Gameful Assessment in Michigan Education (GAME)

Building a Community of Engaged Learners and Teachers

What if classes were structured more like well-designed games?

That’s exactly what the Gameful Assessment in Michigan Education (GAME) team hopes to find out by growing and scaling a learning community at Michigan based upon gameful learning and teaching. Supported by GradeCraft, a learning-management system created by Barry Fishman, a U-M professor of information and education, and Caitlin Holman, a U-M PhD candidate in information, this approach encourages students to take more risks as they explore new paths toward personal goals.

Project Background

College admissions and ongoing competition for jobs and graduate study leads many students to focus on grades and scores, instead of learning and exploration, and emphasizes extrinsic rewards over intrinsic motivation. In the process, students are trained to be risk-averse and do not learn how to choose their own pathways to reach their goals. Common higher education course structures — with grades based on one or two high stakes assignments/exams or graded on a curve — reinforce habits learned in a K-12 system that is drowning in high-stakes standardized assessments.

The gameful learning approach supported by GradeCraft allows students to follow different pathways through courses, selecting assignments that interest and challenge them. At its heart is a tool, called the “Grade Predictor,” that helps manage this more complex and personalized system. The Grade Predictor helps students figure out what they need to do to reach the classroom goals they have set for themselves, and helps instructors track and support student progress.

Gameful learning encourages risk-taking by allowing students to fail without dire consequences. There are many assignment choices, so any students who do poorly on one can find plenty of other tasks to redeem themselves, and an ambitious “failure” is still a learning opportunity. A gameful assessment system treats unsuccessful assignments not as failures but as learning experiences that pull students closer to mastery.

Project Description

The GAME project enhances the engagement of Michigan learners through broadening and transforming U-M’s campus vision for how classroom learning and assessment are organized by:

  • Bringing together a community of learners and instructors to develop and share best practices around gameful teaching and learning;
  • Conducting new research on gameful assessment designs to inform best practices and build on ongoing research; and
  • Continuing to develop GradeCraft as a scalable software platform integrated with other campus systems to help promote an engaged learning ecosystem.

Transformative Impact

By changing classroom assessment, the GAME project creates learning environments at U-M that enhance intrinsic motivation and deepen student engagement with the learning process. Ongoing research indicates that gameful course designs directly engage learners, leading them to set more challenging goals, work harder and increase their enjoyment of course work.

During the 2014-15 school year, the gameful learning approach supported by GradeCraft was used by about 2,000 students in 19 courses at U-M ranging from kinesiology to linguistics to physics, at both the Ann Arbor and UM-Dearborn campuses. It has the potential to eventually impact all students at Michigan, though the actual number will depend on the amount of faculty who adopt gameful teaching techniques. It is estimated that at least 21,000 students could be impacted based on a modest growth model from the current number of students engaged in courses using GradeCraft and gameful design. Many other schools and colleges have also expressed an interest in using approaches as well. This growth will continue as long as U-M supports and cultivates a robust gameful learning community for instructors and students.

Project Team

James DeVaney, Digital Education & Innovation
Barry Fishman, Schools of Information and Education
Elizabeth Keren Kolb, School of Education
Mika LaVaque-Manty, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Rachel Niemer, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching
Scott Taylor, Information and Technology Services