At Metropolia University of Applied Sciences we recently tested gamification with different target groups in educational contexts, online events and webinars. We will describe our experiences with the two target groups: the high-school students as well as the degree students.
Metropolia wishes to attract high-school students to join the community of learners, as degree seeking students. These students were invited to attend informative and gamified webinars, which allowed them to learn about the study opportunities that we offer at Metropolia. Once they are admitted to Metropolia as degree seeking students, digital games can also be used in order to help students deal with the flood of information.
According to the CONNEXT for inclusion project, games support e-inclusion which “lower thresholds and open up the opportunity of entering into dialogue with participants on important topics. Through games, we are able to connect more closely with the young person’s world and appeal to their intrinsic motivation. This has a remarkable, positive effect on their learning experience. In this way we want to strengthen people not only in their knowledge and skills but also create a space for them to feel safe and grow (further) in self-reliance and active citizenship.” (Van Herck et. al., 2020)
Game challenges were used to increase the feeling of inclusivity with both target groups at Metropolia. Diversity among students is something that can be addressed by designing more playful and interactive digital services. This is something that both experiments wanted to achieve.
Setting the building blocks for higher education
Lifelong learning is a topic that concerns society at large. At Metropolia’s webinars, students were able to approach the topic of moving into higher education in a relaxed online setting. Through the gamified webinars we achieved an active rather than a passive atmosphere, and allowed students to familiarize themselves with Metropolia’s study possibilities with the help of game challenges on the seppo.io game platform.
Student understanding was crucial since they were already familiar with the seppo.io application through their high-school studies. As students move from being high-school students to students in higher education, they need guidance and information. The guidance that students receive from their own high-school can be supported by services that are provided by the higher education institutions
Gamified webinars introduce opportunities at Metropolia
The team of lifelong learning specialists experimented with different types of services in 2020. One service was a clear success: the gamified webinars. Metropolia produced 17 informative webinars for high-school students in 2020, with attendants from all over Finland. The game itself was played by 61 players during this period.
The game challenges on seppo.io platform were added to the established webinars, and was piloted four times. With the webinars, Metropolia wanted to increase brand recognition and allow students to gain information about the study possibilities at Metropolia. The possibilities included free sneak-peek courses, events, and guidance from Metropolia’s students and guidance counsellors, that were all developed and conceptualized in 2020. The author served as the producer of these webinars.
Co-creating services for and with high-school students
During the development period of the game, the lifelong learning specialists went through an extensive data gathering process to identify the true customer needs. The team wanted to understand these needs and include the students in the co-creation process.
Customer co-creation is a tool that allows the customer or user to be active in the development process. The insights were collected through:
- student interviews
- a questionnaire form
- analysing research data from journals and reports.
The co-creation process helped to develop service solutions in the digital context. The team identified key strengths, challenges and needs of the students and reflected on these aspects when developing the services.
Fun and exciting
An element of fun was brought to the webinar, as the students were able to answer questions relating to their future interests. The picture in the background of the game challenge represented a group of teenagers looking into microscopes. The picture was taken during one of the Metropolia Sprint high-school events at the Myyrmäki campus in 2020. The visualisation allowed the students to see how the campus grounds look, and was an entertaining way to get the students excited to take part in the game challenge.
One challenge was to understand what the students wanted to hear, in the 45 min to 1 hour sessions. Later on, we realised that the guidance counselors could report to us, what study programs interested their students the most. The webinars catered to the specific needs of each group. This of course meant that each webinar was different.
The activation of participants was a challenge in the beginning, as students remained quiet and shy to ask questions. The gamified webinars instantly changed the dynamic during the webinar sessions. It was also difficult to gather feedback from the webinars, so the feedback form was added as a link in the seppo.io game, and was actually part of the game itself. Answer percentage skyrocketed as a result.
Lifelong Learning in the degree programme at Metropolia
As stated earlier, the next stage of learning happens after high school in tertiary studies within the universities of applied sciences. In the Degree Programme in Social Services at Metropolia, there has also been a digital leap. At this level of studies, learning through digital games has become more common during individual courses as teachers learn how to use games to support students’ learning. This year, 2021, we incorporate the game challenges on seppo.io platform into Orientation Studies.
Each year teachers discuss how to share large amounts of information with their students without increasing their anxiety or sense of being overwhelmed. We want them to have a visual, experiential as well as an auditory, lecture-based learning experience.
Facilitating student empowerment is a key goal
Empowerment is defined in many ways but here we will focus on social and digital empowerment as part of e-inclusion. Social empowerment is defined as a multidimensional process that helps individuals gain control over their own lives and fosters power, which is seen as the capacity to implement ideas or act on issues that they define as important.
According to the CONNEXT for Inclusion definition, e-inclusion focuses on ICT related skills, awareness, social capital and the ability to grow it; with gamification being one way of supporting this e-inclusion.
Beginning university studies
The start of a new course, area of study or degree programme is always one of the most exciting and nerve wracking times for a student. The amount of new knowledge about structures and expectations that must be learned in order to fully function is formidable. During orientation studies at Metropolia, students are welcomed and immediately introduced to the group of people they will be studying with. The push to find like-minded study partners and develop friendships begins. As they negotiate their new relationships they are introduced to the tools for their studies such as:
- the intranet page structure
- how to find information
- what study platforms are used
- rules and regulations as well as the curriculum they will follow over the next three and a half years.
As you can imagine this leads to confusion, feelings of insecurity and a sense of being overwhelmed.
We initially developed a game, visualized as a path since ‘Learning Path’ is the terminology used in the curriculum. We met with first year students to test the game and gather feedback. These students were previously exposed to the seppo.io platform in an introductory seminar during their orientation studies. The game challenges are meant to take new students on a visual journey through their studies. Together with the first year students we fine-tuned different activities such as short videos, links to internet pages and quizzes based on what the players find while exploring.
The students very actively participated and were excited about co-creating as they felt their own experiences were taken into account. We plan to have one more focus group session with first year students during the spring semester. We will pilot the game with new students in the autumn semester 2021. Our hope is that with a more dynamic, visual and collaborative way to access and learn important data, students will have a fun, experiential memory of the topics and retain more information.
Takeaways from the adventure
By testing new methods, such as games challenges, we found that diverse voices can be heard and addressed. The main takeaways were as follows:
- We realised that using tools and methods that are familiar to the students increases their interest in their future study opportunities. The services thus became customer-centric, rather than organisation-centric.
- Higher education institutes should more often take into account the needs of the students, and experiment with different forms of communication and technology.
- Co-creation with students supports their sense of empowerment as well as helps us to create more relevant and fun activities as defined by the students.
In the end, the webinars and the orientation tool went through a transformation, and became student-centred experiential learning environments, rather than a mix of organisational jargon and ennui.
All of this co-creation was made possible for our UAS students by funding from Metropolia’s Agile Development Pilots (Ketterä ohjauskokeilu, in Finnish), which was supported by experts from CONNEXT for inclusion project.
Elsa Mäki-Reinikka is a service designer, producer and coordinator of lifelong learning services at Metropolia. She holds a MBA in Service Innovation and Design, as well as a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences. She is currently working as a Business Coordinator in the SIMHE-team.
Leigh Anne Rauhala is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (FL-USA) turned Social Work Educator living in Finland. Her background is in the Mental Health sector working with severe and persistent mental disorders in the Community Health Care setting prior to moving to Finland. She has been teaching Bachelor of Social Services students since 2007. She serves as the Mobility Contact for Social Services students and is involved in several international teaching and research projects focusing on Social Work in Urban Contexts (Urban SOS) and Teaching Qualified Empathy.
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