Ocean Literacy Gamified App

One explanation for the people’s low level of concern about climate change is their lack of understanding of the problem, which represents an obstacle to individual behaviour change. This limited knowledge also has implications for students’ perceptions of the urgency to act and awareness of the consequences of their own behaviours. Low levels of understanding about ocean science are evident among students, while there is growing awareness that formal education curricula do not adequately communicate ocean science to young people.


1. Sea level rise illustration. Part of the cientific information screens.

One crucial aspect of effective educational technology is the capacity to create technology that can meet pupils’ needs. Development that integrates user feedback results in more effective learning experiences. With this aim, it is widely accepted that users should generally be consulted throughout the design process. The user experience study is of central importance to the interaction design of applications. In an iterative approach to user-centred design, the development process of 'mocking up' the application started with storyboards and sketches, with the corresponding identification of learning outcomes and expected behaviours. Sketching on paper is a low-fidelity approach most often used during the early stages of the design cycle. It is an essential technique for determining what the design should be.


2. Design Process. Examples of sketches from the Ocean literacy application.

It is claimed that the term gamification was coined around 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British games developer, when he established a short-lived consultancy to create game-like interfaces which were more attractive and engaging for electronic devices. The most common strategy used for designing gamified experiences is to use game elements. In the growing number of educational systems that are incorporating game elements to improve the learning experience, points, badges and leaderboard are some of the most commonly used. The junction of these three elements is known as the PBL triad and the extensive focus on these elements has given rise to a large part of the criticisms of gamified applications. The perspective of merely adding different game elements to an application without understanding the meaning behind them has raised a lot of criticism. Several authors have stressed that a gamified application is more than just points, badges and leaderboards.


3. Detail of the application user flow. Visual feedback mock up. Water levels associated with losing game lives scheme.

Clear goals were added in the form of tutorials before each level started through a graphical user interface meant to show users how to accomplish the tasks. Subjective language was avoided to remove ambiguity and, therefore, the possibility for misinterpretation. The user received immediate feedback of all the actions he/she had just performed in a visual form through buttons, menus and other navigation items, and also through sounds. The immediate feedback to the user’s actions was used not only to develop intuitive navigation through all the system, but also to relate actions with effects.
This relationship between cause and effect was what led to the game's main feedback: the loss of ‘lives’ and consequently losing the game through the respective effect on water quality and marine life. Each time the player failed to recycle, the water became darker, the fish started to die and the game ended. Through this process, the Ocean Literacy application could get pupils to become more aware of our impact on the environment, to take more responsibility in the decisions we make, and to recognise that what we do can have consequences on the ocean.


4. Info screen.

The prototype was redesigned and improved iteratively based upon feedback from the participating children, who underlined significant aspects and strengthened the development of better solutions. As the literature highlights, the vast majority of gamification studies fail on the game design level. Therefore, through a user-centred design approach, this study integrated feedback from the user related to the platforms, the learning outcomes and game effects on different levels of motivation. Furthermore, the users were invited to participate in the development acting in different roles.


5. Ocean Literacy application.

The literature reports that much applied research in the gamification field does not address any theoretical foundations and shows insufficient understanding of motivational mechanisms. The integration into the design process of the two theories – self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000) and flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre, 1989) – can facilitate motivation and engagement. Creating a rich gamified experience is much more than the addition of various game elements to existing products or the utilisation of games that already exist on the market. Although extrinsic rewards can contribute to students’ engagement and promote learning, if misused these motivational affordances can have detrimental effects on the motivation to learn. Pupils will focus only on the rewards. Thus, it is crucial to have a balanced association between learning contents and enjoyment in order for a gamified app to be appealing and effective in learning, and not purely fun.


6. Ocean Literacy Application. App Store and Google Play graphic image.

More info:
Leitão, R., Maguire, M., Turner, S. (2019). Students’ participation in the design process: a study on user experience of an educational game-like application. In 11th annual International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies. (pp. 5381-5390). Palma de Mallorca, Spain. DOI: 10.21125/edulearn.2019.1322

Leitão, R., Maguire, M., Turner, S., Guimarães, L., Arenas, F. (2018). Ocean literacy and information sources: comparison between pupils in Portugal and the UK. In 12th annual International Technology, Education and Development Conference (pp. 5058–5067). Valencia, Spain. DOI: 10.21125/inted.2018.0998

Leitão, R., Turner, S., Maguire, M. (2017). The use of mobile platforms in science learning: a comparative study between Portugal and the UK. In 10th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (pp. 5156-5165). Seville, Spain. DOI: 10.21125/iceri.2017.1357

Project Details

Design, GUI, illustration
Rui Leitao
Jaime Fins
Nuno Cunha
Project Supervisors
Martin Maguire
Sarah Turner
Scientific Advisors
Laura Guimarães
Francisco Arenas
School of Design and Creative Arts
Loughborough University
Funding: Design Star CDT
Download: Ocean Literacy App