Gamifying the Semester: SJMC Students Learn the Basics of Web Coding


Web Design Book CoverAssistant Professor Kevin Ripka knew that teaching journalism students how to code would be a challenge. Armed with a background in design and data driven information visualization, Ripka employed his own creativity in writing the syllabus for Web Design Basics (JMC:3611). He knew he would have to make the semester creative and interesting to allow his students to fully reach their potential in his course.

“It’s kind of like a math class,” Ripka says. “HTML and CSS are those skills that you have to get and just use them. It can be dry, so I brought in game mechanics to make it interactive and team oriented.”

The course introduces students to the coding principles and design decisions necessary for web page layout for devices such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones. Students are also asked to read Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird and James George.

The three-semester-hour course is currently offered for the fourth consecutive year. Ripka started teaching this class because he believes students should not only be consumers of the world and its content—they should be producers.

“I want them to have awareness and understanding about what it takes to make a website,” says Ripka. “If you drive a car, you can drive it, sure, but we don’t often understand all that goes in to making the car move. We just consume and don’t understand what’s under the hood.”

The course is set up in four learning stages: Basic Training, Into Space, Design Bootcamp, and Full of (Inter)Action. Students complete activities known as “missions,” larger projects known at “stage bosses,” and a final known as the “final battle” to earn XP points towards their class grade.

Ripka also incorporates whiteboard games and team-based learning activities into the class as well. He gamified the entire class to increase student engagement.

Jokes Ripka: “Everyone would hate my face if it was just about code.”

“My favorite part about the class is the feeling you get from creating something from nothing,” says Jacob Slobe (BA ’18). “I enjoy the creative process itself as much as the end result. Each roadblock you run into along the way leads to some initial trepidation, contemplation, experimentation, and finally a working solution.”

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“My favorite part about the class is the feeling you get from creating something from nothing,” says Jacob Slobe (BA ’18).

In the future, Ripka hopes to add more time and space for students to learn web design: “It takes so much time to understand. It’s like an iceberg. To make a modern website in 2018, you really have to start understanding what is beneath the surface.”