The other day, my friend shared this video with me introducing a new program for the classroom called “Classcraft.” This program works a lot like other classroom badge systems (i.e. Class Dojo) but is more complex and geared towards older students. What I like about this program is how it integrates the interests of current students with the typical grading system and classroom structure, translating these into an understandable and enjoyable format. In this entry, I will explain what I believe the strengths and weaknesses of this program are upon initial exploration as well as discuss ‘gameifying’ (no, it’s not a real word, deal with it) the classroom in general. As always, I have divided this post into different sections that you can skip around as you please. I have also provided the introductory video above if you are interested in viewing it before proceeding.
What is Classcraft?
Classcraft is a new online program that contextualizes various elements of the classroom for students in a fun, interactive way and tracks student progress. Each student has a game character that can be positively or negatively affected based on that student’s work and behavior in the classroom. Students are organized into teams and must work together to achieve success in the game. The teacher can affect a character’s health (HP), magic (AP), and experience (XP). As students gain experience, they are able to learn special abilities that have effects inside and outside of the game. Some abilities benefit the student using them while others help the student’s teammates. In addition to abilities, there are also daily events and penalties for dying (HP goes down to zero) that can have similar effects.
I will start with the obvious; the graphics in this program are great. I find the characters cool and fun to look at and I like the overall theme of the site. It really has a MMORPG feel to it that I think students would enjoy.
Clever, Easy to Use System
Once you have familiarized yourself with the symbols and functions of the program, it is extremely easy to use. Familiarization will be slightly more time consuming for individuals who are not familiar with other online classroom sites like Class Dojo or Edmodo but don’t worry, it’s not hard to figure out. Each element of the system is themed to match the game world yet is easily translatable to what is happening in the classroom (literally, it tells you what the real-life effects are). I found myself smiling throughout my experience in the program as it pulled me into the game world and seemed no detail was missed.
Almost every aspect of this program can be personalized to fit your school and classroom. When characters die, use certain powers, or receive random events, they can have real-life effects on the student(s). For example, a power called “invisibility” allows a student to be up to 2 minutes late without penalty when used. In my school, this effect would be problematic as there are frequent hall-sweeps and these students could receive truancy tickets if they are caught in the hallway after the bell. Since I do not want my students to get in serious trouble, I would want to change this real-life effect to something more harmless, such as a bathroom pass. The program will allow me to do this for that ability. The same holds true for the consequences of dying as well as daily events.
This game also provides many options for viewing and inputting player statistics and scores. You can organize information by student, by team, or by class. The program also allows you to input assignment scores and assign consequences for students scoring above or below a given score. These scores can either be entered into the system manually or imported from an electronic spreadsheet.
I could probably make an entire blog post explaining the many ways you can personalize your game so I won’t seek to explain everything here. However, it should be noted that every class you start comes with default settings that are made to match a standard, year-long class, so you can customize your game as much or as little as you want without issue. Additionally, not all elements of the game need to be used for the game to work. You can also change anything at any point, so your game can grow as you do. This, above all other things, is the program’s greatest strength.
The creators of this program really believe in what they have created and want everyone to realize success with their program. There is a wealth of resources available on the site to help teachers and students navigate the program, including a series of videos taking you through the different aspects of the sight and a forum to discuss your experience with other teachers. The written instructions are extremely detailed and include step by step directions on how to start the game in your classroom. In addition to the videos and written resources, the program staff holds online webinars walking you through the program and its implementation in the classroom and answering any questions you may have. The amount of support the game offers makes it usable by all teachers and students, no matter their level technological knowledge.
Requires High Teacher Involvement
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can affect comfort level and overall effectiveness of the program. Though the game allows you to choose how much or how little to use it, it is unknown whether or not the effectiveness of the game will suffer if the teacher chooses not to use all elements of it. Additionally, everything in the game is themed and requires the teacher to play along in order to ‘sell’ the idea to students and foster enthusiastic participation. Where I can’t say for certain that the program will not work without high involvement on the teacher’s part, it can be reasonably asserted that the less teachers do to integrate the game, the more likely it is that the game becomes merely another ‘thing’ in the classroom rather than an engaging tool.
This negative should be taken with a grain of salt (two negatives make a positive 😉 ). Where I believe that the program does need to have a front-and-center place in the classroom, I also believe that it leaves plenty of room for teachers to grow with it and grow you will. Just like any tool, it may take awhile for you to find your stride with this program and use it to its full potential. Don’t let this be a reason not to give it a shot, you can definitely learn how to use it and there are plenty of resource to help you.
Lack of Student Interaction with the Interface
As I was exploring this program, I kept thinking to myself that’s cool, so what do students get to do? Other than seeing their statistics, choosing what abilities to learn and occasionally using these abilities, students do not really have the opportunity to ‘use’ their characters. Where students can gain levels and powers, there is no established end goal for them to reach other than gaining all abilities. If I was a student, I would start to wonder what the point is and would eventually lose interest.
As I stated way earlier in this blog, the game is more or less a glorified virtual badge system. It is a unique way for students (and teachers) to keep track of their progress in class and be rewarded/punished accordingly. The fact that some elements of the game have real-life effects serves to keep the game relevant even without an end goal. However, should it seem that you need an end goal or purpose; it is easy enough to establish additional goals or competitions in your class that utilizes them game interface and student characters.
New elements of the game being released this fall will expand the program and allow students to personalize and interact with their characters a little more. This somewhat addresses this issue and is a good sign that the game is still developing and growing. Since actual gameplay is not really the purpose of the program and is not a necessity for it to work, it is unlikely that more gaming elements will be developed, but that is just an assumption on my part.
Gamification refers to the integration of games, more specifically video games, into the classroom. The prevalence of video games in the lives of students today makes them an important aspect in student culture. As teachers continue the struggle to keep school relevant, the gaming world has slowly been finding a place in curriculum. Its presence has come with some debate and resistance and the question of how to integrate the gaming world into the classroom effectively remains.
There are two general categories games fall under based on how they are used in the classroom. The first of these is simulation games. Simulation games have the students playing through a given scenario utilizing specific knowledge and skills that pertain to class materials in order to attain certain goals. Some of these reflect class material directly while others need further explanation by the teacher. Simulations require little to no teacher involvement for students to complete.
The second category is structure games. I call these games ‘structure games’ because their purpose is to integrate with and enhance existing class structures. Unlike the simulation games, structure games rely on the teacher to work and do not usually take a central role in any given lesson. They also tend to last long periods of time if not the entire duration of the class. Classcraft would fall under this category.
I won’t seek to make an argument here about the merits or faults of gamification as these are summed up pretty well on the Classcraft site (Click here for the page). However, I will tell you what to keep in mind if you are considering introducing video games into the classroom. Keep in mind that in the education world, the term ‘gaming’ can be used quite loosely.
Simulation games are good for between 1-4 lessons depending on the program and how it is implemented. I say this because most simulations are very focused in the content and/or skills that they cover and are limited in their use as a result. I have seen some simulation games go longer but by the time they pass that 4 lesson mark, they have become a background element of the class and no longer serve a central purpose. This is not necessarily a bad thing but since I am focused on how to integrate games efficiently and effectively, I would want to avoid this in most cases. Even though continuing a simulation may allow students to continue practicing and applying skills (i.e. a stock market simulation like Investopedia), it loses its initial impact and ability to teach new skills/knowledge. In short, when considering using a simulation game, think about your end goals for the program and an appropriate time range to reach that goal.
One major argument against simulation games (really gamification in general, but it only works with this category) is that despite the game teaching and requiring students to use certain knowledge and skills, students are more focused on beating the game than on what is being taught and do not learn anything as a result. This argument has some merit so long as students are left to play through without supplemental instruction. I have used a few simulation games in my class and have found that if left to their own devices, students have difficulty making connections between the game and the class material. However, when I checked in with my students regularly and guided their thinking with either discussion or a worksheet, they were able to make the appropriate connections while still enjoying the game. I can’t say how to provide this additional support as this can vary depending on the program being used however; I believe that it is necessary for simulation games to be truly effective.
Structure games are built to be lasting tools in your class and many can be used for the duration of the class. These games typically do not teach new material or skills and cannot work independent of the teacher. Instead, structure games seek to make the classroom and learning process in general more engaging and intuitive for students. Even though the teacher must regularly use/update the game, it is easy to do and usually does not require a lot of time. Since they are not central to lessons themselves, they also do not consume much if any class time and will still work in conjunction with simulation games. If you are planning to use a structure game, make sure to research what is available and choose one (and only one) that best fits your comfort and class structure. I say to choose only one since one is sufficient for any class and you can to focus on mastering the chosen system. Structure games should be present from the start of the year/unit and should be used consistently for its duration.