Gamification in the Space Sector: How Gamification Activities Can Foster the Passion and Interest for STEM-Related Studies

Gamification in the Space Sector: How Gamification Activities Can Foster the Passion and Interest for STEM-Related Studies

Annalisa Galeone
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4287-6.ch015
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Firstly, the authors introduce the concept of gamification design applied to various contexts. Then, they discuss how the gamification approach is used within the space sector to develop online and offline resources to foster passion and interest in STEM-related subjects. Indeed, a decreasing number of students nowadays decide to take up STEM-related studies and careers. Therefore, following an edutainment logic, it is essential to design more gamification activities to increase students' motivation and engagement with STEM topics. Given this, they consider the cases of the videogames Kerbal Space Program (KSP) and MinecraftEdu, the ESA Kids website, Mission X, CanSat Competition, Moon Camp, Climate Detectives, Astro-Pi Challenge, and the ESERO Project. They also carry out a netnographic study on some social media pages. Moreover, they discuss how gamification activities may promote the company's corporate brand for NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Finally, they focus on the digital divide, which might limit the gamification methodology in approaching disadvantaged socio-economic countries.
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Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. - Benjamin Franklin

Gamification is defined as “the use of game elements and game-design techniques in non-game contexts” (Deterding et al., 2011, p. 1) to encourage users’ motivation, enjoyment, and engagement in performing a challenging task with the aim to achieve a specific goal (Patrício, Moreira, & Zurlo, 2018). On a business level, gamification can be applied to many different business functions including Marketing and Sales, Human Resources and Customer Service, with different impacts inside and outside the firm's boundaries (Patrício, Moreira, & Zurlo, 2018).

The aim of this book chapter is to describe how the gamification approach has been applied within the space sector with the goal to promote the study and passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. Therefore, beyond the mere illustration of specific cases, we will explain the advantages of using online and offline gamification activities as an educational source in primary, middle and secondary schools along within universities.

In the following paragraphs, we will go through the literature review about gamification, and cover more in detail the gamification activities carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA (2021) to foster the passion and interest for STEM-related studies and careers. For example, we will discuss the case of the videogames Kerbal Space Program (KSP) (2021) and MinecraftEdu (2022), the ESA Kids (2021) website, Mission X (2021), CanSat (2021) competition, Moon Camp (2022), Climate Detectives (2022), Astro-Pi Challenge (2022), and the ESERO (2021) project (see table 1).

Primary and secondary data were collected thanks to the documentary reading carried out on several sources (see reference list at the end of the book chapter); a netnogrpahic study was carried out on Reddit (2022a; 2022b) and Quora (2022); the information was provided thanks to a traineeship within ESA Education Office in 2015 and my current job as contractor at ESTEC, the European Space Agency (ESA)’s technical heart in the Netherlands. Indeed, I carried out a participant observation study, working as an insider at ESA Education Office with the responsible people who are in charge still nowadays of managing the ESA Kids website, Mission X, the CanSat competition, Moon Camp, Climate Detectives, Astro-Pi Challenge, and the ESERO project (ESA Teach with Space Conference, 2021).

Furthermore, we will also consider how the gamification activities may have a positive influence on the corporate brand in terms of brand loyalty, brand awareness and brand love. Therefore, a netnographic analysis was carried out on Paxi’s Facebook (2022) and Twitter (2022) pages to study the comments and reactions of the followers.

Finally, in the last part of the chapter, when discussing about future research directions, we will consider the topic of the digital divide which may become a limit in designing online gamification activities in developing countries.

Key Terms in this Chapter

ESERO: This ESA project helps to foster interest and passion for STEM-related studies and to stimulate young people’s awareness of Europe’s space programme. The ESEROs are distributed across Member States and staffed by local experts who work in partnership with their national education authorities and networks. Currently, ESA has established eighteen ESERO national offices.

Space Sector: It refers to the economic activities related to manufacturing components that go into Earth's orbit or beyond, delivering them to those regions, and related services. This sector encompasses intergovernmental organisations, private companies, and several other actors who contribute to deliver the final product or service.

European Space Agency (ESA): It is an intergovernmental organisation of 22 Member States dedicated to the exploration of space. It was established in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, France.

Kerbal Space Program (KSP): It is a space flight simulation videogame developed by the Mexican multimedia company Squad and published by the American company Private Division. The players take charge of the space program for aliens known as the Kerbals. The game features a realistic orbital physics engine, allowing for various real-life orbital maneuvers.

Edutainment: It is a derived word which states the marriage of education with entertainment. The aim is to design educational activities which teach and entertain at the same time.

Corporate Brand: It encompasses the name, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies a company as distinct from other companies. It describes an organisation as a whole and aims to create a consistent corporate image.

NASA: It is the acronym of National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research.

Digital Divide: A division between people who have access and use digital media (e.g., the Internet, mobile, PC, etc.) and those who do not. Typically, this gap is more prominent in developing countries where the socioeconomic living conditions are worse.

ESA Kids: It is ESA website targets primary school children from 3 to 10-years old. This e-learning portal is dedicated to the alien Paxi and it has many didactic resources, mostly presented with a gamification approach.

Mission X: It is an international educational challenge, designed for students age 8-12, that focuses on health, science, fitness, and nutrition and encourages pupils to train like an astronaut. Teams of students complete Mission X activities to earn points and help the mascots, Luna and Leo, to virtually walk closer to the Moon until they reach it.

CanSat: It is a simulation of a real satellite, integrated within the volume and shape of a soft drink can. The challenge for students is to fit all major subsystems found in a satellite, such as power, sensors, and a communication system, into this minimal volume. This challenge is organised by the European Space Agency (ESA).

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