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Enriching Scholarship 2017 – Coaxing Canvas to Support Gameful Pedagogy May 8, 2017

Posted by aquillam in teaching.
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“Gameful” is a model where students build points by completing talks and assessments. In a fully gameful class class, students have an array of options with point values associated with them and they are told what score they have to achieve to earn a particular grade. They then have the freedom to choose which tasks to do and how hard they want to work to achieve a particular grade. Many classes are only partially gameful. Rather than full flexibility, students must complete certain tasks (e.g. a midterm and final) but then have options in other areas (e.g. out of 20 at-home assignments, complete 10.) Some material may even be optional (e.g. you have to know the difference between a terrestrial and jovian planet for the exam, but you have the option of completing a project to assess whether 10 exoplanets are likely to be terrestrial, jovian, or something else). This means some students will need extra resource material, and a different set of assignments. Getting Canvas to do that takes a lot of planning and preparation, but is very possible.

Before deciding to go gameful there are two very important things to consider. First is that it requires a lot of planning and preparation up front. If you’re doing this 2 weeks before the start of the semester, stop. Run a traditional class. Do your planning for next term along the way. Feel free to share the optional materials with your students and create alternate assignments along the way this term, but please do not try to go gameful on short notice. The second thing is that it works best for students with good executive skills. The easily distracted, non-prioritizers and procrastinators have a high rate of failure. They put off doing assignments and skip the exam because they think they can make up for it later in the term. Are you prepared to deal with the student who thinks it’ll be ok it they don’t do any work for the first half of the class and comes in crying and begging for a C- the day grades are due? If not, you may not want to go fully gameful. You can always sneak it in as an array of n projects that can replace up to m homework assignments, or by providing 2 or three options for each week’s assignment.

The most important step is planning out what you want, because that will determine what tools you choose. No matter which choice you make, it’s important to know how many points you will have and how they align to each letter grade. After all, the idea is to start from 0 and accumulate points, not maintain some percentile with respect to the other students. It’s common for gamified classes to have huge numbers of points, similar to a video game. Once you know how many points students need for a particular grade, you can enable a course grading scheme. If you do a custom scheme, you can add extra categories, like “enrolled” for 0 – 10%, “member” for 10-15%, “participant” for 15 – 20%… so students don’t have to see “E” for half the term.

If you want the fully gameful, rack up the points option, you may want to consider gradecraft. Gradecraft allows students to accumulate points and earn badges for completing tasks, reaching milestones, and achieving learning goals. The badges in particular can be useful motivators to keep procrastinators on track. It supposedly integrates with Canvas now, so you can still use Canvas as the single portal to everything.

If you want a mixed class where some assignments are required and others are optional, you want the regular Grades. Racking up a score works best if you don’t use weighted assignment categories. Even if you have categories, if you don’t weight them, you can choose to have Grades display points instead of percent. This makes it easier for students to tell if they’ve reached the score they want.

If you want to use weighted categories, students will see their total grade as a percent. This makes it VERY important to get all the assignments in and published at the beginning of the term, even if they aren’t available to the students. Otherwise as you add assignments it looks to the students like they are loosing points. However, weighed categories makes it easier to make sure your required assignments carry the proper weight at the end of the term. Also, if you want to provide a menu and let them pick n of m assignments to complete, you want categories. Within each category, you’ll set a rule to drop (m-n) assignments.

Once you have your gradebook / Assignments set up, you’ll have to decide how students should access them.

Assignments is the most straight forward way. For each Assignment, you can set an availability and due date. Students won’t see it until it becomes available, and it will show up it their calendar in due date order. However, it doesn’t easily show things like “do one of the following”, nor does it show upcoming big projects, or related resources. For that reason you may want to create a page or use Modules.

Pages are basically webpages. They are probably the simplest solution if you want to provide a menu of options. In particular, you can create a page with a table showing the options for this week, resources needed for each options, and the things you think students should be working on right now.

Modules allow an enormous amount of control. You can choose to do anything from a list of associated assignments and resources to a branching set based on time and performance. For example, you can set up a module so students see what the reading is, then get access to a reading quiz the day before class. If the quiz is self graded, you can set it so they have to get a specific minimum score before they can move on to the next item, maybe the in-class assignment. Alternatively, they could get some additional reading and a prompt to take a similar quiz before they get access to the next in-class assignment and homework. Or, if they get over some higher score, they skip the second reading and quiz and are given a choice of projects to do instead of the regular homework. If you want to get very complicated (like re-doing quizzes or requiring quizzes before they can get access to their project of choice) make sure you test it out in your sandbox. In particular, test to make sure students can do things like change their mind.

Finally, keep in mind that one of the goals in gameful pedagogy is to allow students the chance to fail without failing. if you’re going to offer options like a big project to replace a couple homeworks, make sure if the student has the options and time to succeed in the class if s/he fails on that project. The point is to let them take risks and explore their interests, not to punish them for not following the traditional path.

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