Public Sector Ethics Act:

Promoting understanding and effective behavioural changes in the creation of a serious game for the education of employees in the concepts of the Public Sector Ethics Act

by Sarah Elizabeth Ryan

A Case Study on the attempt to apply gamification to eLearning within a corporate environment

This chapter is focused on a case study on the creation and rollout of a serious game on public sector ethics within a government organisation. It was a serious game developed by the author and had the aim of creating awareness of the participants’ obligations under the Public Sector Ethics Act. The case study explores the principles of gamification in a small scale eLearning with the aim to increase engagement and completion rates by participants.

As the author was not using an existing off the shelf game and modifying its use to support learning but creating a serious game the Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL) design principles needed to be incorporated. One of the disadvantages of most serious games (i.e. games designed for the sole purpose of education) is that they will not have the technological resources or skills that commercial games (COFT, (Van Eck, 2015)) have. However there are many applications out there now (the most two common are Articulate 360 and Captivate) that have given usable tools to instructional designers to create their own serious games. In practice these tools have often been used to convert PowerPoints into interactive online learning however the next step, with an understanding of DGBL design principles, could be the development of engaging and successful serious games.

Digital Game Based Learning Design Principles

What makes a good game?

While there is quite a body of literature about what makes a good game for the purposes of this discussion we will look at the characteristics of a good game as broken down for the use of games for education.

In particular the work of Whitton gives a clear outline of ten characteristics of games that need to be present in some combination to create an effective game:

  1. Competition – The goal is to achieve an outcome that is superior to others.
  2. Challenge – Tasks require effort and are non-trivial.
  3. Exploration – There is a context-sensitive environment that can be investigated.
  4. Fantasy – Existence of a make-believe environment, characters or narrative.
  5. Goals – There are explicit aims and objectives.
  6. Interaction – An action will change the state of play and generate feedback.
  7. Outcomes – There are measurable results from game play (e.g. scoring).
  8. People – Other individuals take part.
  9. Rules – The activity is bounded by artificial constraints.
  10. Safety – The activity has no consequences in the real world. (2009, p. 28)

Another important concept, and from this author’s experience a critical one, is the concept of flow. Jackson & Eklund (2006) break this down into the follow elements:

  • striking a balance between the challenges of an activity and one’s abilities;
  • a merging of performance of actions with one’s self-awareness;
  • possessing clear goals;
  • gaining unambiguous feedback on performance;
  • having full concentration on the task in hand;
  • experiencing a sense of being in control;
  • losing any form of self-consciousness;
  • having a sense of time distorted so that time seems to speed up or slow down; and
  • the undergoing of an auto-telic experience (e.g., the goals are generated by the person and not for some anticipated future benefit).

This flow is critical to the inherent motivation to the learning and is probably the key to why a game will be successful, or not.

What makes a serious game?

A serious game is a game that is specifically designed for learning not just for entertainment while using the principles and characteristics of commercial games that make them so engaging.

A serious game has to incorporate pedagogy in order to be effective. The most common pedagogies that align with DBGL are behavioural and constructionist pedagogies. It is important to realise what a critical role pedagogy has to play in the creation and implementation of DGBL or in using games in face to face and online learning.

Games have had an impact on learning throughout time and it is the new technology that has provided a new platform for using games. There are two main ways that are addressed in the literature. The incorporation of the commercial off the shelf games and using them as a tool for learning and the creation of games for sole purpose of education (serious games). It was the creation of serious games that is being explored in this case study.

How the design principles were integrated

When building the Public Sector Ethics Act eLearning the author focused on three specific characteristic that have been identified as important in game design (Whitton (2009)). While ten characteristics where identified by Whitton it was also identified that not all of the characteristics had to be present for successful design.

The three focused in the development of this game (Whitton (2009) p.23) were:

  1. Interaction – An action will change the state of play and generate feedback.
  2. Outcomes – There are measurable results from game play (e.g. scoring).
  3. Safety – The activity has no consequences in the real world.

In developing adult learning the characteristic of safety is a critical one for serious games as it is common to use relatable and real life scenarios. The advantage of this is it resonates with the audience and makes it easy for them to transfer the skills gained to real life practice. However the downside is that it can mean that they feel judged. If they are already skilled and you are enhancing their skills then they can feel that the scenarios you have created to learn from (in which often the abstract character has failed – and will fail again) is a judgement on what happens to them when they fail. In effect it becomes too real. However if you use a scenario that is not directly relevant to them they can struggle to relate it to themselves and their own behaviour. De Freitas & Oliver (2006) emphasised the need to building in the skills to construct knowledge rather than just the simplistic view of transferring skills from one context to another.

The other characteristic of ‘flow’ as defined by Jackson & Eklund (2006) was also looked at. However this presented some challenges as there was a diverse audience and matching the complexity of the game to the skill level of the participants was hard to predict. When developing the eLearning there was a focus on ensuring there was unambiguous feedback being given to the play and clear goals were defined. Whether this was enough to give the participants a sense of flow was debatable.

The development of this serious game underwent a number of different iterations including a jigsaw puzzle, collecting knowledge to achieve levels and finally a simulated competition.

View a sample of the course:

A sample of the course

The idea behind the game was that the participant was presented with someone who is already a winner and they were given the same background information as that person and then given an opportunity to beat them.

The theory sounded a little better than the execution. It failed to achieve any kind of novelty with the aesthetics and it also failed to give a real sense of progress and achievement to the participants.

Another eLearning, the “What is Building Work” game, created by the author showed various levels which allowed the player to gradually increase the level of complexity and requiring further out of game research. This was a considered decision that may have impacted the flow of the game however it also empowered the learner so they weren’t able to passively work through the material and needed to increase their skill and demonstrate that skill to progress.

This course also served a particular purpose which was to increase performance outcomes of a workshop on the topic.

A review version of the “What is Building Work” game” is available, as it is in review mode progression is possible even without passing the levels.

“What is Building Work” game”

Theory versus practice

Due to limited skill by the author and the technology tools available the resulting eLearning was overly simplistic and didn’t have a high enough level of complexity to challenge the participants.

While some of the targeted participants of the course would have been novices in reality many of them would have be introduced to some concepts through code of conduct training in the past. To achieve a deeper level of learning through DBGL principles more complicated scenarios and a stronger sense of a hero’s journey and progress would be required.

The initial approach applied a philosophy similar to advertising games which was to keep it simple and short however this was not the correct approach for the exploration of a difficult concept like ethics whether insight and behavioural changes where the outcomes looked for.

The characteristics that were absent and probably needed to be there to be effective were Whitton (2009) p.23)

  1. Exploration – There is a context-sensitive environment that can be investigated.
  2. Goals – There are explicit aims and objectives.

This is where the difference between Serious Games and the Commercial off the shelf games can have quite an impact. Instructional designers and eLearning creators can produce effective learning with DGBL principles however it is a specific skill that will need to be developed within in the education industry if the development of serious games is going to have the real and lasting impact it could have on virtual learning.

This author struggled to deliver complex content while keeping it a game, not just a lecture. In the end it was clear that further development was required to really deliver the real content.

This could be an argument for the COTF games and using them to teach key concepts. This would leave the instructional designers and teachers using a tool to help them deliver content rather than spending time on the development of the tool, the serious game, itself.

While graphics and simulations are not critical to the implementation of DGBL principles it would be hard to argue that clever design and graphics don’t play a part in the immersion by the participant. The flow of the game is going to be interrupted if the user is disengaged by poor graphics or a lack of creativity in getting the message across.

Once the author started exploring learning management systems (LMS) and eLearning creation tools one of the biggest limitation noticed was the inability to replicate in game chat or the more social aspects of multi-player games. It was identified that this was a place the LMSs and eLearning builders need to focus on for the future if the benefits of DGBL are to be realised to their fullest.

It cannot be denied however that the weaknesses of this game was the author’s lack of technical ability and the inability to really ingrain some of the key aspects of gamification. After all a master does not blame their tools…completely.

Participant results and feedback.

This course was released to a small testing group of 10 people who provided feedback on the course before it being considered for organisational wide release. The actual release date will be in line with a series of courses dealing with Code of Conduct and other behaviour pieces. While the overall feedback was positive (86% satisfaction with the overall course) some of the comments did highlight the lack of sophistication of the course and the need for harder levels.

The “What is Building Work” game received a higher level of positive feedback even though it had some cosmetic issues. The feedback stated that it reinforced the content and it was appropriately challenging. The increasing levels of difficultly kept the participants fully engaged and it produced the performance outcomes the instructors were looking for.

Other eLearnings distributed to the same group of participants, produced by other members of the Learning and Development team that included cartoons and branching scenarios had received higher satisfaction rates (92%) even though they didn’t always incorporate a sense of progress. What they offered compared to the Public Sector Ethics course was a narrative and an exploration of a scenarios that allowed the participant to progress quickly or via a detour depending on their skill level. This allowed the experienced and skilled learners to finish the eLearning quickly which they appreciated, while those who went down the wrong paths were given natural consequences for their choices which were relatable and relevant to their roles.

Recommendations for future development of serious games.

In order to avoid going the way of edutainment one of the critical things will be creativity, innovation and allocated resources to help build the serious games to be both educational and engaging. It is also important to give a sense of progress and increasing levels of difficulty as the participant progress

Candy Crush is a classic example of this as it shows you progressing and has the unlocking of different levels however it also shows you which of your friends is just ahead of you.

Candy Crush

This author considers the social component of games as a critical piece and that there is a need for the participants to be able to interact without leaving the game environment. In regards to synchronous communication within the eLearning environment, the technology is there however it is not something that is available from the current eLearning creator/LMS providers except if the participant leaves the learning to go to an external discussion board.

There is also limited ability to create leader boards within most LMS and online learning development packages so this would have to be done manually by the learning staff which becomes impracticable for larger scale roll outs.

Overall DGBL has a critical part to play in increasing engagement and retention for online learning. Critically it could see eLearning move from a process that delivers information to another tool to provide cognitive and behavioural impacts.


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Part 2: Provocation

Part 2: Provocation

Case studies, environmental scans, situational analysis, or other activities that illustrate games-based learning in action.

In this section:

Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) developed by the
School of Information StudiesCharles Sturt University, 2017.
Charles Sturt University
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