As an educator, father and lifelong learner I am interested in the impact that gamification can have upon the teaching and learning of students within my classroom. My classroom however, is not located in the Middle Earth, Narnia nor in a distant galaxy far, far away. Advances in technology, coupled with greater access to educational technology within the classroom, have allowed me to use gamification as a tool to teach. Games provide a structure that promotes social engagement allowing for meaningful learning to occur that engages students to collaborate and compete (Kim, 2012; Farber, 2015).
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that the purpose of education is “equipping citizens with the skills necessary to achieve their full potential, participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy, and ultimately convert better jobs into better lives is a central preoccupation of policy makers around the world” (OECD, 2013, p. 3). Kivunja (2014a) contends that the world has fundamentally changed from the 20th century Industrial Age Economy to the 21st century Knowledge Economy requiring essential life-long learning skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Learning to collaborate has been identified as a necessary key skill fundamentally important for leadership, learning, effectiveness, innovation, problem-solving and life-long learning. (Hawkes, 2016; Tapscott, 2013). If we are to be morally responsible educators then we have an obligation to teach collaborative skills to our students so that they are better equipped to meet the challenges beyond the school gates.
Gamification within education can be described as “the trend of using game elements in non-game contexts” (Lynch, 2017, para. 5). It involves the use of “game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems” (Kapp, 2012, p. 10). At the core of gamification is social engagement which requires students to participate in activities involving shared understandings, the expression of their thoughts and collaborative interactions between students (Kim, 2012, cited in Farber 2015, p. 124).
The research question underpinning my action research project was: How does gamification in mathematics foster the use of collaborative skills of Year 6 boys? Action research was considered to be the best way to conduct this project because the nature of qualitative research focuses on meanings, thereby valuing the social world students create within an authentic setting such as a classroom (Robson & McCartan, 2016).