Schools are faced with both a moral responsibility and the challenge of educating learners with skills that will enable them to become lifelong learners beyond the school gates in an increasingly global and complex world that has become team-based. Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard, and Wilson (2013) assert that globalization and the new economy of the twenty-first century demand that our students have the ability to learn and function as part of increasingly diverse groups. In an interconnected and rapidly changing world, our knowledge of ourselves as individual and group learners becomes increasingly more important. Paradoxically, in education the acquisition of knowledge is still primarily viewed as an individual process that is teacher-centred and is essentially still tied to educational constructs develop for the Industrial Age.
Notwithstanding this, current-day Australian curricula are grounded in the theory of constructivism. Educators using constructivist thinking recognise ‘that learning is a social activity intimately associated with our connection with other human beings, our teachers, our peers” (Hien, 1991, para. 16). Significantly, Vygotsky’s (1978) social constructivist paradigm stresses the importance of collaborative learning, placing the co-construction of knowledge at its centre. His notion of the Zone of Proximal Development refers to the gap between what learners know and are able to do on their own to what they are able to do when guided by more knowledgeable others in the process of collaboration with more capable peers. Linell (2009, cited in Damsa, 2014) argues that knowledge is “constructed as part of the interdependency that involves people interacting with peers, tools, or objects from their environment, primarily through communicative actions.” (p. 249).
The literal meaning of the Latin-based term “collaborate” means to co-labour, requiring all participants of a group to actively engage by working together towards stated objectives such as solving mathematical problems (Barkley, Cross & Major, 2014). Kivunja (2014a) advocates that a paradigm shift is needed to teach across all levels to facilitate the purpose of education because it “is shaped by the increasingly powerful technologies we have for communicating, collaborating, and learning” (p.16). Furthermore, McCain (in Kivunja, 2014b, p. 84) argues that “we need an instructional approach that will equip students with real-world problem-solving skills plus, teach them the content they must master to be an educated person (p.15).”
Johnson and Johnson posit five variables that bring about the effectiveness of cooperation: “positive interdependence, individual accountability, promotive interaction, the appropriate use of social skills, and group processing” (p. 366). Jones & Jones (2008) provide a visual representation of this concept in Figure 1 below.
Positive interdependence occurs when the actions of individuals promote the achievement of joint goals. It is therefore important for learning groups to have common goals in order to become interdependent: “As members perceive their common goals, a state of tension arises that motivates movement toward the accomplishment of the goals.” (Johnson and Johnson, 2009, p. 366). Citing research findings on the beneficial impact of positive interdependence in cooperative group learning, Johnson and Johnson contend that being aware that an individual’s efforts can affect the success of their team members appears to create individual and group responsibility forces. Evaluating studies conducted in cooperative learning, Johnson and Johnson subsumed the structures of interdependence into “outcomes, means and boundary” (p. 367). Outcome interdependence includes rewards and goals. Their findings revealed that regardless of how outcome interdependence was achieved, “structuring positive outcome interdependence into a situation tends to result in increased achievement and productivity” (p. 367). In this study, gamification provides a platform for social engagement that promotes positive interdependence between team members who strive to collaborate more effectively to achieve success for their teams. Goal setting is a component of this action that requires boys to identify key collaborative skills taught. This reflective practice connects teams’ past performances to their future performances through recognition via the leaderboard and digital badges.
Two important components for successful cooperative learning are face-to-face interactions and the positive use of social skills. Johnson, Johnson and Smith (1991) state it is essential for students to be given time to ask questions and support each other when completing their cooperative work as part of the process which provides “critical verbal and non-verbal feedback needed for group success” (in Jones & Jones, 2008, p. 67). They stress emphasis is on the process and not the product. Social skills are the second important component of collaborative learning. Jones and Jones (2008) argue that merely placing students next to each other does not guarantee cooperative learning will take place. Cohen (2014) states the initial step in beginning group work within a classroom is to prepare students for cooperative work situations. In particular, Cohen emphasises the fact that it would be a mistake to presume learners know how to work with each other in a constructive collegial fashion. Group collaboration skills must be explicitly taught (Harvey & Daniels, 2015). Similarly, Jacob, Powers and Loh (2016) state that “the time spent teaching collaborative skills is more than made up by the time saved when the group works well” ( p. 80). Table 1 below outlines the collaborative strategies and social skills summarised by Harvey & Daniels (2015) and Jacobs, Power & Loh (2016).
Table 1. Summary of collaborative strategies and social skills
Matera (2015) states that “gamification has the power to transform the way we teach and the way we learn” (p. 5). Games provide a social construct and structure to deliver meaning to activities (Farber, 2015, p. 9). In keeping with Kivunja’s (2014a) premise to maximise the benefits available from engagement with digital technologies, Nadolny (2016, p.35) states that whilst technology is not necessary to be used for designing game-based instruction, “it can provide a superior experience for teachers and students.” Nadolny suggests Google Sheets as an example of a tool to create leaderboards, calculate grades, or be embedded within a website that is accessible to students. Glover (2013) states that “Gamification typically makes use of the competition instinct possessed by most people to motivate and encourage ‘productive’ behaviours (and, as a result, discourage ‘unproductive’ ones).” Badges are another gamification mechanical element which work as a scoring system “as well as an artefact of achievement…that can promote a feedback of social participation” for demonstrating “social skills, such as sharing, expressing, and collaborating” (Farber, 2015, p. 124). Badges also provide opportunities to ‘level up’ as part of learners’ skill development for achieving individual and group goals and rewards. Gamification should not be appended to learning activities, but instead integrated into a learning environment which tells stories of students’ achievements that result from ongoing feedback and responding to adaptive challenges (Farber, 2015).