Kyle Geske teaches in the Business Information Technology program at Red River College, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Students completing this program graduate as generalist IT professionals, with skills in computer networking, computer programming, web development, and business.
In the Business Information Technology program, a course called Full Stack Development is an elective course taught in the final term. It is taught in two sections with 25-30 students in each section. Class size is growing.
In earlier courses in this program, the college was very strict in that all code submitted by students for marking must be their own. However, as this is in the last term of the program, there is a need to link the course to real-world experiences through project-based teaching. Also in the professional world of web design, programmers integrate code from a number of different open-source libraries.
The instructor also wanted to increase student engagement by enabling students to choose projects in which they had a personal interest. By working on their own projects, students tend to develop their own ideas rather than merely copy work done by others.
Lastly, marking individual project work with such numbers of students can be very time-consuming for the instructor.
Thus Kyle Geske wanted to find a new way of teaching this course that took into account all these factors.
He decided to take a game-based approach to teaching this course, incorporated into student project work.
The student project follows a detailed process:
- Students pitch the project for instructor approval,
- Following guidelines from the instructor, the student prepares a planning document, including a features list set by the instructor and other features which the student can choose,
- The instructor and student then agree on milestones (deadlines) for different stages of the project, each of which contains marks. If a student misses a milestone, the student forgoes marks but can gain them later with extra work,
- Students are able to integrate open-source software as well as original code into the project. They can also add proprietary code found on the web as long as it is properly attributed.>
- As students add features to their project, they demonstrate their features in class individually to the instructor, who reviews the functionality and coding and awards a mark immediately, so students accumulate marks milestone by milestone
Example of project rubric:
Students can also win half-marks though for ‘an epic failure’ if they choose more difficult features for the project and don’t complete successfully in time. Thus, students’ marks can increase in time with a potential 100 marks for a completed project. Students can also can go back and rework an incomplete feature for extra marks.
Because Red River College’s learning management system (LMS) does not enable this form of marking, Kyle Geske uses an online Google spreadsheet for marking. Students can see who has the top marks as projects progress. Students can go beyond 100 marks by continuing to work on their project.
In this way, students are levelling up their project mark much like a video game player levels up a player character within a game. Students publish their completed project to GitHub so they can share their work and receive feedback from other students.
Example below of the Google spreadsheet for marks (student names removed).
Benefits and Outcomes
Kyle Geske requests anonymous feedback on the course from the students and this shows the game-based approach increases student motivation by providing positive feedback all the way through the project.
The average grade before the innovation for this course was B+; after the innovation, the average grade was A. Many students continue to work on their projects after they reach 100 points, mainly for competitive reasons.
Students like the in-person, in-class approach to marking and there is no exam for this course.
Other instructors who follow in teaching this course continue the same approach.
Challenges and Enhancements
The main challenge of assessing projects in this way is the need to gain the trust and respect of the students early in the course. The on-going assessments only go smoothly if the students accept the instructor’s feedback and critiques, even if it means more work on their part. To build this trust, the instructor must first demonstrate expertise in the technologies used. This style of in-person code review can also be socially/emotionally draining, especially for more introverted instructors and students.
There is considerable research-based evidence that indicates game-based approaches to learning can be highly motivating in the right context. However, building an educational game is time-consuming, expensive and requires considerable expertise.
Nevertheless, some of the key elements of games-based teaching can be more easily integrated into otherwise conventional classroom teaching. This case study indicates continuous marking and feedback, and competition within a project-based structure, can prove highly motivational for students, not only encouraging students to complete on time, but to push beyond the minimum requirements for qualification to seek excellence in their work.
Business Information Technology,
Red River College