I am currentlly working within a small team of three creative app developers to deliver an interactive mobile app for a UK secondary school. The main purpose of the app is to assist year 11 (15/16 y.o.) students with their GCSE English Literature revision. The theme of the app is George Orwell’s classic novel, Animal Farm. Since receiving the brief a few weeks ago we have been putting together a proposal and I would like to reflect on the process so far.
Below are the key requirements from the brief, in terms of the areas of revision for which the app should assist:
- The ability to memorise the functions of key characters
- Recite quotations off by heart
- Remember Orwell’s purpose for writing – alongside key contextual factors and have a comprehensive overview of the plot.
- Students need a facility that enables them to do low stakes quizzing to test their knowledge.
In response to the brief we put together an agile persona card so the team have a fictional user to think about while generating ideas for the app.
The team met up online to discuss initial ideas for the app so that we could make contact with the client and share some of our initial thoughts and provide an idea of the scope of what we believed to be achievable in the timeframe.
During this first meeting we quickly established that we would be looking to build an interactive cross-platform mobile app using gamification mechanics to motivate students to keep using the app.
“We believe that the basic game mechanics that are suited to a simple but effective gamifying are (1) problem solving elements, (2) goal and achievement elements and (3) awards and badges“Khaddage, Lattemann, Acosta-Díaz, 2014
The most popular concept which came out of the first meeting was a virtual ‘trading card’ style game, in which the student unblocks virtual cards by working through revision tasks such as a quizz. The trading cards would be meticulously designed and include some limited animation. The cards would be based on characters from the book and contain key info about them. The key to this idea succeeding would be to find a style which is highly appealing to this age range – enough to make students want to win more. Initial ideas focused around video game styles currently popular with the app’s target age group.
Initial Client Contact
We decided there should be a single point of contact between the team and the client and I was nominated for this role. I called the client to introduce our team, explain each of our areas of expertise. The client was excited by the ideas we had thought of so far. During the call I learned that the school had used an app previously; however, it has not been appreciated by the teachers nor students and was not a success.
We wanted to be able include a strong indication of the stylistic (aesthetic) direction of the proposed app within our client proposal. This would then provide us with a platform to start developing straight after approval. However, to do this, we’d also need to clearly justify our chosen style. To indentify an appropriate style we sourced both academic and trade articles. But, none were able to provide a clear and upto date indication of a style or category of style that would be appreciated by a majority of 15/16 year olds. Furthermore, the style would have to be relevant to the app’s content. We decided that the only way to get confirmatory data would be to set up our own survey to collect quantative feedback from our target age group.
We setup a simple single question survey asking teenagers to select a character style from a selection of eight contempory video game characters.
Unfortunately, the data was very slow to collect. Despite publishing the survey to numerous social media groups as well as survey publication sites and even Discord channels, we only got a few dozen replies. The data was inconclusive and we decided to adapt and pivot our proposed product to something more objectively justifiable.
Responding to the inconclusiveness of the character style research, the team began studying gamification methodology more closely, especially the application of this technique in education.
Below is an excerpt of the gamification rationale from our proposal draft.
Research shows that a user is more likely to continue engaging with the app when there is a reward mechanism built into the app. Merely presenting lots of revision questions, even if they are presented in a variety of formats, doesn’t really make the app any different from a mock exam paper. This is why we propose to gamify the process by awarding the user with points for answering questions. As the points accumulate and the user reaches points milestones, they are rewarded by unlocking new items. These items will include virtual badges & awards accompanied by fanfare and other goodies.
A special goal screen will be available within the app which will show a target style indicator to show the user how close the app thinks they are to reaching the ultimate revision goal. We will create a smart algorithm that will calculate how much time the user is on the app as well as the number and weight of questions attempted.
When a user installs the app we’d like to ask them to choose a character from the book. This will be used to determine their in-app avatar and we could also use it as the welcome message when opening the app – Welcome Back Napoleon!
To keep the user further engaged with the app we propose a feature with a sense of fun and light humour. Our idea is to provide a mock social media feed called, wait for it, Trotter. The player will receive themed messages from characters from the book in the form of ‘Trots’. These may include short messages in SMS style, with reference to events from the book aswell as social media style animated gifs and memes – all on the theme of Animal Farm.
“Towards More Effective Gamification: Does Deploying Semiotics Help Design Better Perceivable Badges?” Matallaoui 2018 (link)
“Mobile Gamification in EducationEngage, Educate and Entertain via Gamified Mobile Apps” Khaddage, Lattemann, Acosta-Díaz, 2014 (link)
“Are badges useful in education?: it depends upon the typeof badge and expertise of learner” Abramovich, Schunn, Higashi 2013 (link)
“Gamification – still a hot trend in education?” Sheen ,2018 (link)