Impact of gamification on engagement in BeWell
The abstract of Dr Alten du Plessis' presentation at the Fourth World Congress on Positive Psychology (25-28 June 2015 in Orlando, USA) with the title "How the Gamification of a Mentoring System Motivates University Students to Engage in Well-being Enhancing Activities" appears below. The slides of the presentation follows thereafter. Detailed notes are provided for each slide. The PDF-version of the presentation can be downloaded here.
At first-year level our university utilises 560 trained mentors to guide approximately 5000 first-year students during their first six to nine months at university. This psycho-social support aims to enhance wellness, to develop positive psychological factors that affect academic achievement and to create a "flourishing" campus culture.
Wellness cards are used by mentors during 10 to 12 one hour sessions with their mentees to facilitate growth and positive discussions. All mentors and mentees are also supported by their own individualized and secure wellness websites with assessments, ebooks, audiobooks, e-workshops, tracking tools for card sessions, journals, profile pages and personalised leaderboards. Online well-being enhancing activities currently include e-workshops on wellness, grit and growth mindsets, and a gratitude and happiness journal.
Gamification principles are integrated within the individualized websites of students to enhance engagement, competition and motivation. Ten primary gamification mechanics (fast feedback, transparency, goals, badges, leveling up, onboarding, competition, collaboration, community and points) were implemented with the aim of enhancing five key intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery, purpose, progress and social interaction).
A mixed methods research project evaluation provides evidence of huge increases in student engagement in well-being enhancing activities (partly due to gamification), academic performance gains and positive student development growth.
Good afternoon! My name is Alten du Plessis from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. I am honoured and excited to share with you today the BeWell story, and how the gamification of a campus-wide mentoring system contributed to the motivation of thousands of our students, both mentors (senior students) and mentees (first-year students) , to engage in well-being enhancing activities.
Stellenbosch University has a proud and long history (more than 40 years) of employing senior students, first as advisors, and later as mentors of first-year students. In 2013 our approach changed from a deficit model (how can I help you overcome your difficulties) to a wellness/well-being/strengths-based approach and we introduced wellness cards to facilitate positive discussions during mentoring sessions. All mentoring efforts were electronically recorded and managed and mentors and mentees were also supported by their own individualized wellness websites. The resulting system was called "BeWell". An evaluation at the end of 2013 indicated that the system had huge potential, but that some obstacles were negatively affecting engagement. The system was gamified at the beginning of 2014 since we learnt that the gamification of our system may lead to better engagement. A second evaluation at the end of 2014 was performed and the engagement numbers increased dramatically in comparison with 2013. At the beginning of 2015 a further improvement was introduced: The system was made 100% responsive. The result: Record engagement numbers in 2015! Let's go back to 2013 when the role of our mentors changed...
Before 2013 our mentors played a "let's fixed it" role and tried to help our first-year students to move from -10 to 0 on the mental illness and well-being scales. In 2013 their role changed when the online BeWell system and our six wellness cards were implemented: They now had the role of facilitating growth and enhancing a flourishing campus culture.
At first-year level our university utilized approximately 500 trained mentors in 2013 to guide approximately 5000 first-year students during their first six to nine months at university. This psycho-social support aimed to enhance wellness, to develop positive psychological factors that affect academic achievement and to create a "flourishing" campus culture. Every mentor had between 7 and 10 mentees in his or her group. Students lived in men's, women's and mixed university residences as well as in a number of private wards (the so-called "day students").
Wellness cards are being used by mentors since 2013 during 10 to 12 one hour sessions with their mentees to facilitate growth and positive discussions. All six wellness dimensions are covered, namely the physical, emotional, intellectual, occupational, social and spiritual. All mentors and mentees are also supported by their own individualized and secure wellness websites with assessments, ebooks, audiobooks, e-workshops, tracking tools for card sessions, journals, profile pages and personalized leaderboards. Online well-being enhancing activities currently include e-workshops on wellness, grit and growth mindsets, and a gratitude and happiness journal.
The 2013 results were promising, and are shown in this slide (point out one or two highlights during presentation - number of sessions, number of personalized sites and participation in online well-being enhancing activities, for example).
A mixed methods research project was launched at the end of 2013 to measure the impact of BeWell. Preliminary results indicated that the academic performance of residences that actively took part in BeWell improved and the qualitative feedback showed that BeWell had an additional benefit - it may be a powerful vehicle to advance the development of our university's graduate attributes (enquiring mind, engaged citizen, dynamic professional and a well-rounded individual).
The 2013 version of BeWell therefore showed tremendous potential, but there were also some obstacles that stood in the way of continued growth. They are listed in this slide.
From our research we learnt that if we scientifically gamify our system we may address some of the engagement issues. We therefore studied gamification in detail, expanded our library with gamification-related titles, and learnt how to apply key gamification principles and mechanics to our BeWell Mentor Wellness project. The 2014 version of BeWell also had to be more mobile friendly.
The secret to engagement is to get both mentors and mentees intrinsically motivated, and luckily for us gamification offers effective ways to address all five intrinsic motivators, namely autonomy ("I control"), mastery ("I improve"), purpose ("I make a difference"), progress ("I achieve") and social interaction ("I connect with others"). We are big fans of Rahat Paharia's approach: He identified 10 key gamification mechanics that, if integrated within a gamified system, will lead to higher motivation and engagement. We therefore enthusiastically gave it a try.
Paharia's first 5 mechanisms are depicted in this slide. On the right hand side you will see the list of motivators that is addressed by each of the five mechanisms.
Paharia's last 5 mechanisms are depicted in this slide. On the right hand side you will see the list of motivators that is addressed by each of the five mechanisms. At the beginning of 2014 we launched a gamified version of BeWell (version 2.0) - we tried to integrate as mucn as possible of what we have learnt from our gamification studies and role models:) During the course of 2014 we eagerly monitored the system, and I am delighted to say, we were not disappointed! in fact, we were pleasantly surprised!
Our "before gamification" and "after gamification" engagement numbers are impressive, as can be seen on this slide: 2014 engagement approximately three times that of 2013 engagement! We are, however, not claiming that gamification is the only cause of this huge improvement, but it certainly played a part.
This slide indicates that wellness card sessions increased from 767 in 2013 to 1984 in 2014, a healthy increase of more than 250%! At the 2014 European Conference on Positive Psychology in Amsterdam we reported how wellness interventions on our campus for heath sciences had positive effects on the wellness scores of their students, as well as their academic performance. We are eager to see if the same thing happened within our BeWell system and are therefore busy measuring this impact.
One of the obstacles we mentioned earlier that we wanted to overcome was the weak engagement of our students in men's residences and students in private wards (called day students in America). By comparing the 2013 and 2014 leaderboards we can clearly see that this issue was addressed effectivelly (refer to tables if time allows), most probably because of gamification (men like competition) AND also becuase of stong leadership within our student communities. It is also interesting to notice that the competition factor did not really affect our women - their engagement is very consistent, and good, maybe because they are more conscientious?
For BeWell we want to determine whether a positive change in success rates occured (performance), whether the students have grown in terms of specific graduate attributes, or another desired outcome like wellness (development) and whether they enjoyed the experience or not. Quantitatitve, qualitative and mixed methods research tools are utilized to measure these three outcomes.
The preliminary indicators are that BeWell did indeed have a positive impact on the academic performance of our first-year students, but we have also realized that this is a very complex issue wih many angles (and many variables) to consider. Another very interesting exercise was to utilize all the available data in a mixed methods environment and to determine the best composition of a mentoring group. We chose to use Dedoose for all our qualitative and mixed methods research topics. As is also indicated in the diagram below, Dedoose was also used to determine if our mentors did in fact grow in terms of our university's graduate attributes and wellness goals, and also to evaluate the positivity of their whole BeWell experience. The quantitative session ratings of both mentors and mentees were very high (above 80%) and the encouraging news is that mentees actually rated the sessions higher than the mentors themseves (very positive feedback for mentors!).
A meaningful application of data analytics within this environment is to identify "non-academic" predictors of academic performance, and to use this information to further improve the developmental resources offered within BeWell. The data from 2013 and 2014 confirmed what other researchers world-wide have found: Grit, a growth mindset and a well balanced wellness lifestyle are all important predictors of performance at university level, and more students should be encouraged to utilize the available BeWell resources on these topics.
All the factors listed on this slide, namely gamifcation, personalization, a culture of logging, the maturity of the system, the mobile friendliness of the system, enthusiastic leadership within our structured student communities and the social media factor, definitely played a role in motivating our students within the BeWell system to engage in well-being enhancing activities. We are confident that the gamification did indeed play a significant role, also in support of the other factors. Whatever exactly made the difference, is not that important - the most important aspect from our viewpoint is the impact BeWell had on the performance, experience and development of both our mentors and mentees!
Thank you very much! I am available afterwards for more in-depth discussions. You are also welcome to contact me at sadp at sun.ac.za or to go to www.flourishwell4life.com. A downloadable PDF version of my presentation is available there. Any burning questions now?
Please send your enquiries to Alten du Plessis (sadp at sun.ac.za) at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
Please use the menu at the top of the page to navigate the FlourishWell4Life site. This page (with the presentation slides) is only available from the home page of FlourishWell4Life (the "FlourishWell4Life" menu option) - the rest from the menu at the top.
Life is too short not to shine on your journey!