As a teacher, the main struggle one is faced with is class management. Putting up a course plan together and following it is a hefty task in itself, but it becomes even worse when students misbehave or when their behavior impedes the progress of others. Another problem teachers face is lack of student participation in class or lack of involvement in homework. The main reason for students’ misbehaviour or lack of implication is due to a decrease in motivation. Motivating students is one of today’s greatest challenge and as the Vanderbilt University webpage puts it:
The challenge, then, is to provide teaching and learning activities that are both stimulating and offer students a degree of personal control.
This is where Classcraft comes into play(zing!). This software is downloadable over the internet at Classcraft.com and it is a very easy to use software. The enterprise is a family project put up by two brothers and their father. Here is a great video tutorial made in the fashion of a walkthrough if ever you wish to get a wide perspective. It comes in three versions, a free one, a »freemium », wich is also free but allows students to invest real money in the game and a »premium » version which costs a yearly 10$ per class plus 1$ per student. The concept behind Classcraft is to combine a classroom management tool with an underlying videogame frame. It embeds video-game rewarding systems as well as character development present in games such as role playing games. The idea is simple: At the beginning of year, students are introduced to the game by having to chose and create an original concept for their character. The they must choose from three classes of characters: Mage, Warrior and Healer, each with its’ own particular abilities. Finally, the students are teamed up in teams that can go from 3 to 5.
From there, students have to manage four very simple statistics, namely: Their experience points(XPs), their health points(HPs), their ability points(APs) and their Gold pieces(GPs). In the game, the teacher can input some homework or extra work or workshops all disguised as »quests » and »side-quests » that, once completed, will grant experience points. Experience points can also be given in class by the teacher in the fashion of participation points like »Who can answer this question for 10 experience points? ». Experience points are used to level up a student’s character, granting him some »power points » for every leveling up which he can invest to learn new powers.
Such powers are divided into three categories: Firstly, in-game mechanics like the healer’s ability to restore health points to another teammate, secondly, actual real life privileges that students can use in the classroom like being allowed to eat in class, and thirdly, academic relevant powers like having an approved »cheat sheet » during an exam. These rewards, labeled as powers in Classcraft, are managed by the teacher and can be anything he deems appropriate.
Which brings us to the ability points. These are gained through two simple in-game mechanics: One being a daily amount of AP granted automatically by the game and the second is one of the mage’s power to restore APs to comrades. The APs are consumed by the player/student in order to use some of his unique class-relevant powers. Powers can also be used as a response from a teammate about one of the teacher’s decision, like the healer’s ability to give back some health points to some of their team or the warrior’s power to block damage for one of his teammate. Powers can be learned by using a power point, which are granted by leveling up, and can be evolved according to a »spell-tree ». They are all unique to each class and can be used in different fashion: Some abilities are self-serving and other are collaborative. The latter kind of abilities rewards the player who helps out a teammate by giving him more experience points for example. This is one of the many underlying motivational tools implemented in Classcraft. Students want to help each other out because they personally benefit from it; it is a key value taught by the game without students even realizing it.
On the other hand, Health points do not replenish themselves daily and they represent the student/player’s lifeline. These can be deduced from the student by the teacher if he misbehave. Whenever health points are depleted, the student receives a sanction at random in real life like detention or after school community service or anything the teacher will input into the game. Again, in game actions have real-life consequences for the individual student and for his team, because if one teammate »falls in battle », all other teammates lose 10 health points. Here we can notice another motivational tool of the game; students are motivated to behave because if they don’t their whole team is penalized in the end. This peer pressure can be found to be an even better behavioral lever than the teacher’s authority on the student itself. Classroom discipline is therefore auto-managed and correctional measures are no longer felt as personal attacks from the teacher to the students. The students know that a given misbehaviour will result in a given loss of health points because the rules are predefined and so, they take accountability for their behavior because they cannot rely on the excuse that they may be treated unjustly.
Gold pieces are only usable in-game to customize the player’s avatar. They are given by the teacher as rewards for extra good behavior. These do not bear any importance in real life, they are purely made for the student’s feeling of personalization. In the »freemium » version of the game, the students can themselves invest a total of 5$ in the game to customize their character. In the free version, teachers can use gold points as an extra incentive for students to behave well.
Besides the fact that Classcraft is a great class motivation tool, the interface itself is very well done. Teachers have easy and total access to everything in the game, they can interact with their students’ characters and follow their development. The interface can be modified to display different information in order to monitor the progress of students. There is a complete log book that automatically updates itself everytime an event occurs in the game, for every experience points granted, for every health points taken away, for every power used, everything is kept in the log book. The student interface is fairly simple, students can use their powers, learn new powers, customize their avatar and that’s it.
As an ESL teacher, and a Role playing game/ video-game enthousiast, I could easily see the usefulness of Classcraft as a classroom managing tool. I would use this as a motivational tool as well as a way to make interactions in class more casual and more entertaining. I find that it is an engenious way to raise in-class and outside-class involvement through the game platform. It can also be a great social skills building tool as it teams different people together. Through interaction in the game, like healing a teammate, people that would not usually interact now work in pair and help each other out. I think it could help lower the social anxiety that some shy and unpopular students may struggle with and I believe it could help everyone better relate to one another. I would use it to put up homework and have students update themselves with the class material through original quests and I would use original phrasings such as »Your fellowship must travel to the far away land of youtube.com and there you will have to listen to the vision of this link ». It would be an entertaining way to learn, that’s how I feel about it. I believe Classcraft also brings strategy to the class, because students need to be able to rely on their powers and not use too many to deplete their reserve. In that fashion, it teaches them ressources management. Finally I strongly feel that this would help students’ take more responsability for their actions. As mentioned before, their actions sometimes affect their teammates and the rules are clearly stated so anytime they misbehave or don’t complete work, they will get punished in the game automatically. So in essence, it teaches them the values of responsability towards themselves and their actions and accountanility towards other teammates.
For further reference, here is a PDF version of the whole game and how it works.