Abstract Details

Leveraging The Gap: Using SDT-Driven Gamified System To Guide The Journey Of The Postgraduate Research Students

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) seeks to highlight how, why, and in what contexts an individual’s behaviour is self-motivated (Deci and Ryan, 2002). SDT hypothesizes that there are three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Though SDT was proposed in 1985 (Deci and Ryan, 1985a; Deci and Ryan, 1985b), there is now a wide range of research into SDT in the area of healthcare, sport, work, and parenting (Deci and Ryan, 2008). Most SDT-oriented research has been conducted on learning (Spittle et al. 2009) principally in motivating students (Trenshaw et al. 2016). Little is known about using SDT needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) in the area of postgraduate research particularly students’ motivation (Hegarty, 2011) to foster study progression and social connection with their colleagues.

One major issue is that the level of autonomy competence and relatedness are often low within research students. Research students are frequently confused on how they are going on with their research work which is causing the feeling of not being progressed in accomplishing their research goal and the feeling isolation. Furthermore, research students are more likely to feel less connected with their colleagues and supervisors. These bring adverse effects on them, e.g., health problems (Kurtz-Costes et al. 2006), disruption in their research work, and dropping out of research programs (Vekkaila et al. 2013).

There are many technology-enhanced solutions readily available to help motivate students to progress in their research programs. Though, these solutions are not grounded explicitly in student motivation theories and are not designed, developed for students to help them with their daily tasks and support social interaction. Little empirical evidence has been collected on the types of support valued by students. To the best of our knowledge, none of these systems considers the effect on the SDT needs of autonomy, and competence and relatedness.

This project is aimed to design and develop SDT theory-driven gamified system applying the User-Centered Design (UCD) process as a possible solution to the problem of low level of autonomy, competence, and relatedness within research students. This gamified system will enable students to set goals, upload their research work and enable their supervisors and colleagues to review their research work.

This study seeks to answer the research question:

  • What is the effect of using a gamified system on research students’ feeling of i) autonomy, ii) competence and iii) relatedness on their postgraduate journey?

We hypothesized that utilizing the gamified system will increase students’ SDT three needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. We developed a gamified system using three UCD iterations. A one-week pilot study of the system informed that game element did not increase the effort among the students to complete their weekly goal and did not increase social interaction. Future study needs to be run over four weeks using a between-subjects technique with a quantitative and qualitative method. Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) measurement (Ryan, 1982) using 7-Likert scale will be used to generate users’ data output. This will demonstrate the effect of a gamified system on SDT needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness compared with the non-gamified system.


  • Deci, E.L., and Ryan, R.M. (1985a). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.
  • Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M. (1985b). Toward an Organismic Integration Theory. In Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, Springer US, 113-148.
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  • Hegarty, B. (2011). A framework to guide professional learning and reflective practice. Doctor of Education thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, NSW.
  • Kurtz-Costes, B., Helmke, L. A. and Ulkusteiner, B. (2006). Gender and doctoral studies: the perceptions of Ph.D. students in an American university, Gender, and Education, 18(2), 137-155.
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  • Spittle, M., Jackson, K. and Casey, M.M. (2009). Applying Self-Determination Theory to understand the motivation for becoming a physical education teacher, Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 190-197.
  • Trenshaw, K.F., Revelo, R.A., Earl, K.A., and Herman, G.L. (2016). Using Self Determination Theory Principles to Promote Engineering Students’ Intrinsic Motivation to Learn. International Journal of Engineering Education, 32(3), 1194-1207.
  • Vekkaila,, J., K. Pyhältö, and K. Lonka. (2013). Experiences of Disengagement – A Study of Doctoral Students in the Behavioral Sciences. International Journal of Doctoral Studies. 8, 61-81.

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