A Student’s Reflections on Grading

Today I bring you a guest post from a recent student. In this post, the student reflects on what it’s like to be in a class that uses gamification and XP as a form of grading. I’m thrilled to be able to share this with you because it’s always helpful to get a perspective on how our students experience the process.

In reading this post, you will first see what the student has written. Periodically, you will see my thoughts on what the student said written in italics. I thought this would be a great way to see the student’s perspective but also delve into why I did what I did. Please enjoy!

Reflections on Experience

I’ll be honest.  Initially, I felt very lost in this class.  Navigating XP was difficult for me because I’ve never taken a class with a similar grading system.  Over the course of the semester, however, I’ve grown to understand it and even appreciate it.  Since we’re nearing the end of the year, I decided to outline pros and cons I’ve noticed about this unconventional system.

  • PRO: There are seemingly endless opportunities.
    • In other classes, I’ve had professors base a grade off of maybe three or four assessments total.  While this can be a plus in terms of workload, I really think this just causes more stress. One bad day can tank your grade, which is unfortunate if you truly understand the material.  With XP, it’s always been a relief to know that if I’ve missed something, I will likely have a chance to make it up.
      • YES! This is the idea. I think students should have many opportunities to demonstrate not just their learning but also their thinking as it relates to a course. Even if you totally skip out on a week during the semester there are generally ways to self-correct and keep going.
  • CON: It is not procrastinator-friendly. 
    • Granted, I know that no grading system should be procrastinator-friendly.  But with conventional letter grades, it’s possible to cram and still make a good grade.  No matter how many teachers urge students not to do this, a brave (or lazy) few always will.  XP ,in contrast, is structured to incentivize early planning.  I blog in another class, one that abides by traditional grades. The professor told us that as long as we have 10 posts by the end of the semester, we will receive full credit for the activity.  She allows us to post twice a week, so even someone who waits until the last 5 weeks can secure a great grade.  In this class, however, skipping that many weeks of blogging would annihilate your grade.  To maximize XP, it’s best to start any quest as early as possible. I am the last person allowed to give that advice, and I’m probably the worst example of prior planning.  For what it’s worth, though, I do think that this class has kept me on my toes much more than other courses because XP builds on itself.
      • Ha ha. Most definitely. My design definitely does not allow for procrastination. You will outright fail if you do so. I want students to be regularly engaged with the content during the semester. If you wait until the end to cram it all end, then you haven’t (I assume) been regularly engaged with the content. Since I have talked a lot about the act of blogging as a course assignment, I have to say I think there’s a real danger in telling students they can blog but at any point (even doing a lot at the end). In reality, this isn’t blogging. Blogging requires sustained engagement with creating new content. Once a week, or maybe every other week, works. Less than that and you’re really not blogging. So I’m really trying to accomplish two things here: (a) keep students engaged with the content and (b) teach them what it means to be a blogger.
  • PRO: Your grade is entirely in your hands.
    • Because you know exactly what you need to do upfront, getting a good grade is just a matter of following through.  I’m not very good at that, but I do appreciate this class for helping me learn how to improve there.  I actually had to sit down at one point and add up the numbers, trying to plan ahead for the next few weeks.  Usually, in other classes, I avoid planning for even the next few days.
  • CON: Your grade is entirely in your hands.
    • I don’t trust my hands!! As I said before, this unique grading system has kept me on my toes. I’m not even kidding when I say that there have been nights when I’m about to fall asleep and then realize, “Oh man, I forgot to do my tweets!”
      • YES! Your grade is entirely in your hands. And I do agree that, for students, it is both a pro and a con. On the first day of class I tell students to make a plan for how they want to achieve their grade. My guess is few people do it, but it’s worth the time to do so. Not only is the grade in their hands, but they have options for how they can meet their goals.
  • CON: The reward system in general can have its flaws.
    • There are downsides to any reward system: traditional grades, XP, junk food, etc.  I work with an autistic individual, and I have to practice a form of ABA.  It’s a system based on operant conditioning, so like XP, it uses points. I award points to encourage good behaviors (e.g. starting a conversation, being polite to someone,) and I’m required to take away points when he exhibits less-than-ideal behavior (e.g. says something hurtful, yells in public.)   I’ve undoubtedly noticed progress. He has flourished in many areas and achieved goals that seemed so far away before.  One problem, though, is the lingering question, “Is he being genuine?” For instance, sometimes he will do something positive and then say, “I was nice to someone!” while looking directly at the point card.  In this class, sometimes I question my own motives.  I’ve wondered before when Tweeting how much I truly care about the substance of the tweet vs. the XP I know I will earn from it.  This uneasy feeling can happen in any class, though.
      • There’s a slight difference here and that is your XP is yours. Once you earn it, you can never lose it. Of course I don’t really know what all students learn from certain activities (like tweeting in or outside class), and I’m sure there will always be students who do something for the grade and could care less about the content. I can’t control that. What I can do is try to provide students with a multitude of opportunities to widen their lens. What they do with those opportunities is ultimately up to them.
  • PRO: The “X” part is very beneficial.  
    • I remember earlier on, Professor Hall said that XP stands for Experience Points.  I enjoy the X part and learning hands-on, like when we’ve had the opportunities to hear speakers and educators in the field.  I’ll admit that I probably would not have attended a talk if it weren’t for the XP incentive.  In the end, the X has definitely mattered far more than the P.
      • I like this a lot. I’m glad this student got more out the experience aspect of the course. I would prefer that anyways. During the semester, I gave bonus XP to students if they attended on campus talks that were related to the course. And I gave A LOT of XP (and I think there were three they could attend).  I offered XP for being present, XP for live tweeting, and bonus XP for writing a blog post about the event. Do as much or as little as you want. Yes, you could rack up some serious points here, but I really wanted to encourage my classes to get out and here different perspective. 

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