A no-brainer in Bangor

Zombies! Ella Rhodes reports.

Imagine enrolling on a psychology course and receiving this message: ‘Notice to all civilians… The risk of infection is high, please report to the safe quarantine zone in Pontio Base Five at 1200 hours on Friday 30 September. Stay safe, stay alert, and avoid the Infected.’. That’s exactly what second-year behavioural psychology undergraduate students experienced at Bangor University at the beginning of a fully gamified module that taught behavioural psychology via the survival of a zombie apocalypse.

When the class arrived for their first lecture they were greeted by actors dressed as military personnel who asked them to be scanned for infection before entry. Later they received ‘top secret’ documents explaining the game and their mission to fight the infection. Students received fully themed lectures and materials and each week were given online quiz-based missions by key characters in the game encouraging them to read between lectures and gain points. These points helped students advance from ‘civilian’ level up to ‘resurrection prevention leader’ and could be exchanged for incentives (such as choosing the next assignment topic).

Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Rebecca Sharp said she carries out pedagogical research to find innovative and evidence-based ways of learning. She told us: ‘Psychology at Bangor has an international reputation in behaviour analysis and behaviour change, and using nudge techniques and gamification is an area of interest in the School. In fact, I learned about gamification from the Festival of Behaviour Change held in Bangor in 2016. It piqued my interest and I discovered that it has not often been applied systematically to university teaching.’

She explained: ‘Lectures involved a quiz at the beginning that covered the material from the previous lecture, called the “screening questions”, to check for infection. Lectures also used videos to illustrate the content being taught – for example, in a lecture teaching the factors influencing choice, the lecture was interrupted by a video of a young girl asking to be admitted to the safe base. Students were then asked to choose, thinking about the factors affecting choice they had just learned, whether to allow the girl to enter or not.’

The response from the students, she added, has been very positive. The feedback at the end of the module found 70 per cent of students felt the gamification enhanced their learning, and 77 per cent enjoyed the gamification of the module. Sharp has been analysing students’ achievement in this module compared with a non-gamified version of the same module, as well as their performance on other modules they have completed so far. She added: ‘Preliminary results show a strong correlation between attendance and achievement, and that attendance was much higher in the gamified module than in other modules and the previous year.’

Sharp and her colleagues hope to run the module again in the first semester of the next academic year and said she would like to develop software that would put more of the game components and data collection online. She told us the experience as a lecturer had been thoroughly enjoyable: ‘I loved seeing students engaging with the tasks and materials so enthusiastically. I was initially nervous to see the students’ reaction to such an immersive experience, the presence of actors, the events in the lectures, which were very dramatic! But my concerns were soon allayed by their enthusiasm. It fuelled my passion for innovative teaching even further.’

- Read an article by Dr Sharp on the module written for The Conversation.

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