Like other schoolgoing children, teenager Sheldon Chong has been attending online classes throughout the pandemic and finds it mainly one-dimensional, without much interaction and engagement.
So to make elearning more enjoyable, Chong decided to offer gamification workshops so that teachers and students can create games for virtual lessons. Gamification in education applies game elements to a learning environment.
Chong, an award-winning game developer and digital illustrator, will be holding two 90-minute online workshops entitled, Create A Virtual 2D Game (for students) (Feb 10, 8.30pm) and Create A Gamified Virtual Classroom (for educators) (Feb 11, 8.30pm) for free.
"Due to the pandemic, Malaysian students have been in an online school, and we still have classes online on a rotation basis. Some of the challenges include feeling tired, losing track of what's being taught, and boredom.
"Teachers also find it challenging especially when the students do not reply to them and keep their cameras closed. So I can empathise with what the teachers are feeling and with what the students are facing," said Chong, 15, in an email interview recently.
A 2020 study entitled "Understanding Challenges Faced in Online Teaching and Learning Among Malaysian Universities' Instructors During Covid-19 Pandemic" found that many educators struggled to adapt to elearning due to ineffective real-time communication, technology incompetence, and low rate interaction.
There are also elearning issues for students, such as weak Internet connectivity and the lack of devices.
Chong's workshops, catering to students between nine and 17 years, will focus on teaching them how to create 2D multiplayer games. The teenager hopes students can help their teachers gamify the lessons and share these skills in virtual meetings during their club or co-curricular activities.
"I'm running these workshops free of charge to create awareness and give the participants the tools to develop games and gamify their lessons. These skills are essential as we move towards digitalisation with online classes and meetings. We need to learn and integrate digital technologies and gamification into our lessons.
"When teachers gamify their online classes, students would be more motivated to learn and participate, and the virtual classroom will be more energetic and motivating," said Chong, a Year 11 student at a private school in Shah Alam, Selangor.
Chong has been conducting workshops like comic drawing, coding, game development and 2D animation since 2016. He has won many awards in game development, coding and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Last October, he clinched the first place at youth organisation Project ID's Young Educators Challenge 2021. The following month, he won the Gold Award and Jury Award in the Creative @ Schools Level Up Game Development competition organised by Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation.
For his upcoming workshops, Chong will use a virtual meeting platform called Gather.Town, which allows students to create fully customised worlds that can be gamified.
"Because no coding is required, it is quick and easy for teachers to create games and apply them in their online classes. I will also be sharing some valuable tricks and tools in creating the games.
"Anyone can sign up for the workshops. You only need to have a laptop or desktop to create the online games in Gather.Town," shared Chong, who has authored and published two children science-fiction books – The Time Dimension and The Elementals.
The gamification workshops are part of Chong's project for the Rise Challenge, an American-based online project which he's participating in. Part of the programme's requirement is for students to solve humanity's most pressing problems.
Chong isn't new to community-based projects. He volunteers at turtle conservation centres and organises free arts and craft workshops for various non-governmental organisations, including Buddhist associations.
In 2019, together with his brother Emerson, 13, Chong created an online game called Earth Boy Recycling Game on Scratch to help kids learn about the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle).
In addition, they have collaborated with New York artist Wendy Conception to create an Earth Boy comic panel published in Unicef's climate comic book.
The siblings also have a large following on YouTube; their channel (CyberLegends Animations) has over 192,000 subscribers.
Chong says by creating their own multiplayer online games, students can make good use of their screen time, be innovative and take charge of their own learning.
"Students can create games with educational content or on the topic they are learning and share it with their classmates so that they can learn from one another and inspire each other.
“They can also learn a topic through creating the gamified lessons themselves. One of the main aims of these workshops is to create a positive ripple effect. I want to convey knowledge and also inspire educators and children to explore new avenues," said Chong, who is currently working with Project ID to design a video chat platform for a virtual event by Unicef Malaysia.