As I was researching a blog post about technology in school, I came across an online classroom management tool created by Mr Young, a Canadian physics teacher, who wanted to find a way to increase engagement levels in his class. The tool is called Classcraft, and was launched in the spring 2013.
Basics of the game
Risks and rewards
Classcraft is a role-playing game, where the teacher is the Game Master and the students are the players. The students play in teams of 5 or 6 and choose to be healers, mages or warriors. Each class of character has a different set of powers, some of which are given to them by default. They can then acquire new powers by gaining Experience Points, awarded to them by the teacher for good performance in or outside of the classroom, such as answering a question correctly in class or helping another student with his homework. The powers given to the students are set by the teacher and could be for example, getting a hint for an exam question or going to lunch early.
On the other hand, bad behaviour, such as being late or disrupting the class is immediately acted upon by removing Health Points. When the student’s character runs out of Health Points and dies, he rolls the Death Dice to determine his punishment, such as writing lines or going to detention.
Team work and collaboration
In order to do well in the game, the students need to work together and help each other out, which gives them extra Experience Points. Besides, their negative actions impact the whole team. When a character dies, all his teammates lose Health Points. They can also use their personal powers to protect a team member from punishment.
Not only does it encourage the students to work as a group, it also teaches them empathy. They look out for each other and learn that their actions have consequences on people around them.
Each class starts with a random event, which helps getting the students’ attention as soon as they enter the classroom. Teachers report that their students get excited by the game and what might happen, so they are ready to work quicker than usual.
The game takes 5 minutes to set up at the beginning of each class and then runs passively in the background. All the teacher needs is a laptop and a projector, which most schools have already. There is no need to invest in new equipment.
The teacher, however, will need time to get familiar with the game before introducing it to their classes. There is no need to change the way they teach their lessons, but they need to be able to manage points, powers and events in order to be successful game masters.
Results and critique
According to Venture Beat, Classcraft is played by 7,000 students in 25 different countries. The teachers who have introduced the role-playing game have seen an increase in motivation and engagement, as well as improved collaboration and communication between the students and better group work. It is still hard to see a clear impact on academic performance, but if the students are more focused on their lessons and more motivated, surely it should be reflected on their grades to some degree.
The success of the game is almost also certainly due to the fact that the game is free. As a web-based game, all you need to play is an Internet connection, and up until this term, the game was completely free of charge. Classcraft have nonetheless recently introduced a new pricing plan. Teachers can still use the tool for free, but in order to customise their character’s look, students can spend money to buy items. Which raises a fair ethical dilemma: should teachers introduce a game to students, where they are encouraged to spend money? As a parent, I would strongly be against this. There is, however, a premium version, where the teacher or the school pays a fee per student, thereby unlocking all features and accessories. The teacher then holds the keys to the gold.
Some education professionals also question the true motivation for the students and the consequences of using a game to attend their lessons and learn. The work is done to gain points and powers in the game, instead of trying to do well at school. However, my honest opinion is that some students just aren’t interested in performing well at school. They aren’t interested in getting good grades. They can’t find the motivation to do their homework and behave well. So, if tools like Classcraft can improve attendance and focus levels, students most certainly learn better as well.
It’s just a tool…
As Ollie Bray, a deputy head and also a consultant on technology in teaching said, Classcraft is “not a magic bullet, just something else that should be in a teacher’s toolbox”. And when you think about it, gamification is a technique that has been used by teachers for a long time: gold stars, leaderboards, crosses for bad behaviour, etc. Classcraft uses the same techniques, but offer a different support that appeals to today’s students.