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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One Year Ago

Two Years Ago


Reading Without Walls

Before we launch into today’s post, I’m sure you noticed I changed the name of the blog. Why did I do that?

Two reasons:

  1. I’m not bored anymore. I have a new job with lots of new exciting opportunities that have me revved up.
  2. I first got the name Teaching Academia in trying to narrow down what my YouTube channel should do. That channel has been all over the map, but I finally got a grip. I’ll be focusing on specific teaching tips you can use in academia. Think of the blog as extended discussions on teaching and learning which will include greater elaborations on how to teach than the videos.

The nice thing now is that the blog and the YouTube channel are in sync with each other. Each month I’ll be back to posting a review of new material from the channel (last Thursday of each month starting in May)

And now…on with the post!

Reading Without Walls

The other day I heard about this fabulous initiative from Gene Yang called Reading Without Walls. The idea is to get people reading more diverse books, and you can see the guidelines here. Although this is officially happening in the month of April, I thought I would take the idea and infuse it into my online classes for both fall and spring of the next academic year.

What’s really great about the rules of the challenge is that they could be implemented into any class. You could use them as is or tweak them as needed. For example, the rule, “Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about,” could be modified so that students are reading a book in an area they have minimal knowledge about but that fits into whatever subject area your class is on.

I’m teaching a class on adolescent literacy, so I’m asking the students to select young adult literature (any genre and any format) that adhere to Yang’s guidelines. I’m still working on the directions. However, there will be lots of options embedded within it so that students can dive into it deeply or just dip their toe in the water. My goal with this assignment is to use it:

  • use it as an opportunity to work in young adult literature; i previously did not have this as part of the course. i wanted to, but one course can only do so much; i like that i can connect the reading of young adult literature to a wider purpose
  • help expand students’ understandings of and experiences with YA literature. think of the opportunities that exist here in terms of students getting to select their own books and deepen their knowledge of your subject area; that’s too amazing to pass up!

Of course you might be wondering how I will know if people read the books. I simply said that students have to provide evidence that they read them, and they can do that however they wish.

Going Even Further with Booksnaps!

Earlier in the week I had started thinking about incorporating booksnaps into my class. I’m relatively new to the whole #booksnap thing, but as I understand it the basic idea is that you identify meaningful quotes from your text. You take a picture of these and put them into snapchat. That’s the gist of it.  The following video will show you a bit more:

What I chose to do was make this essentially a bonus aspect of the Reading Without Walls assignment. Although, technically, I could expand it out and allow students to do booksnaps with anything. For now, students create the booksnap in snapchat, share it on twitter (#booksnaps) and the compile a list of their booksnaps into Storify which they give to me at the end of the semester. I’m not requiring booksnaps because I know not everyone wants to use snapchat and twitter. It is an interesting way though to pick up extra points as a student.

And that’s it!

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One Year Ago

Two Years Ago

Taking An Online Course: Lessons Learned

While I am in the early stages of planning my online course, I am also in the middle of taking two of them! It made me wonder how many people who teach online courses have gotten the opportunity to take one? We’ve all taken plenty of face to face classes for years on end. Doing so has given us lots of opportunities to consider what we like or don’t like about that type of instruction. But I’m guessing most of us have had very limited opportunities to see what online classes look like and to experience different structures.

I didn’t seek out online classes because I wanted the experience of taking them. I happened to come across two that fit my professional needs and so I signed up for them. While I am learning content relevant to my needs in both courses, I am also taking the time to pay attention to how the instructors organize the courses and what kinds of experiences I get as a student. In today’s post I want to discuss some of the big ideas I have learned from one of them.

Background: The Twitter Masterminds

Twitter Masterminds is an online course developed by Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19 on twitter). The goal of the course is to help you become an expert at using twitter. This includes identifying relevant people to follow (and hopefully be followed by) and how to use twitter in more thoughtful and mindful ways.

I had found myself in a bit of a twitter rut. I enjoy using the tool. I’ve written a lot about how to use it in teaching. However, I was getting stuck in terms of finding good people to follow, building my followers, and I knew I wasn’t getting the most out of the tool. I took this course because I wanted to address these issues. FYI: It’s an amazing course, and I’ve gotten everything I wanted out of it and more. I’ll be reviewing it in a few weeks, but go here if you would like to take a closer look at it.

For the rest of this post, I want to talk to you about one of the big ideas I learned about how the course was structured and how I am thinking about it in terms of an academic/higher education context.

Self Paced: All The Content At Once

In Twitter Masterminds (TM), you get access to all the content at once. Having all the content at once is a bit like being turned loose in a candy store and saying you can eat anything you want however use please. While some things don’t look useful, most do. Most everything is exciting. You want it all, and you want it all at once.

Once I got over the fact that I had all this awesome, useful content available to me I calmed down and allowed myself to skim through it. I didn’t concentrate on anything too deeply at first. I allowed myself to flit in and out with no commitment. I didn’t focus on learning or using anything.

By giving myself time to play, I was able to understand what content was available to me and where I wanted to start my journey. Because all the content was available to me, and the course is self-paced, I was able to structure my experience however I wished. Although TM is structured around modules, and each module has multiple lessons, I could do the modules in any order I wanted and navigate back and forth as I saw fit.

For the most part, I made myself go through the modules in the order in which they were created. I assumed they were placed in that order for a specific reason. If I hit content I already knew or didn’t want to apply just yet then I skipped over it to return to later if needed.

What I Learned About Myself as a Student

Once I got settled into the TM course, I immediately identified a couple of skills I wanted to focus on developing in terms of getting better at twitter. At some point, I became aware that while I was actively applying what I had learned (and getting great benefit out of it!), I had stopped engaging with new content in the course. This is neither good nor bad. However, once I recognized this I started diving back into the modules (slowly) and working on learning more. I continued to apply what I was learning.

This structure of having all the content available is great if it is narrowly focused (which the course is; recall it’s focused on helping you become better at using twitter) and meets a specific need for the user (which of course it did for me or I would not have purchased it). Because I have learning goals, I could go into this space and utilize the teachings. I was also exposed to new ideas that I would never have thought of on my own.

My Take Aways for an Academic Course

In the TM course there is no deadline on learning. The course is mine to access forever. It’s just like if I went out and bought a book to help me learn something. In thinking about what I learned and how I might apply it to an academic course, I realized the following:

  • There is probably no need to release all the content at once. Doing so (to the tune of about 15 weeks worth of content) could be way overwhelming for any student. Releasing all the content at once around a very specific chunk of the course makes the most sense. TM has a good amount of content that is appropriate for the cost. An academic course would have significantly more content. A full release wouldn’t make sense (which got me thinking about how we release content in academic courses in general, but that is for another time).
  • Students need learning goals, and they need to set these for themselves. I came into the TM course with my own set of goals. The course helped me meet those goals as well as extend them. However, because I had my own goals I always felt empowered by how I approached the content and applied it. I usually ask my students what they want to learn in a course, but I never really do much with that information. I use it to get to know them better. If we are going to be studying something that links to one of their goals, I point it out. However, I don’t think it’s my job to do something with everyone’s goals. I do think I could do more to help students think about goal setting in ways that make sense for the course and empower them to realize them.
  • Having freedom to navigate the course and use the information to help me meet my goals was extremely helpful. So while I don’t think releasing all the content at once is the way to go for a 15 week academic course, I do think there’s something to consider here in terms of when and how people get access to content and helping them think about how they use it. I think people tend to use a syllabus in a linear manner, and I’d like to think about how to break that.

Next week I’ll be writing about lessons I have learned from a second online course I am taking. This course is structured much differently and my experiences with it are giving me a broader perspective on what it means to teach online.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago

Now It’s Time to Teach Online

If you’ve been reading along for awhile, you know that I have never gotten to teach 100% online. However, it’s likely obvious that I have been dying to do that! And finally, starting in Fall 2017, I will get to do just that. And do you know how this came about?

It’s because I got myself a shiny new job, that’s how.

But for now, the thing to know is that in the 2017-2018 academic year I will have to teach two masters classes, and they will both be 100% online. The entire masters program is online, and I’m told the students (classroom teachers) are pretty good at navigating learning in an online context. My class will not be the first online class the students have ever taken. But it will be the first one I have ever taught.

Thinking About Community

I’ve written a lot on this blog about my use of digital tools, but I’ve written very little about teaching online specifically. My most recent post on the topic covered the importance of building community. While I obviously have to consider what I want students to learn, how they will demonstrate their learning, and so on…those things are all what I would consider in teaching any class in any context.

What I think is going to be extra critical with a 100% online class is building community. For the first time, I will have to figure out how to build relationships with people I may never see in person. And doing this is extremely critical. My classes tend to be spaces where I ask students – at all levels – to do things that tend to fall outside the norm of what they are used to in school. It is important that they have faith in themselves, but it’s also important that they trust me and trust in the process I am asking them to engage in,

So how do we do this? How do we build a solid online community within a course?

Well, I don’t know. I don’t really know how to do any of it, but I have ideas. And that’s what we’re going to start doing off and on around here – talking about how to put together an online course in a way that will (hopefully) build a strong classroom community while using online tools and learning in new and innovative ways. I’ll be documenting my thinking and the process of building this out. Then, once class starts up in the fall, we’ll see how it all goes!

Methods For Building an Online Community

There are plenty of ideas out there for building online communities at large (not necessarily online class communities). And some of these ideas are worth considering.

  • The Twitter Chat: I’ve used twitter in my teaching in a number of ways. Moving forward, I like the idea of a dedicated hashtag to discuss issues related to the course. However, I am thinking I will move off of using a straight up course hashtag. While this has worked fine in the past I think it might be nice to consider using one that fits inside a broader community. This way, we interact with each other but also directly with that broader community we belong to. I’m not looking for a super popular hashtag here (because I worry we would get lost in the mix) but one of moderate use.
  • The Discussion Board: I’m finding this comes up a lot in my research, but I’m not convinced of its merits. I don’t use them – haven’t even had the need to – but I suppose now I should consider it. The problem is I’ve examined how students approach leaving comments for one another on class blogs. While someone might write something substantive often the comments are not. This can be addressed through instruction and offering specific information on what comments/responses should look like. This is also very labor intensive in terms of reviewing for a grade. I’m not sure how it builds community.
  • Posting Introductions: Even if most people in the class know each other this is still useful. It’s obviously useful to me because I won’t know anyone. But it’s important we know something about who we are interacting with, and I think it’s important we know what each other looks like. So a video introduction – or a voice over on a picture – is critical for a start. I also think it’s important for me to do videos on a regular basis where people can see me.

This probably seemed like the most basic post ever. But, it’s definitely something I need to work out. I’m excited about the challenges online teaching is going to bring. It’s definitely going to push me to consider the what and how’s of teaching and learning, and I’m looking forward to documenting it here.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago

Technology Use in Higher Education

Recently, I read this great post/document on the challenges of advancing digital literacy in higher education.  You can see the blog post here and get access to the full report here. There are a number of important points the report makes, but the one that struck me the most was this:

“A 2016 Pew Research Center’s study indicates that the digital divide in the US is no longer just about access to technology but rather fluency in using it. Socio-economic status is certainly a factor with low-income households unable to afford high-speed broadband and the latest devices, but only 17% of adults report being active learners who are “confident in their ability to use digital tools to pursue learning.” Indeed, the productive and innovative use of technology encompasses 21st century skills that are vital for being successful in the workplace and beyond. Higher education institutions must prepare students for a future where learning new digital tools is an intuitive process.”

The digital divide has normally been discussed in terms of people who have access to technology and people who don’t (or who have limited access). This could happen for many reasons but the most prominent ones are socio-economic status and where you live (urban, rural, etc…).  But, as is noted above, now we have this added layer of those who know how to use it and those who do not (or who are limited in their technology use). And within the group of people who know how to use technology we now must consider what we use that technology for when we use it in our teaching. From the report:

“While the first wave of campus technology, such as learning management systems, supported one-way communication from the institution or instructor to students, the latest incarnation of educational technology emphasizes two-way communication along with content creation — cornerstones of digital literacy.”

Think about it…what does technology in higher education typically do? Are what does the technology you are encouraged to use allow you to do? You probably have a learner management system (LMS) where you can post information and have discussion threads. You can use, as I have done, apps like Remind where you can text information to your class or to a specific student (so much better than email unless you have a lot to say). I also use Wikispaces to house my syllabi.

digital-toolsThese tools all have there benefits and drawbacks like anything else. However, at there core it’s all about communication. You use the LMS to post your syllabi (side note: I’m only guessing at what you use your LMS for; I actually don’t use one by choice because I found it to be terrible). You might have discussions on your LMS, but that still falls under communication that is mostly one-sided and in no way about content creation – I assume.

Moving Into Content Creation: What Does It Mean in Higher Education?

If we agree that content creation is a critical aspect of being digitally literate, then we have to come to terms with some things:

Students of all levels and ages do not come to class digitally literate.

They just don’t. You cannot assume that because someone is of a certain age that this has implications for what they do/do not know and can/cannot do. In general, what I have found is that most of the students I work with would not be considered digitally literate. Yes, they have some digital skills. Yes, some are digitally literate. But most are not, and it is common for students to panic when use of digital tools are a core feature of a course. Add in a layer of content creation via digital tools….someone is going to have a panic attack. Just be prepared for it to happen.

If you use digital tools, you will have to provide some support. Sometimes it’s in a how-to form. Sometimes it’s reminding people they can google things. Sometimes it’s emotional support.

Faculty Probably Do Not Have the Skill Set Either

From where I sit, most faculty would not be considered digitally literate. This is not necessarily an issue. Because, like the students, anyone can learn. Where the problem lies is when faculty want to ignore becoming digitally literate and/or flat out do not want to learn. It is helpful to have a certain level of interest. Because this kind of work requires a shift in thinking. It’s not just about learning how to use a tool. That is certainly a piece of it. But then there is this notion that how you use the tool in your teaching is important. Can you use it for 1:1 communication? Sure. That’s not hard and requires little, if any, shift in thinking. Can you use it for content creation? That requires a shift because….

Content Creation Requires a Major Shift in Education

Content creation comes with it what is noted in the report as “creative literacy.” It requires shiftteachers and students to be able to use digital tools to access information but that, as a result, lead to students creating better content. This means that faculty have to shift off the model of giving quizzes/exams/papers. I’m not saying don’t do any of that. But if that’s all you do then getting to this point is going to happen slowly – and that’s ok. The traditional model of what class looks like, what the role of the instructor is, and what students do will shift.

Additionally, shifting students from passive consumers of content (take the test and then move on or even forget the information) can result in some resistance. Resistance may not be a fair or accurate term. It’s my interpretation of some of the behaviors I’ve seen when I’ve asked students to do things differently in classes. Different could range from simply using digital tools to communicate information to having students create and share their work publicly. For the record, I’ve had students tell me they learn more when asked to use digital tools to create content. But I’ve also had them tell me that they would prefer to learn in a traditional, passive manner even though they believe they would learn less. Why? They say it’s more comfortable. Apparently they are willing to learn less and remain comfortable if given the option.

What Does This Mean?

First, go read the report. It will get you thinking.

Second, take a look at Bryan Alexander’s (one of the reports authors) page. One of the things he offers is a great sounding book club. I know I’m gonna start participating in it.

Third, be realistic about what changes you can make in your instruction to support a digitally literate environment. The report outlines three different models and discusses what it means to take them up in practice. You don’t need to shift into content creation mode. It’s a gradual development (I think).

Finally, don’t expect everyone to cheer you on if this isn’t the norm at your university or the particular program you work in. Doing this work means shifting your practice. Not everyone will get it. Some of your students will be very excited but, again, not all of them will. Some will flat out hate it because it is so different that they become uncomfortable. You will be pushing boundaries, and that is what is so very exciting.

One Year Ago Today

Two Years Ago Today



Alexander, B., Adams Becker, S., and Cummins, M. (2016). Digital Literacy: An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief. Volume 3.3, October 2016. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Popping with Twitter

As you know, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to use twitter in my instruction. There’s been lots of trial and error (and revision!) of my approach over the last year. One of my concerns as I got into the current semester was being able to promote twitter use in ways that were relevant to the course but also had students using twitter in a variety of ways.

Enter pop up quests with twitter.

pop-upI’d first gotten my head around pop-up quests last fall. The idea is that these are optional quests, and they happen when they happen. They should be designed to promote skill development and/or content knowledge as it relates to the class.

I created a # for these pop-up quests – which I won’t share here because I don’t need the world looking in on us. You could do this too. Just make up something that works for you that no one else is using. Mine was basically #[insert program tag]pop.

I thought having a separate # for pop up quests was necessary as I didn’t want it to blend with the stuff on our regular channel. I sent an email out to both classes (they are in the same program) alerting them to the tag. And then I started.

What Happens on the POP Tag

We’re actually not too far into it yet, but here are some of the things I have done:

  • share a picture of something you are doing this week related to the course (3000 XP)
  • Saturday challenge: leave a comment on a specific blog post that I linked to (3000 XP)
  • Sunday challenge: tweet out one post from the class blog that is not your own; make sure you add an additional # to it (4000 XP)
  • challenge for the week: share one educator per day for five days that you love; tag the person & say what you love about them (3000 per day or 20,000 for 5 days)

The very first one that I did – involving the picture – immediately got revised so that students could do it for five days and earn up to 20,000 XP. This was in response to a student who asked if I would accept more. I thought things were going well so, why not? It worked fine. Notice that I intentionally give more XP if you participate all five days.

The Saturday and Sunday challenges were short challenges that had a one day completion for them. With the Saturday challenge, I was trying to drum up some comments on a post written by someone outside this class. For Sunday, I wanted them to look at our own blog and share a post they really loved written by someone else.

Notice I’m usually having them leave tags when they have to tweet that connect to people or larger concepts. I hope this helps them build their network and connect with others.

So far I would say that there is a good response to this, and it has been very simple to score. I try to score it within 48 hours of it ending so I don’t have to dig down deep in the feed later on. Because I post the challenge on the feed it is easy to see where one starts. So far I do not have overlapping challenges. Right now, my second weekly challenge is running so I probably won’t do any additional daily challenges. That could get sticky with scoring. It could be done, but it would be more cumbersome for me to do.

I like the idea of a weekly challenge with daily challenges in between. You could even do shorter challenges that last for 2-3 days. But for me, I think running one at a time works well.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago

And Now Classes Start….

This is the week that classes get underway. It’s a little strange (I think) how my university does it. Classes start on Tuesday. I have one class that meets on Tuesday, but the other meets on Monday. So this week – no Monday class. My Monday class will meet a week from today and then have Labor Day off. By the time my Tuesday class has had three sessions my Monday class will have had one. I don’t get it, but it’s out of my control.

So – what are you looking forward to in your classes this semester? Do you have any specific goals for your teaching? Last year I had a lot going on what with applying principles of gamification and then working on how to use twitter effectively. Just one of those was enough in and of itself.

This year I don’t have any large scale grand overhauls in my teaching like I did last year. This year is looking like it will be all about refinement. And that’s fine. We don’t need to be doing complete overhauls of our teaching every single year. There are moments where we need to slow down and just tweak. I think that’s my jam for this year. Here’s a brief look at what I’m refining this semester:

Twitter Use

In some ways, twitter use will look very much the same as it did in the spring. I’m still using classroom tweeters. Tweeting during and between classes is optional (for the most part – more on that in a second). I’ve left sign up slots for parts of class, and people can sign up and commit to tweet during a specific segment of class when we meet F2F (because both my fall classes are hybrid). I’ll take a look at what people did and award XP. Pretty straight forward and easy to do.

I have added an option to tweet during class but without signing up for a slot. Doing so this twitteroption requires students to create a Storify and post it to the class wiki within a specified time frame.

I do allow for anyone to tweet between sessions – again, totally optional but it does earn you XP. I’m realizing now that I set this up so I have to go in and count tweets. Dang it. I told everyone to tweet 3-5 times a day for most days. Can we say dang it again? I’m not big into counting. I’m going to leave it in place as I’ve sent the syllabus out. I could change it. Class hasn’t started yet. But I’ll leave it. I’m changing this in the future.

One of my classes has to engage in an extended twitter chat. We do this during our online meeting weeks (see here and here). While I do want students thinking about quantity and quality – and I do give guidelines about this – I’m ultimately not counting tweets. I’ve got a new system for awarding XP in twitter chats which asks students to think about what they got out of the experience. I’m interested in seeing how this goes.


Blogging is a requirement in one of my classes and optional in the other. However, I’ve made the decision to shift off of individual blogs and use a class authored one. I’m hoping this gives us a better way to bring in and grow readership. The downside, of course, is that this blog will only be used during the fall semester (much like the Politics of Reading blog only generates new content in the spring). It limits our audience I think because we are not regularly generating new content.

However, after a year the Politics of Reading blog seems to have generated good readership, and it continues to grow. Even in the off months, stats are showing that we consistently have more viewers each month in Year 2 than we did in Year 1. We have about 800 more views in August of Year 2 than we did for the entire Year 1. While it would be nice to generate steady content for the majority of the year – at least in the fall and spring semesters – the consistent uptick in views leads me to believe that people are interested and finding some value in what has been written.


I’ve refined the gamification principles a ton. A ton. I’ve written a lot about gamification, and you can see the posts (and how I evolved in my thinking and application) here. I’ve focused on thinking about how I can use gamification for creating options for my students. Not everything is optional (or at least not without consequences!), but gamification has allowed me to open up my teaching. Could I do the same thing without it? Yes, probably. But the concept is what got me here.

In particular, the application of gamification principles helped me think about class participation. I had gotten rid of grading in class participation long ago because it was far to subjective for my taste. But with thinking about pop-up quests in class, I could start to see how XP could be awarded and used in a way that was much more objective when it came to scoring participation in class. Pop-up quests are here to stay. At least for awhile.

It’s easy to think about gamification in terms of points. When you view class through the lens of a video game it all becomes about points. And yes, I do allow for XP to be awarded throughout any given class. Opportunities are constant.

XPBut, as the instructor, you can’t get hung up on the points. You have to think about the experience you want your students to have and then work backwards into the points. Consider what you are asking them to do – in terms of length of time and complexity – and then consider what the XP could be worth. Sometimes I offer a range of XP for a single in class quest based on decisions students want to make about how to engage with it.

And that’s it. That’s my starting point for the academic year. I’ve got some new quests I’m trying out, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they go and sharing that with y’all.

In the meantime, I will note that I have planted an Easter Egg in the syllabi for both my classes. It is the exact same egg for both. It does require students to do some work in advance of the first day of class, but it is minimal and ends up benefiting them as the semester progresses. To my knowledge, only one person has found it. Or maybe multiple people have ignored it. Who can say? I’ll update on that soon once the deadline for it has passed.

Have a great semester!

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago

Scoring Twitter Chats

Last year, I had a goal to improve how I used twitter in my instruction (read about it here, here, and here). My biggest struggle with using twitter has always been how to score it. How many points do I assign someone? How do I know if someone participated enough in terms of quantity and quality? How would I even begin to keep up with it all?

Well, maybe I don’t try to keep up with it all. Maybe I just let the whole idea of quantification go, and instead have the students demonstrate what they did and experienced.

twitter mingleIn the fall, one of my masters classes will be participating in an extended twitter chat seven times. Last year, I had this class participate in a synchronous twitter chat that met when we would normally meet face to face. I’m getting rid of that because I think we can have better discussions if we make the discussion ongoing throughout the week. However, I’m not going to try to keep up with how many times a person tweeted. I will participate, but I’m done with counting.

What will I do? Well, first, let’s take a look at the directions:

Directions for the Extended Twitter Chat

1. I will release three questions during the week [when the chats occur]. They will be released on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 5:00 PM.
2. I will tag questions with the course hashtag.
3. Questions will be numbered Q1, Q2, and Q3.
4. You can respond to (or ignore) any question at any point during the week. Questions are used to help facilitate the discussion. However, they are also suggestions for what to discuss.
5. When you respond, start the tweet with A1 (if responding to Q1), A2 (if responding to Q2) and so on.
6. All responses/interactions must be posted under the course hashtag. You can use any other # that you wish, but YOU MUST use the course hashtag to get credit.

A few notes here:

  • I’m inserting questions into the conversation just to help keep moving things along. I am not requiring students to answer them.
  • Remember that tweets can be automated using Twuffer.
  • I do not tell students how often they should tweet, but you’ll see in a minute that I do give them some basic suggestions for how to think about it.

Awarding XP

I will award XP four times during the semester for the twitter chats. Here is how it will go down:

Earning XP is about participating in the chats, but it is also about how your participation in the chats shapes you as a XPteacher [remember that I teach teachers] and a learner. To earn XP, you will need to demonstrate the following:

  • Articulate how well you participated in the twitter chats. This is done at two time points. The first time point happens from 10/11-10/18. The second time point happens from 11/28-12/6. At each time point, you should examine and reflect on both the quantity and the quality of your participation. You are free to articulate your insights in any manner you wish and submit them however you wish. Consider the following:
    • During a chat week, do you participate with three or more tweets for at least four days?
    • Are you engaged in sustained and interaction participation for four or more days? Sustained and interactive participation means you do more than posts links or make statements. While you can, and should do these things, it also means that you talk to others who are participating and actively engage them and engage with them in some fashion.
    • XP for first time point = 8000; XP for second time point = 20,000
    • Due Dates: I will only accept submissions for the first time point between 10/11 (starting at 5:00 PM) – 10/18 (ending at 5:00 PM); No late submissions; The second time point can be submitted anytime from 11/28 (starting at 5:00 PM) and ending on 12/6 at 5:00 PM. No late submissions.


  • Curate a top 10 list (from the twitter chat) of resources that people other than you provided. These resources should inform your teaching about how to enhance students’ disciplinary literacy abilities. They may or may not have to do with the use of graphic novels specifically. Lists can be shared however you wish to curate them. XP = 30,000. Can be submitted anytime starting 11/28 – 12/6


  • Demonstrate how your thinking has shifted as a result of your experience with the twitter chats. You can do this however you wish. XP = 70,000. Can be submitted anytime starting 11/28 – 12/6.

Some notes here:

  1. You will notice that the way students demonstrate what they are doing/learning is pretty loose. I did this intentionally. I am interested in seeing what I get.
  2. I am thinking about starting a Pinterest board to help with the top 10 list; that way students can collectively pin resources there. However, students could also just pin to their own boards whatever they find useful and then shift that into a top 10 list later.
  3. Having a top 10 list where students curate resources others shared requires them to post resources themselves. Otherwise, how will anyone complete the assignment?

Shifting off Quantification

You can see that I’ve shifted off of trying to keep up with how many tweets any one person does. Instead, I’m asking my students to think about their participation, reflect on it, and then demonstrate what they have learned. I do try to give them some guidelines for how to think about participation without being overly prescriptive.

I’m excited to try this out. In my experience, students tend to get anxious when things aren’t nailed down for them. I understand that. However, I also think that by being looser in my directions I am able to allow for students to be far more creative than if I tried to quantify every little detail. We’ll see how it goes!

Two Years Ago Today

One Year Ago Today


Tweaking Quests and XP

I’m back at work on my fall courses (started in May). Why? Because I’m super excited about them that’s why. This will be my second year applying principles of gamification to my courses. Last year, I applied it to three/four. In the fall, I will apply it to two.

Let’s talk about one of the course today – Explorations in Literacy. It’s a masters level for course for K-12 teachers. What I’ve done in this course is created three required quests. They are:

  • blogging (post writing only)
  • becoming connected (this quest is about issues in developing a personal learning network)
  • explore project (based on the genius hour)

You can see previous posts about some of these. For Explore projects check out here and here. I’ve got a number of posts on how and why I use blogging in my courses.

I decided it was important to have several quests that we all did together. This helps us form our community around shared experiences. However, I also think these quests develop important skills for my students – skills I didn’t want to allow them the opportunity to opt out of.

Next, I created four quests that were optional. They are:

These quests each vary in their level of engagement, and some provide a variety of choice in terms of what teachers can do and how much they can engage.

When it came time to grade, I thought about it as such:

  1. The university requires me to give one of three grades at the masters level H (high pass) P (pass) L (low pass).
  2. Here is how I arrived at an H:
    1. Total XP Earned = 436,950 and up
      Becoming Connected XP Earned = 194,850 and up
      Blogging XP Earned = 191,700 and up
      Explore Project XP Earned = 45,900 and up
  3. Here is how I arrived at a P:
    1. Criteria for a P
      Total XP Earned = 339, 850 minimum
      Becoming Connected XP Earned = 151,500
      Blogging XP Earned = 149,100
      Explore Project XP Earned = 35,700

If you don’t make it the criteria for a P, then you get an L.

Here’s what I like about the grade structure. First, there’s a minimum amount of XP that you have to get to achieve a particular grade. But that’s just part of the process. Students also have to be mindful of how much XP they earn for the required quests. In looking at an H, I can take the minimum amount of XP needed for the required quests, add it up, and reach 432,450. So that puts them 4,500 shy of the total XP needed for that grade (an easy number to get). Really, students probably don’t need to take up an optional quest. But I’m gonna let it run and see what happens. I’ll still also be giving out XP for doing various things during class like I have in the past, and I’ll likely have pop-up quests.

I am also going to be doing some new and different things over in my second masters class (content area literacy). Stay tuned for updates on that.

Two Years Ago

One Year Ago


New Assignment: Social Networking

In one of my fall masters level classes, I have a new assignment (aka quest) that I’m calling Social Networking. This is my attempt to get the teachers in the course to think about how they might use social networking tools. It is also an optional quest. This fall, I have three required quests and then (currently) four optional ones. I’ll discuss the structure of the course in my next post. Today I wanted to share this particular quest.

The Directions 

The Social Networking quest gives you the opportunity to apply one or more social networking tools to your instruction. Any social networking app is valid here. Possible ones to consider are:

  • Pinterest (note: you must move beyond having a board and pinning ideas for lessons)
  • Facebook/EdModo
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Vine

If you wish to use an app that is not on this list, please ask me about it first.

What To Do

  1. Identify one social networking app that is of interest to you. This will be the app you use for this quest.
  2. Once you identify the app, write up your general plan for how you are thinking about using it in your instruction.
  3. Your plan should be posted as a blog post. This allows everyone to benefit from your ideas and provide input that might help you. This should be posted no later than the week of 9/19.
  4. Enact your plan. Modify it as needed. Your plan is a way to get started. You are not locked into it.
  5. Share what you are doing and how it is going on the following in class dates: 10/10 and 11/28
  6. One final blog post must be about your project. This post should go live the week of 12/5. You are free to blog about your project as much as you want in between.

How Might You Use These Tools in Your Instruction?

Some possibilities:
10 Ways to Use Pinterest in the Classroom
How Educators are Using Pinterest to Showcase Curation
A Teacher Tries Snapchat to Engage Students
Snapchat and Vines in the Classroom
10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom
Using Instagram as a Classroom Tool
50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom
25 Top Ways Teachers Use Twitter in the Classroom
The Top 5 Ways to Use Facebook in Your Classroom
Teaching Digital Kids (Facebook)

Action XP
Identify App 1000
Write Up Plan & Post 6000
1st Share Session 10,000
2nd Share Session 22,000
Final Blog Post 40,000
Total Possible 79,000

Note: When writing a blog post for this quest, you get XP based on the blogging XP scale. For example, if this was your second post you would receive 2000 XP. You could also receive 500 bonus points for including pictures/video/links/etc….If this was your second post during a week, you would receive the appropriate bonus points. Blog posts for this quest must follow the requirements for blogging and have 500-1500 words in a post. These posts still need to be scheduled, and you must note that you have scheduled them on the sign-up sheet.

My General Reflections

First, teachers are going to be required to blog, and there will be XP related to blogging. So that’s why they can get some extra XP when they have to write a post for this particular quest. Second, I think there are a few different ways teachers can think about this assignment. They can think about how they personally use a tool in some manner related to their teaching. They can also think about if it makes sense to have their students use a tool and then document what that looks like. Or a combination of both. I tried to write the directions so they would give just enough guidance for teachers to get launched without being overly restrictive. I want freedom for creativity here.

I have no idea if someone will take up this quest. It really is optional, and the needed XP can be obtained by engaging in other optional quests or by digging in deep to the required ones where I have opportunities for bonus XP for people who go above and beyond the basics. I’m hoping someone takes it up though so I can see what it looks like in action.

Two Years Ago

One Year Ago