The Merits of Classcraft

This is the third in an ongoing series of entries about my experiments in gamifying the Latin classroom. In doing so, I am relying heavily on Classcraft, a web-based classroom-management system that facilitates my multiplayer classroom. Future posts will be grouped under the category ‘Gamifying Latin.’

Screen-capture of team-view within Classcraft

I am going to try to keep this briefer than previous posts, as I want this blog to be readable, and because I want to keep making progress through this series (and get to stories from the field!). In the last post I discussed a couple of Big Ideas from Lee Sheldon’s The Multiplayer Classroom: those of grading by attrition and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. In general, Sheldon was best for giving me examples of gamified syllabuses on top of which I could imagine layering Classcraft. Here, I want to sketch a brief picture of some of the immediate benefits I had seen in the Classcraft system, and how I thought it could enrich Sheldon’s model.

Classcraft essentially provides an online, persistent framework for instituting a MMORPG-like classroom. Instances of the game are hosted on Classcraft’s servers, and both teacher/gamemaster and student/player can login to check stats, update characters, and so on (there is now also an iOS app). It seems clear that the software was initially developed with the K-12 classroom in mind, as many of the default settings are geared towards promoting better class membership (they call it “classroom management”). The reason I turned to Sheldon was precisely that Classcraft seemed to have been built primarily to help manage attendance and participation, and I wanted a model for how to use it to manage all kinds of assessment in the classroom.

I anticipated that many of these classroom management defaults, however, would still be of great use in my classroom. Even college educators face challenges to attendance, participation, and attendance, and Classcraft presented a method to track, reward, and motivate those areas that seemed both straightforward and fun (I have colleagues who use physical grade-books, and claim to log participation in them, but I have never been good at this).

Classcraft also expands upon Sheldon’s use of Experience Points (XP) by adding Hit Points (HP) and Action Points (AP) into the mix. HP is particularly useful because it provides a negative feedback mechanism that does not have to affect the student-player’s grade. I am not a rigid disciplinarian by nature, so I felt like having the systemic equivalent of a nerf-hammer to drop on wayward students would benefit me in getting them in the room and paying attention to the board. I think that Classcraft’s bifurcation of punishment and reward into these two separate points-streams is one of its strongest features.

AP is spent by students to use the powers and abilities of their avatars, which are divided into three classes: Warrior, Mage, and Healer. As I write this I am in Week 5 of the class, and I can say that I think these three classes and their roles in student teams are proving to be well thought-out and balanced. As in Sheldon’s model, students are placed in teams (Classcraft recommends 5–6 players to a team), and the character classes work to support each other in handling the challenges presented by the game. As just one basic example, Warriors (the ‘tanks’ of the game) can spend AP to protect team-mates by taking damage for them; a Healer can then spend AP to heal the Warrior, and a Mage can transfer their AP to Warrior or Healer to recharge their ability to use their powers.

My friend Matthew Belskie commented on the last post with a concern that Sheldon and his ilk were just using a veneer of gamification to present an otherwise traditional classroom. It is with the character classes, HP, and XP that I think a class starts becoming more truly game-like, especially as leveling up brings with it new powers and abilities, and thus improves the students’ ability to play and succeed at the game. It also earns them coins they can use to trick out their avatar, and if they so choose they can adopt and train pets (I have yet to see one of these, as no-one’s pet is sufficiently well-trained yet). So Classcraft promotes investment in earning XP, using both superficial and more meaningful rewards. I took it as a good sign that on Tuesday of this week a student emailed me to complain I hadn’t awarded the XP for attendance on Monday, especially because she needed those points to advance to the next level.

Perhaps most importantly, Classcraft also presents an easy system for managing all the points in a class like this. If you are an educator who has looked at Sheldon’s book you may have shuddered at the complicated breakdown of his semester grades, which probably requires some rather intense spreadsheeting to track and compute. This is all handled by Classcraft’s software, which feels robust and has numerous different ways to add or subtract XP to individuals, teams, and the class as a whole. The software also enables what I would call micro-transactional grading, in that it’s now extremely straightforward for me to give very small rewards for small achievements, in a way that is still visibly cumulative to the students. Again, I am not quite sure exactly how my colleagues assign numerical value to “check-plus” participation grades at the end of semester, but I can give a student 20XP on the fly for showing competence at a specific concrete task (which, for perspective, computes to 0.002% of the XP required for an A), and do it openly and transparently.

In the next post I will present a brief account of some decisions I made in setting up Classcraft for the college Latin classroom, and then I can hopefully press on with talking about how the actual implementation is going.

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