Learning Technology
Research Group
More than just a game: Improving
students' experience of learning
programming through
Paul Neve
Gordon Hunter
Graham Alsop
David Livingstone
Nalini Edwards
"Computer science is more
than programming, but
programming is an
absolutely central process
for Computer Science"
The Computing At Schools Group, 2012
the amount of students
able to program at the
end of the first year of
their degree course in
-McCracken et al, 2001
the failure rate in
computing subjects at
one American university
where computing was
"the second-largest major"
-Bennesden and
Caspersen, 2007
boring, difficult and irrelevant
terms used by students to describe programming
-Jenkins, 2002
-Anderson et al, 2008
Technology Enhanced
Learning is not a magic bullet
 "the
use of (computer) game elements in
non-game contexts"
-Deterding et al, 2011
"Finish a level" rather than "complete a
"Win a medal" or "Unlock an achievement"
rather than "get a mark"
"Level up" rather than "move onto the next
workshop activity"
Gamification in programming
pedagogy and TEL - examples
“Manual” gamification
Well known, very trendy
current and gamification is
inherent… but it’s the M’est
and O’est MOOC possible!
e.g. Scratch - these share
conceptual aspects with
certain genres of games in
that one must navigate an
in-game avatar around a
virtual world
Java activities divided into
“levels” – inspired by classic
text-based adventures
-Daly and Horgan 2004
Thamvichai and SupnakornDavila (2012) designed their
course and activities to
include concepts such as
“losing a life” and “leveling
NoobLab – the story so far
This is NoobLab (think CodeAcademy on steroids!)
NoobLab – the story so far
feedback in English
like a human tutor,
contextually aware,
and doesn't take
the form of an
inscrutable error
NoobLab – the story so far
Monitoring student progress
and informing pedagogy
Students' routes through
learning material can be
correlated with other metrics
Common patterns can inform
pedagogy, provide
advanced warning of at-risk
students, and be used as
feedback triggers
Gamifiying NoobLab
A Microworld for
Thinking Like a
Make concepts
such as repetition
and conditional
processing visual
similarities with
games where one
must navigate an
in-game avatar
around a virtual
Carol the Robot
Inspired by Stanford's "Karel"
Teaches "thinking like a programmer"
through engaging visual problems
Also teaches C-like syntax and grammar
through stealth
Gamifiying NoobLab
A game-style award
system based
around “medals”
Bronze, Silver and
Gold medals for
each practical
Medals used
"Ribbons" were
awarded for
formative work
Gamifiying NoobLab
 Cohort
high score
table increases
The results: interesting numbers
 28
respondents to an end of module
 Every one of them agreed that the
changes to NoobLab had a positive or
highly positive effect
 25 out of 28 agreed with the statement "I
felt I had to get a gold for every medal in
The results: student feedback
On the medal system and high score table
"(it) was a big plus point… there is an
engagement factor in earning the medals… I've
also noticed students who maybe aren't so
adept in other modules really focusing on
earning medals"
"I play a lot of sport… as a highly competitive
person it was the incentive I needed to sit down
and actually complete the work"
The results: tutor observations
 It
brought out the best from proficient
some carried on winning medals well after
clocking up enough points to get a 100%
 …but
some burnt through all available material in
one sitting then twiddled their thumbs until
new stuff was available
The results: tutor observations
 Students
obsessed over getting gold and
also over formative "ribbons" when they
were available
The results: tutor observations
 Some
weaker students became
dependent on the medal system to test
"what's a main method?"
 Some
were engaging in the "trial and
error" approach
going for a medal despite never having run
the code!
"I didn't get the medal – it must be broken"
The results: tutor observations
 Some
gaming concepts created
On many games, if you put in enough time
you will eventually "level up"
Some weaker students felt they "deserved"
medals based on the same criteria
 "I've
been working on this one for hours now, I
should get the medal for all that work…?"
 Gamification
in TEL offers great potential
for increasing engagement
 It is really cool when you see a student
fling both arms aloft and shout "YES" when
they get a medal
 BUT… a TEL platform is not a computer
 Game
concepts can map onto
educational activities…
 ...such
concepts can alter students'
perceptions of the activities
 Gamification does seem to increase
motivation and engagement, and
students enjoy it – but there can be
downsides to it