Highlights from the last meeting of the M25 Learning Technology Group  held at UCL on 27 March 2018.

This meeting’s theme was playful learning.  Games and play for learning is not new, but the term gamification emerged in 2010 to describe the use of game design elements in non-game contexts (Deterding et al 2011).  The assumptions behind gamification are that games can increase motivation, collaboration and foster behavioural changes in learners, but the educational benefits of gamification remain unclear and further research is needed (Dichev and Dicheva, 2017).

There are, however, many good examples of playful learning activities used in higher education and the highlight of the M25 Learning Technology Group meeting, for me, was experiencing the Round University Challenge; a student induction treasure hunt for journalism students at City, University of London.  The activity contained some playful game elements (competition, time limit, an imaginative scenario) and was for a serious purpose.

Round University challenge: what is it?

On day 2 of freshers’ week, 90 students on the BA Journalism at City, University of London, were given a mission.  Their mission was designed to help them find their way around the campus, to locate important places, to meet key members of staff and to get to know the other students on their course.

In small groups students were given:

  • a campus map and route
  • instructions to visit 12 separate locations around campus
  • a time limit
  • a link to a website called Padlet to share their digital ‘treasure’

What did the students have to do?

Students had to find each of the locations on the map and complete a different activity at each place.  In each location a poster provided a link to digital instructions which could be accessed on a smart phone by scanning a QR code.   After scanning the poster with a mobile phone, instructions are presented.

Completing each task required group creativity and team work, and involved producing a photo or video and sharing it to Padlet.  Tasks included,

  1. Find the Journalism corridor, find a photo of a journalist you admire, take a group selfie and post it to Padlet.
  2. Find Drysdale Garden, interview one of your group about something newsworthy happening this week, upload video to Padlet.
  3. Find the course office.  Watch a video introduction from the Course Leader.

The Padlet pages created by all the groups were displayed on screen in the classroom at the end of the treasure hunt.

Why was it of interest?

I thought this light hearted, practical activity was an original and interesting way to get to know new surroundings.  Feedback showed staff and students found the activity valuable, and the game elements of the activity made it non-threatening and allowed creativity to flourish.  The time limit added an element of competition helping the teams to gel.  Student feedback indicated that meeting students and staff on their course was the best thing about the activity, and they reported that they could now find their way around campus easily.

I thought this was a really inclusive activity for new students which helped them overcome the hurdles encountered during the first week, namely finding your way around and meeting new people.