Level Up! GradeCraft earns a $1.89m Transforming Learning for a Third Century grant

Barry Fishman, in the Digital Education & Innovation video on GradeCraft.

A learning management system based on well-designed games and dreamed up by a University of Michigan School of Information master’s degree student as a class project today becomes a truly campus-wide initiative.

The U-M Office of the Provost announced this morning that it would award Gameful Assessment in Michigan Education (GAME) and its GradeCraft learning management system a $1.89 million Transforming Learning for a Third Century grant to expand the system available across campus.

“This is not just a technological innovation,” said Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Information and Education. “This is a social change, that offers instructors the opportunity to rethink the organization of their class and, specifically, the structure of assessment in their class.”

GradeCraft was created by UMSI PhD student Caitlin Holman, who conceived of the idea as a project during her master’s degree work at UMSI. Fishman and Mika LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Political Science in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, had already been doing research into effective ways to bring gamification into the classroom. They created a team with Holman that made GradeCraft a fully-featured reality.

More than 2,000 students in 19 courses used GradeCraft this year.

GAME and GradeCraft are led by Fishman; Holman; James DeVaney at Digital Education & Innovation; Elizabeth Keren Kolb at the School of Education; LaVaque-Manty; Rachel Niemer at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching; and Scott Taylor of Information and Technology Services.

Fishman and Holman have demonstrated that GradeCraft can improve the ability of instructors to measure the progress of students as they progress through a course, not just at testing windows or other grading checkpoints. The system can be used to allow students some flexibility in how they achieve course objectives, using a video game framework that allows students to navigate mandatory assignments, optional assignments and assessments to choose their own path through a class.

“It’s more supportive of students’ feelings of autonomy, belonging and competence, all of which are shown to lead to deeper student engagement,” Fishman said. Interest in the system has been rising on campus faster than the committed team of faculty and graduate students have been able to keep up with, he said. That’s where the new grant comes in.

“We’re grateful for the Third Century Initiative’s support, which enables us to bring this to the next level and contribute to a strong learning community at Michigan,” he said. “Third Century investment in projects like GAME and GradeCraft are a great demonstration of how important teaching and learning is on this campus.”

The new grant will help expand GradeCraft for up to 21,000 U-M students on multiple campuses over three years, according to the original application. Work in this area has previously been sponsored by the Learning Analytics Task Force and The Office of Digital Education & Innovation at U-M.

POSTED MAY 15, 2015