Over the past two weeks, I've talked a lot about the different aspects of Gamification from badges, and XP, to narratives and avatars, and recently the different types of assignments. While I could easily spend another 10 entries talking about this, it's time to wrap up this strand and talk about something which has been a key concern over the past year: pacing. At it's core, the pacing of a Gamified class is a paradox. I tried some things this year, learned from some mistakes, and I think I have a solid plan for next year.
When I first tried Gamification this year, I started the year by proclaiming there would be no due dates. I would recommend when assignments should be finished, but otherwise students would have the freedom to work ahead or behind as long as they were able to finish all the work by the end of the semester. This would be helped by the mastery game system which required students to master each task before advancing...and preventing students from skipping assignments. It only took about a week and a half before I realized this was a bad idea. While some students took the challenge and ran, many were dragging their feet and some sat in class for several days without doing anything. It took much much longer to get anything done, and I really had no way of moving the students along, aside from threatening "you know, the end of the semester is coming..." It was clear that a 2 month checkpoint wasn't nearly powerful enough. I ended up adding due dates back in for "major" assignments while leaving optional tasks more open ended. I would close entire units on certain days (i.e. "I'll be closing all lessons in QUEST 6 next Wednesday") and while this still led to some procrastination, most everyone kept pace.
Indeed, the one major hinderance of the Gamified curriculum in a traditional school system is that there's still a long list of required things. I can't just have students master skills and standards on their own; I'm required to have them read Beowulf, Macbeth, and King Arthur among others. Don't get me wrong, I think the novels and content is great, but it turns some students off. In that sense, the class can't be quite as dynamic as I'd like. The only reason I needed to keep students "on pace" is because there was a such a long list of things which needed done.
Another interesting thing I found was that most students liked sticking together. I designed the course so that students could work ahead, behind, or together and not be stuck waiting for others (with the exception of large projects). The problem is that just about all students were on the same pace...but I had removed most of the full class work. Full class work, in a sense, was sacrificed for no reason. This coming year, I'm still allowing those who want to work ahead to do so, but I'm planning the class day to day to take more advantage of the full class activities, when valid.
In order to pace the class for learners of all speeds, I've set up 20% Time. Once a week, every Tuesday, students will have the class completely free. I won't have any new assignments they should complete; they will get to choose between a few options. Option 1- they can catch up on work if they're running behind. Option 2- They can work ahead on badges if they want an "A" or a 100% or Option 3- They can tinker with their 20% Time research project. This one day per week "break", with nothing needing to be done will serve as a great way to offer choice in the midst of structure.
So that's just a very brief overview of pacing in Gamification. It obviously changes from subject to subject, but it's clear there needs to be an even mixture of freedom and control. If that balance were easy to find, I'm sure someone would have written and book by now. In the meantime, we all just do the best we can.