Game design professor beta tests a new grading system


An assistant professor at Indiana University is trying something new for his classes in game design: teaching classes as massively multiplayer online games. Among other things, this means students gain experience points instead of receiving traditional letter grades.

Game Politics ran a story today about Professor Lee Sheldon's efforts to turn two of his classes into MMOs, and try as we might, we couldn't quite understand how that would work. Really, how is XP any different than a traditional grade point system?

We asked Sheldon and got back a class syllabus and a very detailed list of how classes-as-MMOs works, which we've paraphrased here:

1) The class is divided into "guilds" and the entire room into six zones that the students have to shift around in throughout the course of the semester.

2) The syllabus is broken into quests. Solo quests are completed by individual students. Pick-up Group quests are completed by pairs of students, each from a different guild. Guild quests are completed by all guild members and the guilds are responsible for dividing up the work among themselves (so it sounds like he won't directly penalize a guild for forcing one member to do a whole assignment themselves).

3) There are reading presentation quests that sound like traditional seminar classes where you use PowerPoint presentations and take questions from your classmates and professor. Sheldon said one time a guild actually presented the reading as a game. "It was awesome!"

4) There's a Solo Campaign: Glossary Building option for students who might not be familiar with MMOs or even video games. Sheldon explained, "On their own everyone researches and sends in suggestions to build a glossary for the class. Last semester we used a textbook that was so riddled with typos, grammar mistakes and factual errors, students hunted for them for XP."

5) The final grade is based on a guild project, which so far has been a concept document for an MMO (because it is a game design class). "Since each guild member received the same grade, I added a secret ballot peer review, so that anyone not contributing would receive a weighted grade," Sheldon said.

According to Sheldon, this approach to teaching has had a major impact on his classes. "The participation in class rose dramatically from the usual 'sage on the stage' lectures," he said. "Attendance was higher. And the average class grade rose from a C to a B compared to the previous class as a lecture."

Much of Sheldon's approach and his experiences will be in his book, Practical Game Design: A Toolkit for Educators, due out in August. We wonder how much XP he'll grant students for reading it.

This story, "Game design professor beta tests a new grading system" was originally published by GamePro.

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