The Multiplayer Classroom


I’ve just read The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon. Sheldon, who teaches video game design, set up his whole classroom as a multiplayer game in which students went on quests and leveled to the next highest grade. He has written a book about it which includes not only the story of his experience but also a few stories from teachers who’ve used this approach for classes from 7th grade math to high school biology and college education classes.

Teachers who’ve tried making their class into a game find in some cases that retention, motivation, and attendance improve. It also sounds like fun, and student comments suggest that they find it fun.

It’s an exciting book to read, because it opens up intriguing new possibilities. At no point, however, does Sheldon provide a step by step plan for transforming your class in this way. So I tried to think about how it could work for my writing classes. ‘

Here are the characteristics that seem to make a classroom into a game, and how it might work in a writing class:

  • Avatars and Guilds In Sheldon’s classes, students use “avatars,” or character names and identities, and are placed into “guilds,” or groups working together. My classes work in groups a lot, but I encourage them to mix it up and work with different people. If one group prefers to stick together, I allow it, but I also make an effort to create random teams and pairs. Guild thinking could provide some good opportunities for peer pressure to follow rules, though: some of the teachers in the book gave everyone in a guild extra points if all  guild members did their homework, for example.
  • Leveling Instead of or in addition to grades, students in game classrooms get to “level,” or rise to a higher status in the game, by getting points. I already give points, though some teachers have everyone start with an A and then take away points. Some don’t use a point system at all. Leveling is more public than grading, but it may also come with less emotional baggage. Many of the teachers who wrote about this — including those who separated leveling from grades entirely — found that students were very positive about leveling. I’m not a gamer, but I think I get that. If you look at our About Us page, you’ll see that I’m displaying my 99 points badge from Website Grader, even though I’m quite sure that nobody cares, and I certainly don’t get anything from it. Sometimes those points give you, as Sheldon puts it, fiero. XEODesigns defines “fiero” as “hard fun,” which is exactly how I like my classes to be. XEODesigns has a game plan framework which I think will make an excellent planning tool for my writing class — and maybe for yours, too.
  • Quests Instead of assignments, a game classroom has quests. While many of the teachers in the book used ordinary assignments as their quests, they had options (what we might usually call extra credit, or alternative assignments) and they gave the assignments cooler names. I have students write five papers individually, all of which have rewrites or extra assignments such as turning in an outline first. They do one or two collaborative papers as well, and there are in-class practices on all kinds of topics.  I also have readings and extra credit grammar games. I think the assignments could be turned into quests
  • Chance Sheldon gave reading assignments, and then rolled dice to determine whether or not there would be a quiz on a given day. He also had his students prepare class presentations, and rolled dice to determine who gave the presentation each day. I can imagine this being irritating to some students, frankly. However, I think I’ll reproduce this method for the week or two I spend on punctuation and grammar, since no one but me really enjoys that anyway.
  • Rewards While Sheldon discusses the concerns about extrinsic rewards in education, all the examples included rewards of various kinds, both virtual and physical world. Most teachers give rewards, whether it be stickers or pizza parties or praise, so gamification just makes the rewards more transparent and builds them into the system.

I’m going to try it, at least in a limited way. I have online and face to face classes which use online tools to varying degrees (one of my classes has a requirement that students be able to participate fully without internet access at home, one is online only, and one is officially called a hybrid), so I can explore different approaches.

What do you think?


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