Recently, some students in one of my classes pointed something out to me that I found funny. They were comparing points they could earn between my class and the other class they are in. It was pointed out that in the other class, something might be worth five points. In my class, a particular activity could be worth 1000. We laughed about it, and I explained that I had read when gaming a class the points had to be bigger than what I would normally conceive of in order to fall in line with how video games give XP.
I have enjoyed using larger numbers to think about how to assign XP for quests, but I’ve also struggled a lot this semester in terms of the general balance of how XP is awarded and how I put it back into a traditional grading scale.
When I initially designed the syllabus, I came up with quests and assigned them XP. I then thought through what the spread should be for a particular grade. The grade that the university requires me to give isn’t really an issue. It’s super easy to convert XP into a formal grade.
My issues, if you can call them that, is that I awarded waaaay to much XP and didn’t set the bar high enough for a grade. If I had left everything in place – as initially laid out in the syllabus – I probably would not be having this problem. My problem came about when I started introducing pop-up quests and giving out extra XP for a whole host of things.
Suddenly, things tipped a bit. Students could rack up XP for the maximum grade in a much shorter time span.
Now, is this really a problem?
Yes and No.
Let’s start with no. It’s not a problem because I took full advantage of creating new opportunities that responded to the interests and needs of the students. They have had lots of choice in determining how they engage with the course. This is all great stuff. I’ve never been able to design a course that was so flexible and responsive like I have in this semester.
But, yes, the amount of XP one could earn vs. the grading scale is also a problem. It’s a problem because some students hit the top end fast – within six weeks. Now, these students still come to class, they still engage in twitter chats, and they show up to all these events fully prepared and doing the work (from what I can tell). But I also know that they scale down in terms of what they are doing outside of class – or so it currently appears.
What results is I have a subset of students that can be less and less engaged (if they want to) as the semester progresses.
Whatever Will I Do?
Well, this semester, I’m not doing anything except recognizing my concern and thinking it through. It is what it is. Students can choose to continue on with their work once they have hit top grade if they want. Or not. Up to them.
In the future, I am going to scale the XP up in terms of what one needs to acquire to get a certain grade. I will still plan out quests in advance and assign XP. However, I am also going to plan for things to pop-up. I won’t know what those will be, but I will assume it will happen. Right now, I think the best thing to do would be to craft a syllabus, lay out quests, assign XP, and then figure out based on the XP from just the quests how would I turn XP into traditional grades?
Once I have those numbers I think I will add about 20,000 to them. For example, let’s say that in figuring out quests I decide that based on the quests already constructed an A would be 25,000-30,000 XP. I would then assume an additional 20,000 could be earned by random things happening during the semester so I would adjust that to read 45,000-50,000.
The 20,000 XP figure is a bit random, but I’m basing it on my experiences now. I want to hit the sweet spot of something that is doable – but not doable terrible quickly – and also challenging. I think if I had added an additional 20,000 XP to my grading scale this semester I would not be seeing people getting so far ahead so quickly.
There’s nothing wrong with students getting far ahead quickly. I encourage them to move at a pace that works for them. I suppose my concern is one of sustained engagement. I realize that however I would define sustained engagement, it would come with a caveat that there is a continuum within it that students would move on. I’m not thinking of sustained engagement as a fixed thing – that it can only look one way. I’m more concerned with no engagement once students hit an XP wall. And if students do check out once they hit that wall, well, that says something about the power of grades, right?