Teachers frequently bemoan the fact that students don’t seem to be interested in learning, but just in getting points. Teachers try to find ways to make grading schemes more meaningful, so that students will care more about learning. Currently fashionable is Standards-Based Grading, which is good for a reductionist analysis of topics, but not so strong on synthesis. SBG also has trouble measuring sustained performance.
Lee Sheldon, at Indiana University, has taken the opposite track and embraced point chasing. He doesn’t give grades—he gives experience points. Students earn points for quizzes and for both individual and group projects. I don’t know whether he has different levels in the class, with a certain number of experience points needed to unlock the next level of learning. If I used an XP-based grading system, I’d certainly structure the class that way!
Experience points might be a good way to encode a rubric, with different XP values for different core tasks and bonus tasks. Assignments would have to be structured so that essential material has to be done (to at least some minimal standard) before any bonus XP can be earned, so that students don’t get lots of bonus points for bells and whistles if they don’t have the core ideas solid. XP could also be awarded for unanticipated student achievements, which is difficult to do in percent-based grading systems.
Katrin Becker discussed the system on her blog, but seems to feel that it is essential that
students know that they are not penalized for not doing extra, and can be assured that they can still earn an ‘A’ on an assignment by doing a good job of the problem as specified.
Personally, I feel that doing a good job on the problem as specified is B work, and that only by going above and beyond the minimal specs can one earn an A. If I were to use an XP-based system, the grade for the course would be based on the total XP earned, and merely “good” work would end up being a B.
Of course, this is the total opposite of SBG, which divides up topics and does not allow strength in one topic to compensate for weakness in another. I think, though, that XP matches the student mindset better and is more likely to motivate students to put in the extra work needed to really learn material. (I know that SBG proponents hate extra credit, but I rather like the idea.)