One of the first, and perhaps most obvious, game-element to include in my course was Experience Points, or XP as they were called in class. In most video games, there's some sort of point system. Early games like Donkey-Kong or Pac-Man had very little story or progression and instead relied upon the acquisition of points in order to keep the player coming back again and again for a higher score. While most games today have moved beyond a strict point system, nearly every game uses points in some way. RPGs (role playing games) are perhaps the most robust example as characters will create avatars who level-up by acquiring more XP. These XP could be exchanged for powers and abilities and became far more utilitarian than simple bragging rights.
In my course, it was all about XP. I ditched the traditional gradebook and grading system and simply went on an XP scale. Each quarter, students had to acquired 2000 XP to earn an "A". If they earned more, they would get a high-A, perhaps a 100% if they were at the top of the leaderboard, and if they failed to hit 2000 XP, they would get some lower variation (typically 1000XP= 5%). Unlike a traditional course, XP rolled over as well. In the second quarter, students had to acquire 4000XP (total) OR earn 2000 XP on top of their previous Quarter...whichever came first. In other words, a student who earned only 1775XP in Q1 would only need to earn 3775 XP for a Q2 "A". Meanwhile, a student who finished Q1 with 2500 XP only needed an additional 1500 XP in Q2 to win the "A". Pretty simple so far.
Now, the reason I did it this was for two reasons: The first was that the course was, at least originally, entirely student paced. I provided some scheduling guidance, but in general, students could work as fast or slow as they wanted. As a result, I wanted to make sure students that worked ahead and completed 2500 XP in Q1 were rewarded with the offer of an easier time in Q2. After all, if a student worked ahead and completed later assignments, that work should still be honored whether he/she completes it in November, December, or January. The second reason was to avoid students falling into a pit early and never recovering. After all, if you failed to hit 2000 XP in the Q1, the odds of you completing MORE than 2000 in Q2 is highly unlikely. There needed to be a way to get students back in the game.
Earning XP occurred in several different ways. The first, and most common was completing assignments. Each assignment had a predetermined number of XP, anywhere from 10 to 200. Some assignments were solely "bonus" and others were "required", though really no assignments were "required" as long as students got to the final point value. That being said, the course was designed so that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to reach the 2000XP mark without trying all the high profile assignments. For examples, in Q1, students were expected to get through at least 3 Units, in which 2100XP were available within the main line of assignments. Students could skip one or two assignments if needed, but not many, and especially not papers or projects. Under the mastery grading system, students who completed assignments at 80%/85% or better got full credit, while those who didn't got nothing...until they completed revisions and resubmitted the assignments. Students could also earn points by completing optional assignment, earning badges (like asking many questions, showing up early, demonstrating exceptional effort on multiple assignments) or designing their own tasks...though this was rarely used.
Some pros of the XP system: Students stated that they appreciated being able to construct their own plans for earning the "A". The ability to visualize their progress served to be motivational, especially for those who normally didn't put forth a solid effort. This was especially obvious at the end of each Quarter as students could figure out how many XP they needed, and then picked assignments necessary to it happen. Additionally, all progress was "locked in", scoring well on one assignment was not undone by following assignments. There was no way to lose XP once it was earned, which is probably a more accurate method of assessment.
Some cons of the XP system: I didn't do a very good job of limiting students from gaming the system. A number of students were able to load-up on small assignments and skip bigger papers down the road. For example, by Q3, several students had built their total points up to 7000XP (even though only 6000XP were required) and skipped the Macbeth paper. Bonus assignments were too plentiful and not enough assignments were required, a simple fix but not one I went for. Additionally, many students who excelled in the class expressed frustration at how "easy" it was to earn an "A". Students with 2500XP earned up with a higher position on the leaderboard...but they all still had an "A". There really wasn't a great way to tell them apart, especially if they weren't competing on the leaderboard...a fact which was universal if they weren't in the top 10. Competition really only worked for those in the top tier..and the rest were uninterested.
Solutions for next year: Limiting the number of XP, creating some assignments that were "required", and implementing a "stars" system in order to better honor those students who go above and beyond. For example, if an assignment is worth 30XP, students can earn full credit with and 85%, 31XP with a 90%, 33XP with a 95%, and even a 35XP with 100%. This would better incentivize students to try beyond "mastery" while limiting the amount of assignments one can skip. Badges will also play a role in earning an "A" rather than XP alone.
In short, XP served as an excellent replacement for grades, they just need to be well monitored and balanced to promote motivation. I used 3D GameLab as my primary tool, one I'd highly recommend, though I'm told there's several Google Drive spreadsheets work really well. Of course, XP alone won't do the trick...I've also found badges are required...a topic I'll explore more tomorrow.