The Multiplayer Classroom

posted Jun 27, 2015, 8:45 AM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Jul 29, 2015, 7:27 AM ]
Last year for my birthday my brother bought me The Multiplayer Classroom by Lee Sheldon. It is a book about gamification (though Sheldon hates that world) of the classroom. He had previously bought me Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal and I had implemented a few of her games and ideas into my curriculum. I'd never heard of Sheldon's book so I was excited. It took me the whole school year to get through it. Not because it was a hard read but because I immediately was hooked and inspired. I read every chapter thoroughly and did further research on each before moving on. From start to finish it was a great read. Sheldon has experience in professional fiction writing so the book flows smoothly. This isn't a typical textbook (or really one at all.) I highly recommend checking it out.
I've dabbled with gamification for a very long time. I was studying Alternate Reality Games and Augmented Reality in the very early days of it. I ran a classroom ARG long before I'd found anyone else who had. A colleague and I even did a badge/achievement system well before it became commonplace. We had achievement stickers that students put on their notebooks. It was awesome but a management nightmare. We, years ago, renamed many of our activities with game elements (which is where the Walkthru concept came from, for example.) I love games and wanted their influence in my room from the beginning. Over the last few years some elements of my class have remained gamified - primarily through my class competition system which focuses on behavior - but most of those early projects were dropped due to me, frankly, being lazy and not wanting to keep up with it. Sheldon's book reminded me why I started those projects in the first place and gave plenty of practical tips to make the process manageable.

Still, I wasn't quite all in. In January I attended a Tech conference for my district and went to a presentation on Gamification by a local teacher. He showed how he used a quest model for his class to great success. Most inspiring was his use of a level-up system for students to earn not only grades but special perks. For the first time I saw gamification done right. This wasn't just jamming in a Jeopardy review and calling your class gamified. The gamified classroom IS a game itself. I was sold, I was all in. I had a summer project.

*I won't get deep into the definitions here because there are plenty of great sources out there. I'd recommended starting with the #gamification hashtag on Twitter if you're new to the process.

This is where Sheldon's book became indispensable. It is a chapter by chapter explanation of exactly how to set your classroom up in this fashion. It goes from explaining the importance of your narrative, to how to set up quests to how to grade it all. Along the way it has case studies from teachers in the field using these strategies in their own classrooms. I've contacted a couple of those teachers along the way and they've been incredibly helpful as well. One benefit of a project like this is that you know that the teachers who are doing this are great teachers. They are involved and care to go far above and beyond to engage their students. As a result, they are very willing to help other teachers.

So, this summer I've been working on putting this all together. It has been extremely challenging but I'm excited about how it is coming together. I'll be sharing more on my process over the coming days and weeks but essentially I've landed on a story where a government agency from the future in charge of protecting time itself
has found that history has been disrupted. My students have been recruited as agents to learn history as it truly happened so they can report it back to the department. This, interestingly, is nearly the same story used by my ARG seven years ago. I've started putting together the intro video and I'm really happy with it so far. I think my kids will be blown away.

I've created the progress board that will be up in my room next year as well. 


What I love most about the idea of gamification is that students are always working UP toward something. I've always hated how teachers lie to kids on the first day and tell them "You all start with an A!" Not only is that nonsense (0/0 is undefined, not 100%) it sets them up for failure. It is the exact opposite of a growth mindset approach. It tells kids "all you can do from here is lose, try not to okay?" My system though now will build up. As students clear fractures (which really just is earning points for classwork, tests, etc.) they work their way UP the grading scale. Beyond that there is the overall class goal of clearing more fractures than the other periods. Then there is a final, collaborative goal, where all my classes combined will try to clear the seemingly impossible 1.28 million fractures as a group. All year long they are working toward a positive goal. 

This is what modern games do so well. Seemingly every game out there has a "progression system" built in now. Whether it something as simple as unlocking guns in Call of Duty or as detailed as managing your stats and skills in World of Warcraft players are building toward something more than a high score. It is about building a better character. That's my goal with my system here and thanks to The Multiplayer Classroom I feel like I'm off to a good start.

Here's the intro video!

This is the introductory video for my gamified classroom. It is designed to hook students into the narrative that will drive future activities. Thanks to https://www.fiverr.com/heresricky for the incredible voice work, freesound for the effects, celldweller for the music and some unknown artists for the 3d animations.


Here's the Intro letter to get students started with the game. I may eventually turn this into a video as well but for now, since this will surely be a new experience for my kids, I like the idea of doing a reading. I may even turn it into my first lesson on Close/Critical reading.

Fracture Crisis Intro


Here also is the working document with all the skill points, XP tables and the like. It is obviously under construction but I want people to see where it is so far.

Fracture Crisis Skills and XP Table

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