Bowser gamification submission


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Bowser gamification submission

  1. 1. Using gamification to inspire new citizen science volunteers Anne Bowser1 , Derek Hansen2 , Yurong He1 , Carol Boston1 , Matthew Reid3 , Logan Gunnell2 , Jennifer Preece1 University of Maryland 8082 Baltimore Avenue College Park, MD 20740 Brigham Young University E Campus Drive Provo, UT 84604 Pariveda Solutions 2811 McKinney Ave. Dallas, TX 75204 ABSTRACT Gamifying citizen science campaigns has the potential to further engage existing volunteers, as well as to attract new contributors. By evaluating Biotracker, a gamified mobile application that gathers plant phenology data, we explored the feasibility of engaging a secondary group of Millennials, who are notorious technology enthusiasts, with a gamified citizen science app. We also explored the potential benefits that using an application might offer these users. Results suggest that gamification is key to attracting many Millennials, as are social motivations and, to a lesser extent, education. Potential benefits to these participants include an increased awareness of community and an increase in domain knowledge. Author Keywords Gamification, location-based games, citizen science, crowdsourcing, Biotracker, Project Budburst, Millennials ACM Classification Keywords K.8.0. General: Games INTRODUCTION Gamification is a powerful design tool with the potential to enhance user experience and engagement with non-game applications. While the canonical example of gamification may be the use of badges by service marketing teams [18], the motivational affordances of games are also utilized in non-corporate contexts such as education [6], community trading [14] and citizen sensing [7]. Citizen science is another promising context for gamification. Specifically, researchers have identified “rewards, such as online gaming badges and competitions” as a promising method for motivating and retaining volunteers [20]. Examples of extant projects that utilize gamification in citizen science are Tiger Nation [19], which tracks the movements of endangered tigers, and Happy Sort, which classifies images of species such as moths and sharks [24]. However, with those notable exceptions, serious games (i.e., stand-alone games with a primary purpose other than entertainment) such as Foldit ( or Zooniverse ( are far more prevalent than gamified apps in the citizen science domain. Since not all tasks lend themselves to the creation of full games, understanding how to effectively gamify citizen science apps is of great importance. This paper reports on our experiences evaluating Biotracker, a gamified mobile application for citizen science. Biotracker was developed to feed plant phenology data to the Project Budburst database (; as such, our primary user group is citizen scientists who already contribute data to Project Budburst or similar campaigns. By gamifying the Biotracker app, we hope to engage this user group more fully, as well as attract a secondary group of Millennials – the focus of this paper. Engaging users who are not currently active citizen scientists has several potential benefits. Additional data can be collected for scientists. Volunteers may reap benefits including an increased knowledge of the scientific method and heightened community involvement [4]. Some critics argue that gamification is a simple marketing tool that manipulates users without their knowledge [2], so establishing that benefits exist to the users of a gamified app is a key ethical consideration in the design and development of gamified mobile applications—especially when these users might not be motivated to use an application because of its content alone. With these considerations in mind, we evaluated an advanced prototype of the gamified Biotracker app with a group of 71 undergraduates from the Millennial generation. We address the following research questions: • Can a gamified citizen science app engage technology enthusiasts from the millennial generation? • Which aspects of the gamified app would be most motivating to those who are likely to use it? • What potential benefits could this group receive from use of the gamified app? Our work suggests that gamifying a mobile app for citizen science does have the potential to engage Millennials. These users express social motivations such as socialization and community membership, motivations relating to personal benefit such as fun and education, and motivations relating to gamification such as competition and reward in the form of badges earned. Potential sources of value for these users include an increased awareness of community and a growing knowledge of topics such as plant biology.
  2. 2. BACKGROUND Gamification One common definition of gamification is “the use of elements of game design in non-game contexts” [10]. While this succinctly describes the method that gamification deploys, other researchers choose to emphasize the experience that gamification gives rise to. Thus, a second definition considers gamification “a process of enhancing a service with affordances for gameful experiences in order to support user’s overall value creation” [15]. Context is a third key to understanding gamification: a user is motivated by a gamified system only when gamification makes salient a user’s real, intrinsic motivational needs [9]. Therefore, designers of gamified apps should understand both the motivational affordances of games and the domain of interest (e.g., citizen science). Researchers have identified a number of motivations that drive the users of gamified apps. People use gamified apps because they are fun or relate to a personal interest [13]. They use these apps to socialize, whether social activities are casual and temporary, contribute to longer-term relationships, or evoke community membership [13, 16, 27]. Users of gamified apps are also motivated by the opportunity to discover new things [27], to be part of a meaningful story [13], to compete with others [27], and to achieve one’s personal best [13, 28]. Citizen Science Citizen science is a collaborative process in which volunteers work with professional scientists to study real- world problems [4]. Citizen science activities are often structured around campaigns, where volunteers gather and annotate a specific type of data. Some campaigns are bounded by a specific time or place. ReClam the Bay ( is seasonal and located around Barnegat Beach, New Jersey. Other campaigns, such as eBird (, perpetually solicit data from citizen scientists in diverse geographic zones. Because citizen science facilitates efforts such as large- scale data collection that would otherwise be impractical or impossible, its value to scientists is clear. Its value to volunteers is no less significant. Based on the Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education [12] used by NSF-funded projects, researchers [4] identify a number of benefits for citizen science volunteers. These include increased knowledge of scientific content and processes; increased engagement (e.g., with the scientific community); skill development (e.g., study design); improved attitudes toward science; increased time spent outdoors, citizen action, and responsible environmental behavior; and other impacts. Motivations of citizen science volunteers are complex, and change over time [26]. They include fun or personal interest [21, 25, 26], the desire to learn more about a subject [25], and the thrill of discovery [25]. Citizen science volunteers appreciate the opportunity to be part of a community [25, 26], although motivations for socialization may exceed motivations for community recognition [21]. Volunteers exhibit altruistic motivations ranging from a general desire to help [25], a desire to contribute to science [21, 25], and a desire to help one’s community [26]. Table 1 summarizes the motivations of users of gamified apps and citizen science volunteers outlined in the prior sections. It is necessarily general and may not apply to specific scenarios (e.g., educational games; competitive citizen science activities), but it does illustrate that both groups share some motivations, while differing in others. Motivation Gamers Cit. Sci. Volunteers Fun (intrinsically rewarding) X X Personal interest X X Learning or education X Contributing to science X Contributing to public good X Community involvement X X General socialization X X Personal performance X Competition with peers X Table 1. Motivations of gamers and citizen scientists METHODS After describing the Biotracker app we explain the methods used for this study. Note that prior work evaluated an earlier prototype of Biotracker with different users [3]. The Biotracker app Biotracker is a gamified mobile application designed to gather plant phenology data for Project Budburst. Plant phenology data measures the timing of events, such as when a perennial begins to bud or when a tree’s leaves fall. It is valuable to scientists who study the dissemination of allergens and global climate change. Biotracker was developed with PLACE, an iterative co-design approach to Prototyping Location, Activities, and Collective Experience over time, as detailed elsewhere [3]. In Biotracker, the central artifact that users interact with is a floracache, or a plant (for example, a specific oak tree in front of a college library) designated as part of the game. Floracaches are mapped in the application so that any user can find them. Biotracker supports two main types of interaction: creating floracaches of new plants, and checking into floracaches that already exist. Users who create a floracache must visit, photograph, and identify a plant, a task that requires some plant expertise. In contrast, any Biotracker user with a location-enabled mobile device can “check in” to existing floracaches. Checking in involves three optional tasks. First, users check a box to indicate the plant’s current phenological state, such as “all leaves withered,” or “full flowering.” Second, users can comment on an aspect of the floracache. Third, users can photograph the floracache.
  3. 3. Several activities rely upon the two primitive types of interaction: creating caches and checking into them. Budding Scientist, one of the core activities, requires that users check into a floracache and answer plant phenology questions (e.g., is it blooming?). Invasive Patroller asks users to create a cache of an invasive species; Friendly Floracacher requires users to check in with another person. Biotracker is gamified primarily through the use of badges that are placed on the virtual profile pages of users (Figure 1). Each badge is associated with a different activity. For example, users who complete the Budding Scientist activity earn the Budding Scientist badge. Floracaching also includes a leaderboard listing the ten players who have checked into the most caches at any given time. When a user hits the #1 spot on the leaderboard, he or she is automatically awarded a Leader of the Pack badge. In this way, players are rewarded for their general use of Biotracker and for completing specific activities. Participants Millennials, or Americans born after 1980, are characterized as “digital natives” [23] or “leading technology enthusiasts” who “embrace all things digital” [22]. Generally, millennials use technology more frequently than their elders (94% own a mobile phone, compared to a national average of 86%). They also use technology differently: while no more likely than older peers to use email, this group is twice as likely to play video games [22]. Finally, millennials have more positive attitudes towards technology: 74% believe it makes life easier, compared to a national average of 64%. Because of these differences—higher mobile phone use, greater attraction to video games, positive attitudes towards technology—we believe that this group may be open to using a gamified application for citizen science. This view is shared by other citizen science researchers who argue that games and technology can be used to appeal to “younger and more ethnically diverse participants” [20]. The 71 participants who evaluated Biotracker are Millennial college students at a large state university (all were between 18 and 24 years of age). These included 55 men and 16 women who self-reported the following racial/ethnicity categories: African American (non- Hispanic): 10, Asian/Pacific Islander: 25, Caucasian (non- Hispanic): 35, Latino: 5, and Other: 1. Most were self- declared engineering or computer science majors. The evaluation of the Biotracker app was the culminating activity of a five-week unit on citizen science. Our research team spent one class (1.5 hours) with the students each week. At the beginning of the unit students were surveyed about their experience with citizen science. Most were unfamiliar with the topic and none had participated in campaigns. The first four weeks of the unit introduced students to citizen science and gave them practice as participants. Therefore, by the time students evaluated the Biotracker app they were more familiar with citizen science than would otherwise be typical. Evaluation Prior to evaluating the Biotracker app, students were given information about downloading and installing the app and encouraged to bring their smartphones to class. Researchers prepared by setting up a large number of Floracaches in the vicinity of the classroom building. Once in class, students participated in a brief discussion about plant phenology and the various gamified features of the app before going outside for 30 minutes of free play with the application. Figure 1. User Profile Screen (left) and Badges (right) Data collection and analysis After using the Biotracker application, participants completed a 15-question online survey as a homework assignment graded as completed/ not completed. The survey began with open-ended questions such as “What makes [certain] activities appealing?” Participants also answered the questions, “How likely are you to use the Biotracker app in the future?” and “How likely are you to participate in other kinds of citizen science activities?” General motivations were assessed with the open-ended question, “What would motivate you to use the Biotracker application or participate in a similar activity?” To assess specific motivations, participants were given 11 statements and asked, “Please indicate how motivating you would find each reason for using the Biotracker app.” Nine of these 11 statements correspond directly to the motivations presented in Table 1; for example, “fun” was assessed with the survey item “Using the Biotracker app is fun.” The remaining 2 statements, “Earning badges is motivating” and “Completing activities is motivating” were designed to assess perceptions of gamification. Participants also answered demographic questions and questions about their experience with citizen science and natural observations. Qualitative data were analyzed through thematic analysis, a method of searching across a dataset to find repeated patterns of meaning [5]. While similar to inductive techniques such as grounded theory, thematic analysis differs by allowing for a researcher’s existing theoretical or analytical interest in the data. Thematic analysis is a six- step process where researchers familiarize themselves with
  4. 4. the data, generate initial codes, search for themes, review themes, define themes, and report themes. This iterative process allowed us to move from stage to state as needed. Quantitative analysis focused on the question about the 11 motivators discussed earlier. Answers were given on a 5- point Likert scale, with choices listed as “very motivating,” “somewhat motivating,” “neutral,” “somewhat demotivating,” and “very demotivating”. For many questions, the most extreme choices—“very motivating” and “very demotivating”—had a very small number of responses. To facilitate analysis, these answers were therefore collapsed into two categories: “very motivating” and “somewhat motivating” were grouped together as “motivating,” while “very demotivating” and “somewhat demotivating” were grouped together as “demotivating.” This process of collapsing or combining Likert scale categories is a common data transformation [1]. This transformation can be valuable when participants are hesitant to select extreme options, as with our data set. Table 2. Independent t-test results Our primary interest was to understand which motivations were salient for those who would potentially use the Biotracker app, as compared to those who would not. To assess this, we grouped participants into two categories: those who reported being somewhat or very likely to use the app in the future (n=10), and those who reported being somewhat or very unlikely to use the app in the future (n=37), removing data from those who were indifferent (n=24). A similar approach was used to evaluate different motivations for those willing to contribute to other citizen science projects (n=36) versus those who were not (n=15), ignoring neutral responses (n=20). Because responses to questions created ordinal data, Mann-Whitney U tests were used to identify significant differences [1]. FINDINGS Only 10 participants (14%) were “likely” or “very likely” to use the app in the future. 24 (34%) were undecided, and 37 (52%) were “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely”. In contrast, 36 (51%) were “likely” or “very likely” to participate in other kinds of citizen science activities (20, or 28%, were undecided; only 15, or 21%, were “very unlikely” or “somewhat unlikely”). We believe that the relatively small proportion of users who were “likely” or “very likely” to use the app in the future is indicative of problems with location-awareness on certain devices, and the use of unfamiliar vocabulary such as Latin names for plants. We explore this further in our discussion. Our remaining findings are grouped by the motivations presented in Table 1. The first seven motivations are discussed individually; the following four closely relate to one another and are discussed together. Table 2 summarizes the quantitative results. Fun (intrinsically rewarding) Participants who would use Biotracker (U= 146.5, p< .01) and participants who would contribute to other citizen science projects (U= 391.0, p< .01) both considered “fun” a significant motivation. Data from open-ended questions reveals three types of “fun”: creativity, exploration of a local environment, and relaxation. Noting creativity as a common thread across his favorite activities, one participant wrote, “They all involve being able to perform a concrete action or set of actions that create a physical result. It allows for the ability to create something as well as merely observing native flora.” Similarly, a user said that the Paparazzi activity (which asks a user to take the best photograph of a cherry tree) is fun because “It allows for creativity in photography. I’m not an expert photographer by any means, but I’d like to achieve having the best picture of a tree.” Participants also had fun exploring their local environment. “Locovore will teach us about something unique to our area”; “Why not appreciate native flora from your area?” Seasonality, a function of location, also comes into play: “I think Cherry Blossom Blitz is a great idea in April—it ensures the opportunity to go out and view a good Cherry tree blossoming during the appropriate season.” This was especially important for participants who already had a strong local identity—as one expressed, “I am native to Maryland so touring native species is something I would prefer because it is most relatable to myself.” Motivation Total (n=71) Would use Biotracker Would contribute to other projects Is fun 36 (51%) U= 146.5 U= 391.0 p< 0.01 p< 0.01 Supports my interest in plants 26 (27%) U= 287.5 U= 502.5 p= 0.76 p= 0.12 Helps me learn about plants and their environment 41 (58%) U=134.0 U= 501.5 p< 0.01 p= 0.11 Contributes valuable scientific data 42 (59%) U= 201.0 U= 460.0 p= 0.07 p< 0.04 Contributes to the public good 45 (63%) U= 234.0 U= 456.5 p= 0.21 p< 0.04 Can connect me to a community of similar people 31 (44%) U= 152.5 U= 536.0 p< 0.01 p= 0.26 Could be a fun social activity 31 (44%) U= 144.5 U= 472.5 p< 0.01 p= 0.06 Doing my best is motivating 34 (48%) U= 230.0 U= 556.5 p= 0.19 p= 0.37 Competing with my peers is motivating 34 (48%) U= 180.0 U= 462.5 p< 0.04 p= 0.07 Earning badges is motivating 33 (36%) U= 154.5 U= 542.0 P< 0.01 p= 0.28 Completing activities is motivating. 44 (62%) U= 202.0 U= 507.0 p= 0.06 p= 0.12
  5. 5. Finally, participants would enjoy using the application “if it provided an experience for me that was [de-stressing] / refreshing, and I had something to gain. For myself, a gain would entail an enjoyable/relaxing interaction with nature.” Another participant would   “just want to get out there and enjoy nature while I do things, not worry.”   In some cases, engaging with a local environment can be relaxing in itself. “To me appreciating nature is a way to destress and taking the time to look and appreciate native Maryland trees is appealing. This is especially due to the fact that I’m a Marylander and lived in a rural area where trees were abundant and gave a sense of peace and home.” Personal interest Participants who would use the Biotracker app were not more motivated by an interest in plants (U= 287.5, p= 0.76) than those who would not use it. Some simply considered plants boring: “I would be pretty unmotivated to participate because the subject matter does not interest me to any real degree.” Others thought that the plants chosen as floracaches (reflecting the plants in the Project Budburst database) lacked novelty: “Maple trees are everywhere. That’s like getting excited every time you see a dandelion…you can’t hype up generic, boring trees.” Users would be motivated to use the app “if it related to activities that I find interesting.” For example, “if a similar activity was created that matched my interests, I would be more inclined to participate…instead of caching wildlife, an activity can be created to cache Maryland landmarks.” Learning or education Participants who reported that they were likely to use the Biotracker app (U= 134.0, p< .01) were motivated to learn about plants and their environments. Some were motivated by the general “educational potential of the application”; others expressed interest in certain plants (“I don’t know very much about Magnolias, so I’m curious about how different Magnolias vary.”). However, educational benefits were rarely the first thing a user mentioned and are likely to be a secondary motivation. One user, who noted that their primary motivation would be competition, later added, “it’s also nice to learn about the plants.” Similarly, after writing “I enjoy looking and enjoying nature especially the cherry blossoms,” a student added “I can also learn more about them by identifying them so I know what I’m appreciating.” The secondary role of education as a motivator may be due to the fact that most participants are not interested in plants enough to want to learn about them in the absence of other benefits: “I have some interest, but not enough motivation to go out with a field guide and start teaching myself.” Contributing to science As one participant writes, “I would be motivated if I was helping someone use these statistics for a project because it is going to a good cause. I would also be motivated to participate in a similar activity because it can help scientists very much.” Contributing to science was not a significant motivator for those who are likely to use the Biotracker app (U= 201.0, p= 0.07) compared to those who would not, though it may have been with a larger sample size. Some users recognized the value of the app to scientists, though that was not enough in itself to warrant their participation: “The only time I would use this particular app is if it were part of a competition. I am not particularly interested in plants, so while I understand that the app is very useful, and will certainly be helpful to scientists in the field, I would probably not use it.” Others may not have recognized the value of the app to scientists, since the contribution to science was not made explicit enough: “If there was an app that provided data to a worthwhile cause I would probably participate.” Indeed, this may explain why those who would contribute to other citizen science projects were more likely to express this motivation than those who would not (U= 460.0, p< 0.04). Contributing to public good Contributing to the public good was not a significant motivator for those who are likely to use the Biotracker app (U= 234.0, p= 0.24). Again, this may be because the app does not provide a clear “explanation of benefits to society;” as one participant wondered, “How much is the potential impact for society?” Those who did express a motivation to contribute to the public generally evoked a localized public such as other users of the Biotracker app (“Creating a new Floracache is appealing because then I will have contributed something that everyone else can use”) or other college campus residents. On the later point, one participant wrote, “Maple Marker interests me because it can help with the maintenance of the campus.” Another would be motivated “If a project can have a big impact on campus life.” Those who would contribute to other citizen science projects were more likely to express this motivation than those who would not (U=456.5, p<0.04). Community involvement Community involvement is a significant motivation for likely users of the Biotracker app (U= 152.5, p< .01). For some of these users, community involvement could spur individual engagement: “Seeing others around me use it would motivate me to join them and contribute;” “The app would probably have to be popular with my friends so we would all use it.” Other users would be motivated to use the app if could support existing community membership: “If the app became popular among my peers, I’d definitely use it to fit in with the crowed.” While the majority of our participants seem to consider their group of a friends a community, a few express the desire to interact with people of similar mindsets: “I’d love to spend time in the company of someone who I can relate to by appreciating nature. I think it’s rare to find friends nowadays who are a bit adventurous and are willing to get out there and appreciate nature, but I feel like I could establish a deeper connection with someone who shares that interest with me.” General Socialization Socialization – which designates social activity on a smaller scale than community involvement, or “interacting with other people”—is a powerful motivation for people
  6. 6. more likely to use the Biotracker app (U= 144.5; p< .01). Specifically, users would be motivated to use the application “if I could make it a peer activity- use it to spend time with friends, or spend time with a romantic partner.” Socialization can also enhance other motivations, such as the fun of exploring nature: “I would like to be able to use this app socially, so on certain occasion, I could not only engage with nature for a benefit, but I could also interact with others for social interaction, which would be another benefit.” A similar user was motivated by “The opportunity to be with friends. The chance to get to explore nature and share the beauty with other people.” Gamification Four motivations related to gamification. “Doing my best is motivating” (U=230.0, p= 0.19) and “completing activities is motivating” (U= 202.0, p= 0.06) are not significant for participants who would use Biotracker app; “competing with my peers is motivating” (U= 180.0, p< .04) and “earning badges is motivating” (U= 154.5, p< .01) are. None of the four motives related to gamification were significant for users who would participate in other citizen science projects. These motivations are explored further in the qualitative analysis presented below. Responses to survey questions such as “What would motivate you to use the Biotracker app or participate in a similar activity?” confirm that gamification is a primary motivation for this user group. One explains: “I guess if this app was made into a game more than anything I would use it more.” Another echoes, “Something that would motivate me to use a similar app in the future would be the gamification characteristic that this one employed. It makes it much more fun and less tedious to participate in…citizen science.” In fact, many users advocated for more gamification: “If it was even more game-like that would be great, because I got bored with the app.” Regarding specific motivations, some participants found motivation in competition “between friends, competition amongst strangers.” As one wrote, “Introducing competition to citizen science applications can have a lasting impact on the overall effectiveness of the application. These are the types of things that pique the interest of the user.” An almost universal belief prevails among these users that “Everyone wants to be leader of the pack,” i.e., occupy the number one spot on the leaderboard: “Being the person with the most Floracaches is a goal to reach so it’s appealing because like any mobile game like system, there’s always a task to reach even if it takes a few times to get that tile/ award.” Others were motivated by the “Personal satisfaction of getting badges” and noted, “the badges are a nice touch, and I think they should be expanded for future users.” Users also wrote about the “satisfaction of completing activities,” although such comments were less frequent than assessments of badges or competition. The motivations related to gamification that were not significant included “doing my best” and “completing activities” (though the latter may be significant with a larger sample). In retrospect, we believe that this is due to our failure to include game elements such as quests that really challenge users to perform outside of peer competition. It may also be true that, due to the social way the app is used, peer competition is just more compelling. DISCUSSION Our findings suggest that the answer to our first research question, whether gamifying a mobile application for citizen science could engage an additional user group of Millennials, is a qualified affirmative. Survey results indicate that people who are likely to use the Biotracker application in the future are significantly more motivated by gamification in the form of “earning badges” and “competing with my peers” then those who are not likely to use the app. We also found support in our qualitative data from users who would “use the app if it were in a game format because that would interest me” and believe gamification “makes it much more fun and less tedious to participate in…citizen science” On the other hand, half of our participants reported that they were “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to use the Biotracker app in the future. There were two main reasons why some students would not use the app. First, our prototype had some problems recognizing location on select mobile devices. As one frustrated user writes, “The application would be much better if location was accurate.” Users also disliked the use of scientific names for genus and species, and asked developers to “make it more friendly to people who have little knowledge of flora…I didn’t understand much of the Latin names.” These usability issues are relatively easy to resolve. It is also clear that participants will only use a gamified citizen science app if doing so is convenient: “If I could use an app in a way that did not interfere with my daily activities I would absolutely participate in citizen science projects. I don’t want to have to go out of my way to use the app.” A second participant similarly noted, “When choosing a citizen science activity to complete, I would most likely choose one that is interesting, but that is not too time consuming.” This issue is much harder to resolve. We draw two general conclusions from these combined results. First, while most Millennials may not embrace a gamified citizen science app, a significant portion may— and they will likely engage with the application precisely because it is gamified. This claim is supported by quantitative data that shows our Millennials find earning badges and peer competition motivating, and by elaborations offered in response to open-ended survey questions. In contrast, users who were likely to participate in other citizen science projects expressed established motivations such as “contribute valuable scientific data” and “contribute to the public good.” Therefore, a new user group of Millennials who might not find the traditional motivations of citizen scientists inspiring may be willing to engage with a citizen science application if it is gamified.
  7. 7. Second, because of their expectation that technology can and should make life easier [22], this user group may not be as patient with a gamified citizen science app as the citizen scientists who are already motivated to volunteer their data. Therefore, it is especially important that gamification is pervasive and well designed, usability issues are resolved, and tasks are clearly structured and at easy to understand. Research question two asks, “Which aspects of the gamified app would be most motivating to those who are likely to use it?” As discussed above, gamification can be a strong motivator, particularly in the form of badges or competition with peers. Millennials who are likely to use the Biotracker app are also influenced by motivations related to enjoyment or other personal benefits, namely “fun” and “learn about plants and their environment.” Finally, for this user group the desire to be social is acute, and should be supported by an application’s design. As one user suggested, the app did not provide a clear “explanation of benefits to society.” One way to resolve this issue could be to design badges that reward users who contribute to a dataset used in scientific research. A list of publications using Budburst data could also be included in the application. These and similar changes could help attract some of the people who were willing to participate in other citizen science projects, but not the Biotracker app. Regarding our final research question, “What potential benefits could this group receive from use of the gamified app,” we identify two main types of benefits. The first is Friedman’s “engagement or interest in a community,” a clear motive of our survey respondents [12]. This is exemplified by the participant who writes, “[knowing] what has been going on over the local area may encourage people to go see a nice looking patch of flowers or an interesting tree that others may have cached.” The existing literature on citizen science also supports the importance of place as a motivation; one survey of Neighborhood Nestwatch participants found that 83% reported an increased awareness and sense of place [11]. In this way, a sense of place or community is both a motivation for engaging with Biotracker or similar applications and a benefit to participation that grows over time. A closely related benefit listed by Friedman [12] is “time outdoors.” Again, this is both a motivation and a benefit for Biotracker users who “enjoy looking at nature and being outside.” Second, participants benefited from “knowledge of content” [12]. This is illustrated by comments like “It’s also nice to learn about the plants” and “could be interesting to learn about the species in your state, could learn the most from these activities,” although the application could admittedly do a better job providing educational material (“Fun facts” about each plant are being developed for the final release). The support for “knowledge of content” is consistent with the findings of other citizen science researchers, which suggests that in some cases as many as 90% of citizen science volunteers report increased knowledge about the species they observe [11]. However, it was somewhat unexpected among the given population who did not self-identify as being intrinsically interested in plants. Perhaps it was the “no pressure environment in which you can learn something new,” which helped instill this interest in plants. It may be possible to help transition Millennials into more active citizen scientists. The interest that some showed in learning (even as a secondary motivation) may, with guidance, transform into genuine interest in scientific content and contributions. Researchers suggest encouraging learning with “measurable, attainable, relevant” goals [17]. These learning goals could be supported with sequential “plant education” activities and badges. Limitations This exploratory research is aimed at establishing which gamification techniques are likely to engage Millennials. This research cannot claim, conclusively, that a gamified mobile app can engage these users, or can engage them over extended periods of time (a major concern in both gamification and citizen science [2,26]). An experimental manipulation comparing engagement between a gamified and a natural application would be a logical next step in confirming that gamification can, in fact, make a citizen science application appealing to this user group. Participants were first year college students in the culminating phase of a 5-week unit on citizen science. It is unlikely that most Millennials will have the same familiarity with citizen science as our sample, who attended four prior lectures on the topic. Therefore, responses to motivational prompts such as The Biotracker app “contributes valuable scientific data” and “contributes to the public good” may be overly positive. Without further evidence we cannot generalize data on these motivations to other groups. Similarly, we cannot generalize our findings to technology enthusiasts from other age groups. Conclusions We evaluated Biotracker, a gamified mobile application for citizen science, with 71 undergraduate students from the millennial generation. Our evaluation assessed whether Millennials would use a gamified citizen science app, what might motivate them to do so, and what benefits they might derive from participation. We found that while not all of our participants were likely to use our application in the future, those who would were attracted to elements of gamification (competition with peers, earning badges), social motivations (community membership, socialization), and personal benefits such as fun and education. Participants who would use our gamified application did not express motivations such as the desire to contribute to science and the desire to contribute to a public good that are held by traditional citizen science volunteers [21, 25, 26]. This suggests that gamification may reach new audiences for citizen science campaigns. We also found that Millennials can benefit from using a gamified citizen science app through informal science education and increased community engagement.
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