On the Future of Higher Education: Gamification, The Pyramid of Needs, and ICT to the Rescue

Invited Talk at ICT.OPEN

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Technical universities, especially in Europe, are facing an important challenge in attracting more diverse groups of students, and in keeping the students they attract motivated and engaged in the curriculum. What should we do about the future of higher education?

We first describe our experience with gamification, which we loosely define as a teaching technique that uses social gaming elements to deliver higher education. Over the past three years, we have applied gamification to undergraduate and graduate courses in a leading technical university in the Netherlands and in Europe. Ours is one of the first long-running attempts to show that gamification can be used to teach technically challenging courses. The two gamification-based courses, the first-year B.Sc. course Computer Organization and an M.Sc.-level course on the emerging technology of Cloud Computing, have been cumulatively followed by over 450 students and passed by over 75% of them, at the first attempt. We find that gamification is correlated with an increase in the percentage of passing students, and in the participation in voluntary activities and challenging assignments. Gamification seems to also foster interaction in the classroom and trigger students to pay more attention to the design of the course. We also observe very positive student assessments and volunteered testimonials, and a Teacher of the Year award.

We then define a hierarchy of needs for teachers in higher education. We identify needs from survival to parenting.
Among the survival needs, we discuss basics (e.g., defining course objectives, and designing and delivering course material), and control needs (e.g., monitoring and understanding course trade-offs).
Among the growth needs, we discuss affection and belonging needs (e.g., sharing course material and didactics principles, and joining communities of teachers), status and esteem needs (e.g., mastery of traditional didactics and teaching techniques, and ranking that goes deeper than Teacher of the Year), and personal optimum (e.g., learning about the latest didactics and teaching techniques, and creating new techniques or innovative material).
Among the parenting needs, we introduce the concept of an education family (e.g., teaching a new generation of teachers), and directing a new education culture (e.g., seeing your innovations being used and abused outside your direct control, by a new generation of educators).

Last, we posit that ICT should come to the rescue, and discuss several ways ICT could help teachers in higher education.
In particular, we propose the Personal Academic File, which enables data access and processing to help students, develops automated tools to inform and, if possible, to suggest course of action, and posits that data should only be used ethically and with consent (opt-in).