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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