“If you look at gamers, how can they be so attached to the game?” asks Professor Pey Kin Leong, Associate Provost, Digital Learning, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). The answer to that question is the key to making school exciting.

SUTD will be rolling out a new teacherless and free computer science programme later this year, in collaboration with Ecole 42, a non-profit French institution. The programme looks to supply the IT industry with fresh talent, and break the mould of the traditional school environment.

Leaders from Singapore University of Technology and Design share how gamification techniques make this programme more fun, and how it gives students more ownership over their learning journey.

Gamification

SUTD will set up a coding campus with no teachers. Students learn through “quests” and group work tasks, explains Pey. Gamification is a key part of this platform, he says.

In traditional video games, success brings more points, which advances the player to the next level. The programme will adopt a similar strategy, with students accruing points by completing tasks, as well as evaluating and commenting on the work of peers.

Some of these points go towards a digital wallet, explains Allan Chan, Deputy Director, Office of Undergraduate Studies, SUTD. Other schools partnered with Ecole 42 allow students to redeem these points in exchange for access to campus facilities. For example, students could book a conference room for two hours to watch a football match, Chan shares.

Making lessons fun could motivate students to learn. If you ask “how many students would like to go to school, I don’t think many of them would like to”, he says. But by gamifying the entire learning journey, it makes the students’ learning experience fun”, Chan emphasises.

Not every student learns at the same pace. The programme is designed in such a way that students can learn at a pace that they are comfortable with. The campus is open 24/7 so that students can access the campus any time they want. This ultimately helps to make the course a personalised experience, says Pey.

The course also means that “the student has to take the ownership in planning their learning”, Pey continues. Students shoulder the responsibility of managing their time and completing tasks, just like in working life, he says.

The approach is that instead of relying on teachers or textbooks, “you have to ask your friends, you have to Google it, or you have to figure it yourself”, Chan explains. “Try, fail, try, fail until you succeed. That’s what we want the students to do,” he adds.

What’s different about this course?

Pey and Chan highlight some key differences between this new programme and regular university programmes. First, individuals don’t require stellar academic achievements to apply.

The admissions criteria involves passing an online test and a four week bootcamp “based on how well you communicate with one another, problem solve work as a team and how you find solutions”, says Chan.

Focusing more on skills, rather than academic achievements, is in line with new policies from the country’s Ministry of Education. Some universities now value “other yardsticks of merit”, explained Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, at the course’s announcement.

This means that young people, those currently working, or stay-at-home parents can all apply and build their critical life skills while managing other life commitments, Pey highlights.

Students in this programme have to look for internships and jobs. But students shouldn’t have a problem finding work experience, he shares.

Similar programmes in other overseas campuses found that companies were coming forward with internship opportunities for students, due to a lack of manpower in IT industries, says Pey.

Looking ahead

This course will help to meet a demand for IT professionals in Singapore, Chan highlights. Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stated that in 2020, Singapore needs 60,000 new IT workers over the next three years, he cites.

The problem is that institutes of higher learning in Singapore only produce 2,800 relevant graduates a year. SUTD aims to address this issue.

It looks to develop IT skills for students who may not be doing IT-related courses.

At the undergraduate level, SUTD is currently embarking on the use of technology in teaching. For example, architecture students learn how to code so they can design objects in an AR/VR environment, Pey shares.

How do you make school work more fun, produce a new generation of IT professionals, and enable citizens to take on a lifelong learning journey? Providing a free, gamified course on coding is a good place to start.