Principles of a Casual Serious Game to Support Introductory Programming Learning in Higher Education

Principles of a Casual Serious Game to Support Introductory Programming Learning in Higher Education

Adilson Vahldick (Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina (UDESC), Brazil), Maria J. Marcelino (Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal) and António J. Mendes (Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1034-5.ch004
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Casual games are characterized for their fast learning curve. Casual games tasks usually are short and have increasing difficulty. This seems an interesting approach to learn and practice introductory computer programming concepts for students that face difficulties. Many of serious games intended to support computer programming learning are commercial and aimed at children. Also only a few of those described in the literature are available to teachers. This chapter describes the development of a new game that aims to support introductory computer programming learning and its pilot study with three undergraduate introductory classes. The chapter proposes a set of design principles that might be useful in the development of casual games to support computer programming learning. These principles resulted from the experiment and include game features that were considered important to engage students and to improve some students' computer programming skills.
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Worldwide demand for Computer Science (CS) professionals is growing, and despite Information Technology (IT) is so embedded in people's everyday lives, it is observed that the demand for computer and information sciences degrees does not follow it (Litan, 2015; Looksharp, 2015). Students figure out early that learning computer programming is hard and a very complex subject (Gomes & Mendes, 2007). Governments have introduced initiatives to teach concepts of Computational Thinking (CT) from an early age in schools as a way to meet the demand (, 2015). However, what about the current undergraduate students? For a long time the problems and difficulties in introductory programming learning have been researched, and some solutions have been proposed (more appropriate languages, improved pedagogic strategies, visualization and simulations tools, among others) (Du Boulay, 1986; Winslow, 1996; Mannila et al., 2006; Pears et al., 2007; Shaw, 2012). Anyway, some studies contend that the key factor in promoting programming learning is persistency and the student intensive and disciplined practices (Robins et al., 2003; Lahtinen et al., 2005). This requires that the student has a high level of motivation, which must be stimulated by the teacher and the pedagogic environment. Individualized scaffolding by teachers, either in person or by intelligent environments that replicate their presence (Piech et al., 2012), rich pedagogical contexts, for example focusing the programming exercises in areas that interest the students (Gomes & Mendes, 2015). Some undergraduate courses have adopted the development of small games as motivators (Bayliss & Strout, 2006; Barnes et al., 2007; Morrison & Preston, 2009). Other introduced the use of games to reinforce concepts, to support the development of abstract concepts, bringing theory and practice closer, and as an alternative to the traditional programming exercises (Eagle & Barnes, 2009; Muratet et al., 2010; Lee et al., 2014).

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