In Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys, Reichert and Hawley (2010b) contend that competition and teamwork are “coextensive,” and that it would be “a delicate, and perhaps unfruitful, task to attempt to separate or compare the relative degrees of teamwork and competition in a particular lesson.” (2010a, p. 121) Additionally, they state that boys appreciate opportunities to compete and cooperate in academic settings, which can result in heightened engagement. The data from this action research confirmed that gamification had a significant effect resulting in the improved use of the boys’ collaborative skills in learning groups to solve problems.
Using S.T.A.D. to gamify problem-solving provided a structure for social engagement that tapped into boy’s innate desire to compete and collaborate in learning situations. Gamifying the scoring system using a leaderboard and awarding digital badges sent a powerful signal to the boys about their collaborative efforts. Recognising team efforts made the boys realise that they were individually accountable to their groups because their improvement scores contributed to team scores. Being accountable to the team promoted positive interdependence between group members and emphasised the importance of using collaborative skills taught. Boys realised that in order to achieve success for their teams, learning through others was far more efficient and rewarding.
Over the course of the study as the action was applied, boys’ behaviours and attitudes towards each other changed significantly during problem-solving sessions. Firstly, there was a realisation that using collaborative skills during group problem-solving sessions promoted better face-to-face interactions and improved social skills. As as result, boys developed an appreciation and awareness of each other’s abilities. Secondly, gamification engendered a cohesive, collaborative working atmosphere resulting in deeper respect for each other’s roles within groups. This in turn allowed the boys to have a voice within their group, knowing that they would be listened to, or helped if they did not understand a concept.
Gamification in the classroom can be likened to the Tour de France, arguably the world’s most prestigious annual cycling event. Just as individual cyclists compete collectively as members of a team within the Tour de France, boys in their learning groups soon realised that they were in fact on the same team competing to do well. Building on their strengths and their weaknesses, cyclists negotiate mountain and sprint sections just like boys negotiate the challenges of algebra and probability. Such a comparison may at first glance seem far-fetched, however, once boys understand how a game works they become adept at using it to achieve success. Essentially, the boys in this study, “learned to play the game and then played the game to learn.” In the real world of business and economics, such analogies to some degree hold true for individuals who need to work collaboratively in teams to achieve a larger common goal.