I was recently asked if it were possible to use Gamification in a gradeless classroom. Yes! A thousand times yes!

Gamification is a study in motivation and engagement. Top down initiatives and textbooks usually oversimplify the concept as just “Points, Badges, and Leaderboards”. These are the easiest pieces to implement and automate. It gives the illusion of a game without actually using the deeper core mechanics that make games so engaging. Taking into consideration player types, RAMP motivators, SAPS rewards, various types of fun, and other elements are far more important than points. Overreliance on a student’s desire to have a “good grade” as the ultimate motivator can be harmful.

Rather than being a shorthand explanation of the students progress towards course mastery grades are often weaponized against students. Case in point is the late penalty argument’s implication that students will do the work on time or else. Students are forced into completing boring and/or meaningless work with threats of zeros, quizzes, and reading checks. It works as a reward for non academic behaviors too! Bring in a box of tissues and get extra credit!

Game inspired designs can be a tool to replace reliance on grades. The first step is to offer students meaningful choices. Choices in their content focus. Choices in the way they demonstrate their learning. Choices in how much and in what ways they collaborate. Give up a sense of control. The second step is to provide feedback. Turn everything into an opportunity to provide feedback. Feedback does not need to be written. My favorite form of feedback is a short conference.

Choice combined with feedback provides a more powerful version of a number or letter grade. Once choice and feedback are added as a structural foundations then we can add in all the game mechanic bells and whistles to increase engagement.