Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Constraints and Autonomy for Creativity in Extracurricular Gamejams and Curricular Assessment

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Constraints and Autonomy for Creativity in Extracurricular Gamejams and Curricular Assessment

Article excerpt


Software development is a large part of computer science. The computer programming that underpins this is an objective skill which often requires assembling a precise sequence of ordered instructions that conform to a specific syntax. However, it is often also a very creative process that involves designing and building systems, subsystems and objects in such a way that they exhibit desirable qualities such as efficiency, reliability and maintainability (Hunt, Thomas, and Cunningham 2015). Choosing which qualities are most important, and how best to optimise for those qualities, requires a good deal of creativity. It is proposed that the sheer number of algorithms available to solve the problem of sorting a list of numbers is evidence of the need for divergent thinking in programming. John Romero, founder of id software and creator of the seminal first-person shooter game Doom, describes programming as ‘logic-based creativity’ (Ewalt 2006).

In this article, the role of constraints and autonomy on student creativity is considered. Firstly, models of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are presented and autonomy is highlighted as an intrinsic motivator. Following this is an argument that when learning to write a code there is a need for personalised challenges that are well matched to the subject’s skill level, together with some of the problems faced in large cohorts, where it is tempting to allow students to generate their own challenges as a means of customising each challenge to the individual.

Next, the benefits of extracurricular gamejams to learning are presented as a conduit for students creating their own challenges, along with first-hand experiences of gamejams and efforts to increase diversity and creativity through the application of constraints.

Finally, experiences of providing additional autonomy through coursework are offered together with some empirical data.


Motivating factors can often be split into two categories: intrinsic motivators, which originate from within the motivated task itself, and extrinsic motivators, such as financial reward, or marks on an assignment that are not part of the task itself. Ryan and Deci’s (2000a) theory of self-determination identifies three intrinsic motivators as competence, autonomy and relatedness.

Ryan and Deci (200b) developed self-determination theory further with the introduction of cognitive evaluation theory and organismic integration theory. Cognitive evaluation theory applies to intrinsically motivated activities and considers the perceived causality and perceived competences of a motivated task, for example, why a subject perceives that he or she is motivated to act and whether a subject perceives an increase in competence from his/her action. An additional extrinsic motivation to act will undermine any intrinsic motivation to act. A perceived increase in competence as a result of an action will increase intrinsic motivation, and a perceived decrease in competence as a result of an action will decrease intrinsic motivation. Organismic integration theory applies to extrinsically motivated activities and acknowledges a range of extrinsic motivators based on the degree to which a subject internalises the causes of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivators often have a negative impact on creativity. Glucksberg (1962) demonstrated that the presence of extrinsic motivators when presented with a problem to solve resulted in functional fixedness – an inability to think outside of the box. Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973) also demonstrated the negative impact of extrinsic motivators on creativity. Through experimental observations of nursery-aged children’s drawing activities in groups that were given no extrinsic reward, an unexpected extrinsic reward or an expected extrinsic reward, they noted that children who received no award or an unexpected reward displayed a slight increase in intrinsic motivation to engage in drawing. …

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