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College Courses as Live Games

2010 March 24

I said I’d hold off posting for a week or two – and that was certainly my intention – but some stories are just too interesting to pass up.

Consider the case of Lee Shedon, an instructor at Indiana University who has replaced the traditional A-F grading system in the courses he is teaching with a XP system.

XP, which stands for “eXperience Points,” are the bread-and-butter of role-playing games.  Players will complete in-game objectives (often called quests) to earn XP, enough of which allow them to increase in “Level.”  The higher the Level of a player, the more skills their in-game persona will be able to access.

In the case of this game design class, students earn XP for completing assignments.  They are grouped into student teams (which Sheldon called ‘guilds’).  They then complete either solo quests or group quests to earn XP.

The reaction to this system has been quite positive, based on general student reactions.  But the question remains as to whether implementing this sort of system with a group of students less familiar with XP, guilds, and related concepts than those enrolling in a game design class would experience the same positive reaction.

My concern is more psychological – that if implemented incorrectly, this sort of educational intervention would take the focus away from mastery of course material, and instead toward simple completion.  If you earn XP for being part of a project team, and quality is not judged somehow, that might have negative outcomes for students.

Sheldon also suggests that these principles could be extended to the workforce, but a system where you gain experience points for doing your job may be unwise in the long run.  After all, when I’m gaming and the effort required to earn XP no longer seems to be worth it – I just quit.

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