Using a connectivist approach in the gamification of training for campus technology support staff

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This case study describes the planning and development of a gamified professional development program designed to cross-train technical support staff to create an integrated, campus-wide service desk.  Current staff members were asked to participate in the design of the content and gamification elements of the training activity.


Charini began her work in Student Technology Services at University of Arkansas in 2013 answering calls at the University IT Services helpdesk. She has provided solutions to a wide range of issues from password resets to network problems and providing assistance remotely with various software supported by the university. Charini graduated with a degree in Physics with concentration in astrophysics from the University of Arkansas and has analyzed data for Chandra and Fermi space telescopes.

Extended Abstract

Gamification, or the use of game mechanics and thinking such as points, leaderboards, time constraints, and an engaging narrative, is a technique widely used in K-12, higher education, and professional development.  Classes and workshops around the world have activities based off popular TV games shows, board games, and increasingly – video games.  A review of the curriculum of teacher education and educational technology degree programs shows that a number of higher education institutions offer courses related to game design, digital engagement, and programming for gaming platforms. In this session, the presenters will describe a gamification project that used a connectivist approach, which emphasized accessing information, decision-making, and making connections between ideas and resources, to design training for technology support services staff at a public, four-year institution. While there are a number of platforms and well-documented techniques for the gamification of instruction, this project used a collaborative and democratic game design process that incorporated the learners throughout each phase of the project. 

Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are a specific type of game where the game play and player interaction occur in a real-world context as well as in the virtual game space.  An engaging narrative frames the spaces where players work together to solve a problem.  Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, describes ARGs as building technical competence, collaboration skills, and community - all desired outcomes for the professional development of campus technical support staff.  An ARG model was selected because of the constructive nature of the genre.  Players typically shape the game experience and culture and, in many cases, co-construct a richer experience than originally designed. In this project, technical support staff were given overall goals for the training activity and an empty template in the LMS with space for characters, missions, and a leaderboard.  Staff members were invited to work together in person or using online discussions to develop the overarching narrative, specific learning objectives, and content for the training activity. 

The presenters will share how the staff of the technology help desk, general access computer labs, student technology center, and faculty technology support worked together to create an alternate reality game designed for cross-training employees in each unit. They will describe the project outline for the collaborative design process that was used and show the resulting product. Participants will also hear the preliminary results of a qualitative study centered on the following questions:

  • What is the self-described level of participation in the gamified training design process for staff who identify as gamers as compared to those who do not?
  • How do current staff describe the type of learning necessary for professional development in IT support (i.e., procedural, problem-solving, social, complex)? Do these descriptions change after participating in the design of training material?
  • To what extent did the training activity reflect the principles of connectivism?

Attendees will receive a link to online materials, including design templates and instructions for creating items in Blackboard Learn. This session is designed for faculty, instructional designers, and support staff in K-12, higher education, industry, or government who are interested in facilitating the use of learner-created games.