Gamers don’t get a bad rap in BIA 375, a business intelligence and analytics class taught by Cynthia Corritore, PhD, a professor in the Heider College of Business. In fact, Corritore wants her students to spend more time in virtual play, because it leads to mastery of her course’s material.
Dr. Corritore likes to shake things up in the classroom. For the past three years, she has taught Business Application Development as a flipped class, meaning students listen to class lectures and prepare for class on their own then master the material with hands-on projects in the classroom where they can ask questions and discover through doing.
This year, Dr. Corritore taught the course as a Massivel Multiplayer Online (MMO) game. In the case of BIA 375, the storyline is set in the Amazon, and students begin the semester as zig-zag beetles. To become human, they must learn basic coding skills. As they progress in these skills, they simultaneously advance through the levels of the rain forest and become different animals. The end result is to regain their humanity, or learning all the requisite skills to design and code their own application.
“I wanted to use a teaching method that increased student engagement and something called Student Ownership of Learning (SOL). SOL has been shown to increase grades, learning and retention,” says Dr. Corritore. “I have also been interested for a long time in the concept of gamification of learning,” which lends itself naturally to SOL. In fact, the multiplayer classroom method of teaching dovetails nicely with the flipped method, “so it was a perfect fit for my course,” Dr. Corritore adds.
But it is not simply jumping on a pedagogical bandwagon for the sake of trying something new. “The trick is to find methods of instruction that are more than just glitz and flash. We need tested methods that actually improve student learning and retention,” says Dr. Corritore. MMO fits the bill on both counts.
Senior BIA and marketing double major, Karl Kristensen, enrolled in BIA 375 to build a mobile app. He did not realize the class would be taught in MMO format. He liked that the method allowed for collaboration (students were gathered into guilds to craft their way through the different Amazonian levels) and included group projects (quests within the Amazon). That students are free to master material in the style best suited to their learning was also a plus.
“I felt that learning through play was hard to adapt to at first,” says the Elizabethtown, KY native. “Throughout college, most classes are set up pretty much the same, and then you are thrown into this class that is nothing like the rest.”
This initial discomfiture is understandable, Dr. Corritore says, but is sometimes necessary to a student’s true mastery of material. “I think the way students learn is changing, and the environment we’re in is changing,” observes Dr. Corritore. “We’re not just teaching them material anymore. We have to teach them to solve problems and learn by themselves.”
But Kristensen soon warmed to the innovative method. He appreciated that there was more reinforcement of material with the flipped classroom and MMO approach. His group developed a weekly menu-planning app that built a grocery list, offered the best solutions to buying groceries and tracked meals for busy college students and young professionals. New to coding, Kristensen said the biggest challenge was not creative but practical in nature: learning a new language – coding – and simultaneously implementing the language in a working app. But it was also the most rewarding aspect of the class.
“What I like most about Dr. Corritore’s set up was that I was able to work at my own pace,” says senior accounting and BIA double major, Analulu Costilla. She says coding involves more than stringing characters together; it requires research, and research takes more than a few days. “Having flexibility with my time, I was able to think and problem solve without feeling pressured to come up with a definite solution or answer by a certain point, the Grand Island, NE native continues.
Costilla and her team designed an app called Designated Drinker, which integrates safety and self-control into drinking. Users calculate their blood alcohol content threshold by their weight, gender and time lapse of each drink. For a ride home after a night of fun, the app includes the ability to contact Uber.
The realization of what Costilla and her team had accomplished hit her before the mobile app competition, Argy Bargy, held on Dec. 8. “It was crazy to think that every little project we were assigned to do was somehow molded into this application I was now holding in my hand,” says Costilla.
She loved the group effort the course required. “Imagine sitting with friends, listening to music, tossing ideas back and forth and laughing about our rather stupid mistakes. That was my BIA class on a regular basis,” says Costilla. “Sometimes the best classroom setting is the one that is least like a classroom and more like a soccer field – where everyone must work together to get to the final goal.”