly transient student population. Students join us with varying levels of interest and proficiency, especially in Mathematics and English. Personalisation is core to the school’s vision. To support this, we looked for a solution that focused on empowering learners to access our curriculum based on their pace and one that enabled staff to use innovative methods of instruction to support student learning.

 

As a result, we introduced Mangahigh, a gamification-based Mathematics platform in Year 5; a year group which had the greatest number of underachieving students. The platform uses artificial intelligence to generate assignments.

 

Piloting success

Staff development was critical, even for a pilot, so we conducted workshops and highlighted the benefits of using gamification, supporting them throughout the pilot. Historically, Mathematics is seen as a traditional subject and parental perceptions were critical to the programme's success. To address this, we ran workshops for parents, showcasing how the pedagogy worked and discussed how to shift the focus to education-based games.

Our plan was to start slowly, by setting a weekly homework or a class task. However, our strategy went out of the window as a result of the impact it had on students. They went wild with it! In the first week, they logged more activities compared to the entire month prior and we saw levels of subject engagement increase. Teachers were supporting students with clarification of concepts and some students were racing ahead of the curriculum. Within the first month, data analysis showed that some of the identified low achieving students were catching up to age appropriate levels.

 

Once the pilot was complete, we took stock and looked at the positive outcomes and issues faced by teachers, parents and students. We devised solutions and extended the pilot, with Year 5 teachers now training peers. Students now control their learning through access to pathways tailored to their current ability.

 

Proof of its success was evidenced in the CEM tests, used to measure annual student progression. Data analysis showcased higher than average gains for age-related mathematics progression following gamification introduction. Even taking into account the highest ever historical annual gains, the year-on-year progression was almost six months advancement per child with disengaged students showcasing huge progression jumps too.

 

After the first year, our students participated in international competitions and were immensely successful, but to us the main success was that our students have fallen in love with mathematics again and this continues even when gamification isn’t part of their learning.

 

The benefit of a brand solution

There were clear benefits of using an established platform brand. It allowed our teachers to focus on its use within the classroom and the use of its data for supporting learning, rather than the creation of resources. With both free and paid tiers, this solution allowed us to commit as much or as little as we wanted and the free options enabled us to set-up pilots, workflows and measure impact in our local context before committing.

 

Applying gamification principles to learning is not expensive. It’s possible to create leaderboards, levels of challenges, rewards and competitions in existing classrooms quite easily and without much work.

 

Impact on student learning

Enabling our students to benefit from personalisation of learning and taking ownership of it has led to a fervour, unmatched by other initiatives.

 

The very nature of gamification is an engaging experience for students. Common messages from students were: “It doesn’t feel like I am doing maths,” and “I like the activities that I can play with my friend”. There have been some amazing individual success stories that have inspired the whole school community.

 

It is a way of learning that has worked for our teachers as well as the students. The platform has enabled our teachers to have more time to actively support students with informed lesson planning, removing work that had traditionally pulled them away from that. For example, it identified students’ mistakes and misunderstandings and provided personalised feedback, helping teachers to build up a detailed picture of each child’s progress. It gave them access to differentiated assignments and AI recommendations, enabling them to make learning targeted to each student. Data generated via the system reduced the burden of assessment and assignment-setting.

 

It’s empowered teachers to develop innovative pedagogical practices that incorporate data-driven planning.

 

Expanding gamification into school learning

The gamification project is now accessible to the whole of our primary school. We have utilised it across other disciplines including literacy and the sciences. Indeed, the gamification leaderboard approach is being utilised elsewhere, such as for our pastoral Going for Gold programme. It’s also being used as part of staff development, engaging them via leaderboards and point systems, helping them to intrinsically understand how gamification principles enable personalisation and engagement which go beyond the simple use of platforms.

 

The use of web-based gamification is nothing new. But we have aimed to go one step further, researching what makes gamification projects tick, and then applying those principles in areas where conventional approaches didn’t work, like behaviour management and staff training, sometimes using existing resources and other times, creating our own.

 

Rooting gamification and effective use of data analysis into school life has enabled us to have conversations with staff on both lesson planning and effective differentiation techniques. This shift in pedagogy, from the traditional to a fusion approach with the modern, is perhaps the project’s greatest success.

Sunny Thakral is the Head of Technology and Communication at The British School New Delhi: https://www.british-school.org/ You can connect directly with Sunny on Twitter or LinkedIn

©2019 International School Leader