This is the fourth 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.’
I want to talk briefly in this post about some of my design decisions in preparing the syllabus and configuring Classcraft to suit my college Latin class. I know this could get boring and pedantic, but I’m also invested in these posts being a resource for other people considering implementing Classcraft/gamification into their own classrooms.
I opted to adopt a version Sheldon’s basic grading rubric from several of his classes, which lines up XP achievement with specific final semester grades:
The scale somewhat conforms to a traditional semester grade calculation, and presents a clear method for calculating final grades at the end of the semester. While Sheldon has experimented with both 10,000 and 20,000XP caps for the semester, I opted to shoot for 10,000XP. This is in part because Classcraft is designed to distribute 17,000XP over the course of an academic year. In general, one of my principles of design would be to trust that the Classcraft designers had a good handle on how their game worked, especially with regard to point distribution and things of that ilk. Sheldon has also experimented with scaling XP requirements (i.e. requiring progressively more points to achieve higher levels), the better to mirror real RPGs, but that seemed overly complex (and Classcraft isn’t set up to do that).
Classcraft has a basic grading mechanic that I was excited about from the start. As I mentioned before, I valued the fact that the XP vs. HP stats enabled a teacher to keep rewards and penalties separate. When it comes to grading assignments, it reflects this separation by awarding XP for scores over a certain percentage and subtracting HP for scores under that percentage. What that percentage is, and how much XP or HP is gained or lost per percentage point on either side, is completely configurable by the instructor. I liked this, because if students are achieving over a certain threshold (especially on Latin grammar exercises) it should be a reflection of their mastery of the material, and if they are not it likely indicates they have not been doing enough practice at home (again, I think the nature of Latin morphology is particularly suited to this system). So I want them losing HP if they don’t do well on assignments, since that will inevitably result in player death, which empowers me to make them do more grammar learning (see below on death).
For my class, I stuck with Classcraft’s default 60% threshold, especially because it mirrored my 6000XP threshold required to pass the class as a whole. I also stuck with the -5HP penalty per % under 60 (although as I will discuss in a later post, I found reason to recalibrate this later). For rewards, I decided to complicate things a little: since I think we should place more value on in-class quizzes than at-home assignments for assessment (since they are arguably the true measure of an individual student’s mastery), I established +3XP per % over 60 for all homework, and +5XP per % over 60 for quizzes. Classcraft doesn’t yet have the versatility to automate this distinction, so I have found myself having to go into the settings and switch it back and forth before logging grades.
It’s probably worth noting at this point what kind of records Classcraft generates. The software has a perfectly serviceable system for logging assignment grades, wherein you input the max score and then the individual scores of each student. Classcraft automatically computes the resulting XP/HP data, and incorporates it into the students’ stats. As far as I have seen, however, it does not maintain a spreadsheet-style log of individual scores on individual assignments. What you’ll get for by way of records is the stat screen, which just reflects current HP, AP, and XP levels (see above). This does mean it’s easy to see how each student is progressing towards a final grade (the benefit of grading by attrition!), and to track relative progress between students. If, however, you are invested in having a more complete record of their individual achievement, you will need to maintain a separate set of records.
Players die (or “fall in battle”) in Classcraft when they lose all their HP (the game has a particularly nifty representation of the grim reaper it uses for that screen). The game then simulates a six-sided die role to determine a penalty (or “Lament”) they must perform for dying. Here Classcraft definitely shows it’s roots in K-12 education, as many of the Laments are things like “bring food for the class” or “Saturday detention,” penalties that are less appropriate in college (although since many of the things you lose HP for are breaches of classroom citizenship, I think their defaults make a lot of sense). Since my ultimate goal was that students master Latin grammar, and since I thought it more likely they would die from doing badly on assignments than acting out in class, I made all the penalties grammar drills instead. Again, I believe there is a simple but powerful logic here: if you died, it’s because you haven’t learned what is required; go away and learn it!
The death mechanic has an added plus: if one member of a team dies then the rest of their team automatically loses -10HP. This can (and does!) create cascades of player death, resulting in everyone having to do a Lament even if they did fine on a quiz. I foresaw this being a powerful way to motivate students to study together and be invested in the success of everyone on their team (rather than high-flyers soaring away and leaving their fellows behind).
I also had to reconfigure some of the avatar powers, since several of them are more appropriate to K-12 (where being able to eat in class or go get a drink of water are more attractive rewards). There are also some that by default allow students to use notes in exams, which ran counter to my goal of them internalizing Latin grammar and morphology. Reading on the Classcraft Forums helped me generate some suggestions for alternatives. Ultimately I reconfigured most of them around the idea of challenges: I knew I planned to call on individual players or teams to complete certain grammar challenges for XP in the class, so I gave each class powers that would allow them to deflect or steal those challenges. I thought this would create some interesting gaming in later stages of the semester.
With all this out of the way, in the next post I can finally start talking about how this has all been playing out in the classroom itself!
In other reading, Wake Forest Magazine just ran a feature on Ted Gellar-Goad and his gamified Latin classroom. It’s inspiring stuff—my understanding is that he does with pen and paper a lot of what Classcraft will automate for you.