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Each semester in Szymon Machajewski’s computing course, students set out on a journey to complete missions and fight enemies, such as procrastination and trolls living under the Little Mac Bridge.


The students aren’t fighting trolls in a literal sense, but the mission is one of several scenarios played out in Machajewski’s Introduction to Computing course (CIS 150). The course is taken by students in various majors like business, nursing and engineering to discover the depth of modern technology and to learn tools like Excel and Access.


Machajewski, an affiliate instructor in the School of Computing and Information Systems, uses a unique teaching pedagogy called gamification to engage his students.


“I strive to make my teaching a game worth playing,” Machajewski said. “Gamificiation is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, like a college course. It helps students track successes and failures, and allows instructors to create an individual path of learning for their students.”

To summarize, playing games helps people develop critical and cognitive thinking. Games prepare the mind to learn, he said.


Machajewski uses gamification to teach technology concepts and practical computing, a skill set he said many students lack despite their upbringing in a digital world.

“Research shows that students are quite adept at social media, but not when it comes to using technology in a business setting,” he said. “In this Intro to Computing course, I hope to help students feel good about growing into technology.”


Machajewski’s research on the impact of gamification led him to develop a short- and long-game theory. He said in order for gamification to be effective, the course must include gameful design of lectures and thoughtful design of the semester-long student journey. Short games include a puzzle or one-minute paper; long-game elements include a large project or a student’s progress throughout the semester. Near the end of the semester, students can use their points in various ways.


The hero's journey:

A CALL TO ADVENTURE           | A new semester

A MEETING WITH A MENTOR   | Meeting the professor

A MISSION                                   | An assignment

THE FINAL CONFLICT                | Final Exam


His course follows the Hero’s Journey, a storytelling cycle that includes a call to adventure (new semester), a meeting with a mentor (professor) and the final conflict (final exam). To play the game, his students use Blackboard, a course management system, and a mobile app designed by Machajewski. The app, called CIS150, received a patent and is available for iPhones and Androids.




Read the rest of the article in the GVM Magazine: Move over, Mario - Professor invents game to engage students in learning - Grand Valley Magazine

Researchers report low achievement, student boredom, and alienation, along with high dropout rates connected to engagement (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004; Swap & Walter, 2015).  Especially in the STEM fields those problems are escalated by high attrition rates. Between 2003 and 2009, 48% of bachelor’s degree students left the STEM fields according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education (Chen & Soldner, 2013). A White House report shows that students leave STEM for many reasons including experiencing an uninviting atmosphere, having to pass weed-out classes, and discovering that courses demonstrate no relevancy (Lander & Gates, 2010).  Student engagement is shown to be linked statistically to the rate of student graduation (Price & Tovar, 2014).

STEM is just an example, but other disciplines also struggle with engagement issues. The study of gamification, and human motivation, will help faculty to explore practices to improve engagement to benefit students.  Further benefits include faculty who increase their own enjoyment of teaching introductory courses.  Benefits further include programs that are able to retain more students, and organizations, which can produce more graduates.




Chen, X., & Soldner, M. (2013). STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields, 102. Retrieved from

Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., and Paris, A. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept: state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59–119.

Lander, E. S., & Gates, S. J. (2010). Prepare and inspire. Science (New York, N.Y.), 330(October), 151.

Price, D.V. and Tovar, E. (2014) Student Engagement and Institutional Graduation Rates: Identifying High-Impact Educational Practices for Community Colleges, Community College Journal of Research and Practice, Vol 38, No 9, pp 766–782.

Swap, R. J., & Walter, J. A. (2015). An Approach to Engaging Students in a Large-Enrollment, Introductory STEM College Course. Journal Of The Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning, 15(5), 1–21.

Please, enjoy a few resources to introduce gamification through peer-reviewed articles and free books.


Fuchs, M. (2014). Predigital Precursors of Gamification. In M. Fuchs, S. Fizek, P. Ruffino, & N. Schrape (Eds.), Rethinking Gamification. Lüneburg: Meson Press. Retrieved from


Gasiewski, J. A., Eagan, M. K., Garcia, G. A., Hurtado, S., & Chang, M. J. (2012) From gatekeeping to engagement: A multicontextual, mixed method study of student academic engagement in introductory STEM courses. Research in higher Education, 53, 229-261. From Gatekeeping to Engagement: A Multicontextual, Mixed Method Study of Student Academic Engagement in Introductory STE…


Brame, C., (2016). Active learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [todaysdate] from

Active Learning |   Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University


Granic, Isabela, Adam Lobel, and Rutger CME Engels. "The benefits of playing video games." American Psychologist 69.1 (2014): 66.