My first real foray into Classcraft...

I’ve been blogging here about gamification for years. I’ve read and watched just about everything Gabe Zichermann and Jane McGonigal have said about human motivation and how games motivate us*. I've spoken at conferences, workshops, and in-service events about gamification. Despite all of that, I have not tried Classcraft until this school year.

Classcraft bills itself as a game-based approach to teaching, but it is basically a gamification tool (see my Gamification / Game Based Learning / Game Design disambiguation here). It was designed to encourage participation, good behavior, and collaboration and at first, seemed like the secondary version of Class Dojo. In some ways it is, but it does a lot more. Basically, Classcraft’s goal / premise is to help me manage, motivate and engage my students by transforming my classroom into a role-playing game, which should be right up my alley. Anyone who has spent any time reading my blog knows that I love RPG’s. Heck, I even joined the OP Teacher Community at one point. So why haven’t I tried Classcraft before this year?

Why so late to this party then?

For one thing, I really didn’t think I needed a “tool” to bring gamification to my classroom. I already had an established system for using game-like precepts in my grading and projects. In my own cocky way, I saw Classcraft as a tool to help people who wanted to introduce gamification but had no idea how to really do it. Another reason I didn’t try Classcraft was my complete lack of clerical speed and accuracy. The idea of creating accounts for all of my students was daunting, even if I could upload a spreadsheet. Finally, I used to be a bit confused by the cost structure. When I first checked it out, Classcraft had a free, a premium and a “freemium” tier. The freemium option unlocked some more features that normally wouldn’t have been open to me (teaching is a zero-budget operation these days), but gave students the ability to pay to customize their avatar's appearance. This seemed like a worm-can that I would likely get into trouble for opening, if not from my administration, then certainly from parents.

This summer, when I was preparing to present on the topic of Gamification and Game-based-learning in the classroom for the “Technologies for Online and Blended Teaching Institute”, sponsored by Millersville University, I took another look at Classcraft while preparing my presentation. First, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Classcraft is now integrated with Google Classroom, allowing teachers to simply add their Google Classroom groups to Classcraft. This way students can just sign in with their Google apps accounts and set up their characters. Also, the aforementioned freemium account was removed, adding more features and flexibility to the free accounts.

I decided to roll out Classcraft in all of my Seventh Grade classes during the first week of school this year, and I have found it to be surprisingly effective. Not only do students take the health and experience of their characters very seriously, but they also strive to help their teams and classmates in general. One thing that surprised me was how popular the random events are! The class loves them.

Create a Positive Class Culture from Classcraft on Vimeo.

When students can gain XP on any given day by talking like a pirate and referring to me as “Captain” or by Dancing the PPAP dance, that is some first rate community building right there. Honestly, due to schedule constraints, I often don’t get to do a random event every day, but the students definitely miss it and ask me to do them when it has been more than a day.

Successful Gamification = Stay Positive

I’m not going to say that this tool was effortless to integrate into my classroom or that I’m using it perfectly, largely, though, I would say that the overall effects have been positive.

On that note, I think the key to this whole thing is staying more positive than negative. This may seem like a no-brainer, but let me explain. If I were to give every student a Classcraft character and then spend the entire period taking hit points away, then the whole game wouldn't be very fun. It would just be another way for me to punish students. What causes the students to care about their characters and their hit points are all of the times where they gain experience, unlock new powers, and feel a sense of success and pride in what they are doing. Should there be challenge and opposition? Definitely! Be prepared, though, to recognize successes and reward them.

Parting thoughts / Disappointments

  1. I would love to try out some of the premium features like giving students gold to customize their character's appearance as they level up, but trying to convince the school district to spend money on this makes me feel like a poor steward of our resources. I'm still working that one out. 
  2. We live in a glorious time when School Districts around the US are finally unblocking / whitelisting YouTube! We can now bring most official tutorial content straight to our students. Classcraft has a lot more content on Vimeo, which is still pretty much universally blocked by all districts due to its prolific and very accessible adult content.
UPDATE: Classcraft hit me up on Twitter and let me know that they're still uploading videos to to YouTube and we can hit them up to request ones that aren't there yet.

Thanks, @classcraftgame for being so responsive on Twitter!

* I don’t want to throw Zichermann and McGonigal in the same basket. Mcgonigal told the New York Times in 2012, "I don't do 'gamification,' and I'm not prepared to stand up and say I think it works. I don't think anybody should make games to try to motivate somebody to do something they don't want to do. If the game is not about a goal you're intrinsically motivated by, it won't work." That’s a valid point, but Zichermann also points out that, “If an extrinsic motivator is found to be meaningful, pleasurable and consistent with a person’s worldview, he/she can adopt it as though it were intrinsic.” That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t want to manipulate my students. I want to motivate them.


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