Millar (1991) referred in his study that science is among those subjects considered as ‘hard’ by students. He also mentioned, “a widely received view” of how easy it is for a science graduate to advance in a non-scientific career than vice versa (1991). He provided a simple illustration of two undergraduates studying different subjects. A science student would be able to keep up a history lecture, whereas it’s almost improbable for a student of social study to do the same (Millar, 1991). This is a reality in some cases, highlighting one of the most common views in education.
Several reasons underlie such theory. Science is recognized as a subject of a high cognitive demand, where the learners would struggle if they are incapable of accessing higher thinking and communication skills (UKEssays, 2018). For example, many school settings are subject to the National Curriculum’s requirement—making the lesson more and more difficult with the use of frequent cognitive skills like analysis and evaluation (UKEssays, 2018).
Not to mention, some of the science departments’ efforts are limited based on the availability of required resources (equipment and such) (UKEssays, 2018). Students need to experience learning science directly in labs to understand the real-life context of the subject itself. This can substantially affect the teaching and learning quality, supporting the theory of why science can be difficult to learn (UKEssays, 2018).
The aforementioned ‘barriers’, and those unmentioned, can influence students’ understanding and attitudes towards science. Gamble et al. (1985) stated that around 35% of students at the age of 15 aren’t fluent enough to apply their science knowledge in given situations. Kennedy et al. (2018) reported that 52% of adults believe the main reason young people don’t pursue a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math) is that they think these subjects are too difficult.
Yet even though there has been an intensive call for instructional reform in science classrooms, change has not been extensive. Weiss (1997) reports that “‘traditional’ lecture/textbook methodologies” continue to be the focus of science instruction (p. 3). Although classrooms are going forward with a blended approach, the majority of them haven’t equally divided the portion between the traditional and the blended methods.
What do the experts say?
The learning process occurs through observational, experiential, and symbolic information, with the most common way of learning is through modeling (i.e. learning from others) (Lively, 1994). The capacity to observe how others behave reduces the necessity for trial and error and allows future references from the information they’ve obtained. Although many skills were learned initially through observation, the ability to learn is limited by the learner (Lively, 1994).
This is supported by a theory by Bandura (1997b) that says cognitive processing affects the self-efficacy perception; a factor in determining whether a person will engage in a certain behavior or not. Self-efficacy itself refers to a person’s belief towards their capacity to behave in a way of meeting specific performance achievements (Bandura, 1977)—influencing the learning process in return (Bandura, 1986).
Self-efficacy determines a person’s choice, leading to a greater effort in how they manage challenges (Bandura, 1997b). In other words, a person with a high self-efficacy tends to have higher motivations compared to those who are not.
A strong sense of efficacy enhances the human effort to accomplish goals in many ways. People who consider themselves to be highly efficacious attribute failures as an insufficient effort, whilst those who are not considering failures are caused by low ability (Bandura, 1994).
What does it mean for classrooms?
Bandura’s claims (1994) that the higher someone’s self-efficacy is, the greater their interest in achieving their goals will be—leading to a better preparation educationally to obtain those goals. This particular theory could majorly impact students’ motivation. If classrooms can adapt the teaching and learning method supported by this theory, the process could be much improved.
What to do?
The gamification method (i.e. incorporating game elements into non-game settings [Lee & Hammer, 2011]) is catching educators’ attention in various subjects, including science. There has been a growing number of studies confirming the gaming experience is directly or indirectly linked to mastery experience, and self-efficacy (Trepte et al., 2011).
Sherry et al. stated that the challenge and competition of games are key components of game enjoyment (2006). Players commonly receive feedback in a form of immediate consequences within the gaming environment (Trepte et al., 2011). Challenge, positive competitions, and constant feedback are essential to support the learners’ progress in classrooms.
Making the learning process more attractive and ensuring a diverse learning experience is one of the purposes of gamification (Hursen & Bas, 2018). Their research spotted an increased students’ motivation to learn science, proven by their excitement towards research, communication, and cooperation. These findings support the importance of retaining students’ interest in classrooms, as it would eventually lead to better performance.
Ding, et al., found that game elements (i.e. badges, progress bars, and even avatars) encourage participation in online discussions, after using a gamified, online discussion tool for their study (2017). Sanmugam et al. conducted a study on 29 science students that proved the similar game elements used were effective in changing the viewpoints of students (2016). Buckleya and Doyle (2014), found that not only gamified-application had significantly affected the students' motivation, they also found a positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and participation (Hursen & Bas, 2018).
Moving forward with gamification might be one step away from achieving a successful classroom. There have been several successful kinds of research that claims gamification’s positive influence on a difficult subject like science. Furthermore, addressing teaching challenges, such as a decline in students’ interest rate and motivation, has been successfully proven to be achievable with gamification.