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Sandbox Generation project

In their practical coursework, these students came up with a project for better quality online education! 

During 2020, the everyday life of elementary school students changed immensely. Although many of them use digital technology while playing, the platforms for school collaboration and communication were a great challenge and an entirely new experience for them. Online learning has proved challenging for both parents and students, as well as teachers. A team of graduate students at Algebra University College detected this problem and offered a solution - the “Sandbox Generation” platform, which should make the teaching process more interesting and fun, but also much more suitable for primary school students.

Sandbox Generation is a virtual platform in the form of classroom that enables easy monitoring and distance learning, intended for first grades of primary school students. By combining education and gamification, the goal is to raise the students’ interest and encourage them to participate in classroom activities, as well as to socialize with peers from their class,” say students working on this project.

Students gain experience on practical projects very quickly

Seven students attending Algebra graduate programs were brought together on this project – by the study program itself. As of recently, Algebra University College has introduced a compulsory graduate-level course in which students, with the support of mentors, develop their own entrepreneurial projects – just as real startups do, at Algebra LAB, the longest-running startup incubator in the country. This means that students come out of college not only with a degree, but also – with a developed project on which they gained their first entrepreneurial experiences.

Through experience on a practical project, students are confronted with circumstances and an environment that is a very true-to-life replica of the real world; they learn how to approach an idea, work in a team, choose the right technology, deal with development challenges in conditions of limited time and resources, assess the market, set a price for their product or service and successfully present themselves and their product or service. During the course, the students follow a fast-paced performance rhythm, timed in a way that leaves little free time and compels them to make decisions frequently and quickly,says Lecturer Maja Brkljačić, PhD, one of the leads on this course at Algebra University College and Business Development Manager at Algebra LAB.

As the project nears completion, students recognize all of the abovementioned elements and perceive themselves as part of a team in a unique context, in which they very clearly recognize their own progress, compared to peers who have not yet had this experience,” underlines Maja Brkljačić.

At the same time, the greatest value is that student teams bring together individuals from various fields, which means that they also have specific sets of knowledge and experiences in different fields. The team behind the “Sandbox Generation” project includes Anton Maurović, Luis Daniel Vasquez Pena and Suzana Antolin from the graduate program of software engineering, Ema Dugonjić and Fabian Babić, graduate students of digital marketing, and Evgeniya Samsonova and Marko Ivanović, graduate students of data science.

The Sandbox Generation combines online education and video games

Students working on this project have noticed that “if it is difficult to follow online classes for us students, who are used to learning independently, then it must be really hard for someone who has just started first grade of primary school”. The solution to the problem, they say, is a combination of two increasingly popular trends: online education and video games. “Using research methods, together we discovered a number of problems that students, teachers and parents faced during the pandemic when it comes to the education system, so we decided to develop a solution that would ease this situation,” they stress.

The main feature of the “Sandbox Generation” platform, as conceived by these students, will be a combination of gaming and learning that will create a fun and easy way to learn online in a virtual environment of friends. This virtual game could allow students to interact with each other by moving freely around the virtual classroom and using the activities offered. Also, the teachers and students could share files through the platform. The plan is for teachers to control the teaching environment and thus maintain a desired atmosphere in the virtual classroom, while the students would learn, solve problems, collect points and socialize with friends in the online environment.

The project we are working on aligns with today’s technology and trends and represents an important step towards the future of online schooling, which makes it an innovative and interesting solution that is a pleasure to work on,” emphasize the students. “In its initial phase, we envisage the Sandbox Generation as a tool for supplementary distance learning, courses, summer and winter online camps, etc. In the future, the goal is to build a platform fully adapted to the curriculum of first grades of primary school and adjusted to the needs of individual institutions,” say the project initiators.

Because of the current situation with the pandemic, many students are faced with the challenges of online learning through standard communication platforms. The main disadvantages involved are a lack of interaction between teachers and students, difficulty in maintaining concentration when watching online classes and the reduced opportunity for socializing and playing among students. As a result, students become disinterested and demotivated to work and start to look for other sources of entertainment in their surroundings,” this student team tells us.

The problem they want to tackle is also that parents are forced to study and work with their children after work to make up for lost time, while teachers again have to invest more time in preparing materials for teaching that are more interactive.

Gamification is one of the “hot” trends in education

The “Sandbox Generation” platform is actually, according to the project’s design team, based on MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) games, so “using the concept of MMORPG video games in conjunction with online education opens the possibility of replicating the physical classroom in the virtual world.

Students will be able to create their own avatar that moves in real time in the virtual space of the classroom and communicates with other players via chat, voice call or smileys, and also solves tasks and collects points. During classes, using their own avatar and special functionalities, teachers will be able to calm the students down and present the material on a ‘blackboard’. Outside the classroom, students can continue socializing in the so-called ‘Open Space’ where they can try solving the tasks from classroom again, play educational games and collect objects,” say Algebra students about their project.

Gamification is one of the main trends in many areas, not only in education.

Gamification is a trend that is becoming more interesting and widespread in various aspects of education, on the one hand, visible from the number of scientific articles dealing with this topic, and on the other, from the number of available learning environments,” says Goran Đambić, PhD, Head of the Game Development Study Program and one of the student mentors working on this project. Goran Đambić,head of the graduate study of computer game development at the University of Algebra and one of the mentors to students working on this project.

This has certainly been aided by the development in technology, but also by the attractiveness of the idea that people learn best when they are having fun. For example, it is not difficult for the average student to remember dozens of names of Pokemon, however, it is less easy memorizing the periodic table of elements, although the amount of information in it is much smaller. Judging by the trends, it is difficult to imagine any digital learning system that aims for widespread acceptance, that would not have at least some elements of gamification,” said Đambić.

It is crucial that practical projects connect students from different study programs

The knowledge gained in undergraduate studies has greatly helped in leading and performing project-based tasks, precisely because of the skills that are developed through practical exercises throughout the courses. However, this project is an entirely new experience and incomparably more complex than anything we have encountered so far,” highlight the students.

They say that the cooperation with students from other study programs played a key role and that this has been a great advantage in developing the project. “We are different not only in the study programs we have chosen, but also we have different previous education, work experience, and backgrounds – all of this has been an immense help in looking at the problem from different angles and facing this challenge. We believe that we would not have been able to achieve all of this if we had not had the inputs of so many different people,” this student team tells us.

Since not all project tasks are related exclusively to system engineering, digital marketing or data science, students use a skills-based approach in project development. Each of them also has interests, skills and experiences outside of their profession, so they distribute the tasks based on that. For example, if someone is great at designing, they provide assistance in that field. If, on the other hand, someone is excellent at handling databases, they will be happy to devote themselves to that part of the project. This way, everyone does what they do best, ensuring the best possible quality of the project.

Mario Fraculj, a marketing professional and lecturer at Algebra University College, also addressed the values ​​of such an approach of gathering teams of students who come from all graduate programs at Algebra. “Such a project-based course provides students with an opportunity for personal development and prepares them for future careers in jobs that include managing digital products and services. When it comes to skills, the course is focused on developing communication and presentation skills, critical thinking skills, leadership and problem solving, as well as teamwork skills, all of which are increasingly sought after by employers,” says Fraculj, and continues: “Collaboration on such a complex, interdisciplinary project has its challenges, but the Sandbox Generation team has successfully overcome them, which is in a sense indication that these young people will soon be able to excel in a professional environment as well.

Mario Fraculj, marketinški profesionalac i predavač na studijima Visokog učilišta Algebra

It is easier to develop ideas with the systematic mentor support

It is also interesting to see what marketing tools such student projects – but also startup projects – can use to break into a very competitive market.

Among the most significant trends, I would single out data-based project development and an agile methodology, which offers flexibility and allows introducing changes to the project in later stages of development, due to new requirements, without causing major disruption. It is also important to place the consumer, that is, the user, at the center of all efforts,” explains Mario Fraculj.

Data analysts need to study large data sets and extract useful insights that will serve as the basis for creating the supply and building value for the consumers, as well as for personalization of messages in marketing communication. I advised students to carefully consider the needs, wishes and preferences of all stakeholders – children, parents, teachers, and even the directors of educational institutions when developing their offer. In this specific project, they used gamification, which is a global phenomenon that has evolved into a powerful trend,” stresses Fraculj.

However, the main purpose of such student projects is to expose students to entrepreneurial thinking and provide them with an opportunity to work on a project that is continuously evaluated and offers continuous support from mentors, without worrying with short-term thinking about passing the exam.

We are satisfied with the course. We have the opportunity to work with mentors with knowledge in business, technical, as well as creative areas. On a weekly basis, mentors monitor the project and give us feedback during the sprints, but we can also contact them at any time and set up additional consultations, which makes the whole experience more enjoyable and interesting. The mentors are definitely willing to invest time to not only present us with new challenges, but also to encourage us and ensure the realization of the project,” says this team of graduate program students at Algebra.

Many ideas fail before they even get off the ground - mostly because people do not know where to start or get stuck in the middle of the process. We are lucky that this course functions like a bootcamp that has helped us understand how to realize an idea from its inception all the way to a product that would satisfy its first users. At the end of the course, we will be able to present a prototype that best represents our idea – perfected with the help of valuable feedback from mentors who contribute to our ideas,” conclude the students.

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