The Golden Classroom: Using an Alternative Economy

Most games have some sort of economics embedded in the core gameplay. Usually players don’t realize they involved in a game economy; there is a natural transfer of real world experience that goes into the exchanges. Play a smart phone game and you’ll likely experience some “black hat” gamification like the common money making mechanic found in games like Candy Crush. The player gets 5 lives and when they are all out they need to purchase (with real world money!) more lives or they have to wait 5 hours before they can play again. While this might line some Silicon Valley pockets I don’t see an ethical classroom application and it is not the mechanic I am concerned with today. A better classroom related economy mechanic can be found RPGs (Role Playing Games) and other immersive games.

Much of my classroom inspiration comes from role playing games like Final Fantasy and Dragons Age. In these types of games the player is responsible for earning XP (experience points) to level up and grow in strength but they are also expected to manage their party’s money usually called gold. The player uses gold to purchase supplies like healing potions or new and more powerful weapons. Gold can be collected in several ways. It can be dropped by enemies after a battle, found in treasure boxes while on a journey, or earned after providing some labor to a non-playable character (NPC). An important element of the gold economy is that the player does not need to become wealthy to suceed in the game. Collecting gold is not core mechanic in leveling up or in battles. (Well, in some RPGs you can throw coins at an enemy to distract them…) 

This year I have introduced a “Gold” economy to my classroom. Students earn this alternative currency by accomplishing various activities in the classroom that are not directly tied to earning XP. In my philosophy, since experience points are used for grading purposes, XP should only be earned for demonstrating skill or content mastery. Things like lateness, behavior, and formative assessments should not be factored into grades leaving an opportunity for giving other rewards. I have been using gold as a positive reinforcement of expected behaviors and as a way to provide accountability for formative assessments. 

As part of my Flipped Classroom students need to take about 15 minutes of notes at home throughout the week. A couple of weeks into the school year we hit standard 1 indicator 4. This is a long indicator dealing with the Articles of Confederation transitioning to the Constitution and the notes were about 25 minutes. To reward the successful completion of the longer than normal notes I gave students that succeeded in finishing them a 20 sided die roll (more on this some other time) and a gold bonus. This was obviously an external motivator but it set a positive expectation. 

I also use gold with quizzes. Since I use quizzes to privide data points to help,with planning I need students to put effort into taking the assessment. I prefer to use them as part of a formative approach though and do not want to include them in student XP. To encourage students to take the quiz seriously I do want them to recieve some benefit so gold is given equal to the score they recieve on the quiz. (To make this even more fun I have developed a dice roll game – again, more on this later). The student’s grade is unaffected but the do receive a benefit to help motivate some effort to score well. 

In general I use gold:

  1. To reward behavior which I don’t want tied to grades.
  2. As a motivator for formative assesments that give me data but I don’t want impacting grades.

You may be asking why students would be motivated to collect gold. After all currency is used to make purchases. Well, the gold is used to buy Power Cards and power,cards have several game changing effects.,First the card are a “stuff” reward – a physical object that students collect. I have students already asking for a list of cards for no,other reason that n they are completionists nd want them all. Most cards are also Power and/or Access rewards. After purchasing (or earning or finding) a card students might have a new “One Time Power” like using a sketchnotes cheat sheet on the next exam, declaring a Rogue’s Battle with another student, or adding an extra day to an assignment’s due date. Some cards create “Access” such as opening the Black Tie Lounge, using headphones for a non-academic purpose, or using the class cell phone charging zone.

Developing this alternative economy was a new challenge on top of managing the XP system but I am seeing the benefits of the practice – especially with the avatar types and an open blended learning model. The gold collection mechanic frees the students from worryong about grades as a focus while still providing a motivation while also allowing them to tailor their own classroom experience. Balancing the values can be tricky but the alternative class economy is worth the effort.

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