What is student engagement?
There are so many definitions of student engagement. Willms (2003) states, in the report, “Student Engagement at School: A Sense of Belonging and Participation”, that student engagement is a disposition towards learning, working with others and functioning in a social institution while in Trowler (2010) it was stated that student engagement is concerned with the interaction between the time, effort and other relevant resources invested by both students and their institutions intended to optimize the student experience and enhance the learning outcomes and development of students and the performance, and reputation of the institution. Furthermore, Olsen and Peterson (2015) and Hardy and Bryson (2010) espoused that student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. However, it is very important to note that student engagement is not motivation as motivation is defined as a theoretical construct used to explain the initiation, direction, intensity, and persistence of behavior, especially goal-directed behavior (Olsen and Peterson, 2015)
Consequently, one can say that student engagement is a function of both the individual and the construct. It varies in intensity and duration. For example, a student may feel very engaged one class but not so much the next; another student might enjoy some topics in one of his or her classes but be bored by the other topics (Trowler, 2010; Willms, 2003; Martin and Torres, 2015; Olsen and Peterson, 2015). They believe engagement is not a permanent feature of the students, which is derived merely from their genetic make-up or their experiences at home. Willms (2003) further expounded that teachers and parents, as well as school policy and practice, can affect the attitudes and behaviors of students and therefore student engagement. This infers that a teacher can teach subject wherein some of the sections, the students are engaged and in others, the teacher has to improve his practice to get the students engaged as student engagement is not an all or nothing concept.
Types of engagement
Fredericks et. al. (2004) believes that all the research into student engagement culminated into engagement being multifaceted and having three distinct parts coming together to make the whole. They believe that engagement comprises behavioral engagement; emotional engagement and cognitive engagement. Behavioral engagement is an engagement that includes the participation in academic and social and extracurricular activities and is considered extremely important for realizing positive academic results and averts students from dropping out of school. Emotional engagement is engagement which includes how students react to teachers, peers, academics, and school. They thought that this creates a willingness in the student to do work as well as creates ties to the school. Cognitive engagement is an engagement that incorporates wistfulness and a disposition to exert the effort necessary to perform and master difficult skills and understand complex ideas. Fredericks et. al. (2004) also believes that although they had been much research about student engagement, the potential impact of the concept of school engagement to research on student experience has not come to fruition as yet.
The importance of student engagement
The main goal of student engagement is to obtain a positive outcome for the students, the teacher and the school as a whole. Fredericks et. al. (2004) states that because of the declining academic motivation and achievement, that student engagement has become an increasingly interesting topic as it is seen as an antidote and a way to get the academic score back where they used to be. Trowler (2010) shares those sentiments as well. She states that student engagement has become the latest focus of attention among those aiming to enhance learning and teaching while Lester (2013) goes on to say that interest in student engagement levels grow as it is an acknowledge way for students to experience increase learning and improved outcomes from school. It is undeniable that when students are engaged in the lesson, more learning can take place. It is easier to add new knowledge to underpinning knowledge that the student already has. One can say that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired and that learning suffers when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise disengaged (Olsen and Peterson, 2015). When students are engaged, they are less likely to become school dropouts and are more likely to perform better at assessments than students who are not engaged (Martin and Torres, 2015). It can be said that improved student learning is influenced by practitioners and the methods they use to engage student learning. A teacher can seek to use a method, such as games and gamification, which fosters participation and interaction of the entire class.
What is gamification and games?
Game-based learning is a concept that has been around for a long time; however, game-based learning is being looked at with fresh eyes recently as the advent of technology is becoming more prevalent in the educational system. Game-based learning is not concerned with using games for entertainment purposes but for educational purposes (Combéfis, 2016). Hung (2017) suggests that game-based learning involves learning by playing games, either one developed specifically for education or commercial games that seen to have educational value. Game-based learning can be divided into two categories: gamification and serious games.
Combéfis et. al. (2016) stated that gamification can be defined as the use of game design elements in a non-game context and Cheong et. al. (2014) believes that the process of recreating a gaming experience in systems that are not typically considered games is called gamification. Many researchers share similar views. Cahyani (2016) states that gamification is the adoption of game elements to be used in non-game context. Des Armier et. al. (2016) and Pesare et al. (2016) shares the same sentiments as Cahyani (2016).
Korpi (2014) when a little further as he disseminates all aspects of a game. Korpi wrote that game thinking means doing something with fun and playfulness in mind. He went on to write that game elements are the concrete parts of a game that can be found in several games such as points. He wrote that gameplay is the interaction between the player and the game world. Gameplay, according to Korpi (2014) is more abstract than game elements and can be unique to a game. Korpi also states that there is a component called Just for fun which means that the game was designed with entertainment on mind. Korpi then espoused that gamification contains game thinking and game elements while serious games/simulations contains all components with the exception of Just for Fun. However, typically, a game will be made up of all four components.
Importance of games to the learning dynamic
The nature of games facilitates students’ engagement and involvement, motivation, and interest, and the retention of learned skills (Cahyani, 2016). Cahyani states that there are three reasons why game-like elements foster high student engagement. Firstly, the players can act as another character which is proven to be successful in schools. Secondly, a good game will match the player’s cognitive abilities keeping them engaged and motivated and thirdly, games are perfectly-fitting sandboxes that allow players to learn from their mistakes and recover from them quickly. Both Pesare et al. (2016) and Des Armier et. al. (2016) agrees that games support multisensory, experimental and problem-based learning and multiple pathways to success. Pesare et al. (2016) wrote that games provide avenues for self-assessment as well as the acquisition of knowledge. Games not only enhance a student’s cognitive skills but they also enhance their affective and psychomotor skills (Ibrahim et. al., 2011). Ibrahim et. al. (2011) also states that games motivates learning, offers immediate feedback, support skills and influences changes in behaviors and attitudes.
Games and programming
Teaching problem solving and programming is always a challenging feat and this sentiment is supported by many studies (Muratet et. al., 2009; Chang & Chou, 2008; Eagle & Barnes, 2009). Some researchers agree that using serious games to teach programming, which in this instance includes problem-solving, would be beneficial (Theodoraki and Xinogalos, 2014; Korpi, 2014; Lode et. al., 2012; Ibrahim et. al., 2011); however, there is not much literature about using games to teach programming specifically (there is an unsurmountable amount of literature using games in other educational disciplines such as language and mathematics) and there is even less literature about teaching programming to secondary school students; the literature is mainly geared towards primary/elementary school students or university students. Furthermore, all of the research found utilizes the use of digital or online games. Although digital games are advantageous in most cases, they are not the only form of games that can be utilized. Digital games are normally one or two player games, however, games can be developed that will have the entire class participating at the same time. Role-playing games and competitions are some likely culprits of this.