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Blowing Up the Gradebook with Gamification

By April 24, 2017Gamification

Chris Haskell, professor of EdTech at Boise State University, has a unique idea: let’s do away with grades in school altogether and replace them with achievements, points and badges. His idea is to swap out our traditional method of grading and replace it with something closer to leveling up in the game world, which he says is driven by intrinsic motivation and far more representative of the true quality of our work.Making a game of the gradebook? Gasp! Some would say this is absurd. But the idea is quickly becoming popular in educational circles.

Haskell makes a strong case in his TedX talk that our Industrial Age model of education is based on an outdated sorting system which seeks to rake out the diamonds (good students) and bury the rest. Basically we “rate the product: A, B, C, D, F. . .  F goes to the dog food, and the A goes to the top. We’re sorting by quality.”

And certainly, for a time, this worked well for those who were not born into wealth. School was a vehicle for bettering oneself in life and moving out of poverty. But schools need to reflect the society they currently serve. The Industrial Age model is giving way to a new Information Age model, and this requires a set of skills for global citizenship. A global citizen must understand:

  • trans-disciplines                         

  • digital mindsets

  • virtual collaboration                 

  • ability to communicate

How can school accomplish this? Haskell emphasizes that games will be a key player in this new educational landscape. Games are a powerful for many reasons, he says. One is that they are not mandatory—no one is required to play them. We play them for fun, for growth, interaction, rewards and socialization. It’s a free and open field of exploration.

With game elements in mind, Dr. Haskell suggests these classroom rules: No homework, no due dates, students have choice, we let them play through a curriculum, and as teachers, we just do a better job at tracking the learning that’s taking place.

Sound crazy?

Apparently not. Dr. Haskell and the faculty at Boise State University set up a class which awarded experience points for accomplished tasks and allowed ample room for failure. Indeed, failure is a highly valued commodity in the game world, because that’s how you win. Why can’t this apply to learning as well? Multiple paths were created through the curriculum, not just one “winning condition.” Badges, leaderboards, rewards and experience points were set up to take students on a journey through the multiple teacher-designed tasks, or “quests.” The system that formally punished students with Cs, Ds, and Fs was now a fun, interactive way to complete assignments in a more individual format.

Through this process a new quest-based learning management system was born called Rezzly. There will be more details about this LMS in another post, but suffice it to say students LOVED it. The faculty saw a 93% success rate and students completed twice as much work in 30% less time, reporting much greater satisfaction. And many of the students continued to visit the dashboard after the class ended to complete more quests for their own for personal development.

Dr. Haskell makes a good case for blowing up the gradebook!

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