George Brown College design and McMaster biology students team up to create game-based learning platform

Images from the Cells at War game created by GBC students

Students from George Brown College’s School of Design put their skills to work to create a game-based learning platform for McMaster University students studying how diseases attack cells.  

McMaster’s Department of Biology reached out to the School of Design to build a game-based learning platform that explores how different diseases attack cells and how those diseases can be treated and defeated. Thanks to funding provided by Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL), students from both schools came together to make it happen. 

George Brown student Giacomo Ponzi, who was the project game designer, said it was exciting to work on a team with a wide range of expertise. 

Cells at War logo - 3 orbs with faces, text Cells at War

"Cells at War is a project born by the collaboration of students of different backgrounds, who desired to create a new educational tool that takes a fresh step into a learning experience that is up to date with today’s technology,” he said. “It was incredible to work on this project and to be able to lead such an amazing team." 

Students work under real-world time constraints 

While collaborating on Discord, in just three months students built the platform along with the first mini-game where a cell battles Pompe disease. The students also created a digital textbook about the genetic disorder and an interactive 3D model of a cell. 

“Cells at War included an inter-disciplinary McMaster-George Brown team comprised of Biology, Game Design, Game Modeling and Game Animation students," said Jean-Paul Amore, Program Coordinator, School of Design. “Besides learning how to develop a game under real-world constraints in an entirely virtual environment, our students also learned how to work with subject matter experts without a game development background.” 

A successful first step 

McMaster students playing Cells at War

One hundred and thirty McMaster students got to test drive the platform in April and the response was overwhelmingly positive. 

“I personally learn better when I have to do something like a game,” wrote one student in the post-class survey. “It makes me want to learn, it makes learning fun and I remember the concepts better. It reinforces the learning rather than passively listening or reading a textbook.” 

Work continues to secure more funding so students can design four more mini-games for the learning platform. There are also plans to turn the platform into an app and add new features like a leaderboard, customizable avatars and to launch competitions with students outside McMaster. 

“They’ve created something remarkable that takes learning to a whole new level. The platform’s entertaining while upholding the high standard of academic rigour that’s required for the course," said Dr. Rosa da Silva, Associate Professor, McMaster University Department of Biology. "I’m incredibly proud of what the students accomplished.”  

With files from Jay Robb, McMaster University.