UTSA online information systems graduate course recognized for innovation

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(July 17, 2014) -- Kenneth Pierce, UTSA chief information officer and vice provost for information technology, and instructional developer Josef Varga have been selected as recipients of a 2014 Blackboard Catalyst Award for Innovation. The award honors those in education who challenge conventional thinking to improve education in areas such as teaching and learning practices, software development, mobile innovation, cloud innovation and online program management.

The pair are being recognized for their work in redesigning Introduction to Information Systems (IS 5003), an MBA course that Pierce has taught at UTSA for five years. Because students enrolled in the online course have varying academic backgrounds, he decided to employ game design techniques to help motivate them to spend more time with the course material.

The course now is organized into a series of mandatory and optional modules, which students complete to earn points; students must complete all mandatory modules to earn a C in the course but have to complete additional ones to improve their grade. Students receive badges for specific accomplishments; for instance, students who score 80 percent or better on a quiz on binary numbers will get a Math Geek badge.

To further appeal to their competitive natures, the course features an anonymous leaderboard where students can check their progress relative to their classmates. Of the leaderboard, one IS 5003 student wrote, "That sense of accomplishment and advancement is awesome, and I have never felt that in any class I have ever taken."

Pierce, who presented a seminar on Gamification in Course Design in the UTSA Faculty Center this spring, says using game elements as part of a course design can be a great way to motivate millenials.

"For them, it's all about the experience. It's about enjoyment and self-direction," he says. "It's a lot of work to convert a course from a traditional structure to a game-based structure, and not all courses will lend themselves to this methodology.

But these students will spend hours playing a video game just to earn an in-game reward. Wouldn't it be great if we could generate that level of devotion and enthusiasm about our courses?

Blackboard Catalyst Award recipients were honored July 17 at the annual Blackboard World users conference in Las Vegas.

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