Assignment Design

Yes… many gameful courses have “core course engagement” experiences that all students are expected to complete. The big difference between a gameful course and a more traditional course is that students have many opportunities to earn points to “make up” for any core engagement experiences they don’t complete. As the instructor, need to think through some key questions (which are very similar to what you may have thought through for more traditional courses):

What are the implications for the grades of students who do not complete a required assignment?

Are there more advanced assignments they cannot do (unlocks)?

Are they unable to participate in a course experience (unlocks)?

Are they unable to earn a particular grade in the course overall?

What about students who were legitimately unable to complete the work? Is there a make-up path?

Another aspect to consider is why students would not be motivated to complete that assignment independently – and what it means for motivation to require something. We generally find that students do better work when they are able to choose to take part. Are there ways to alter the frame of the assignment to make it more engaging without making it explicitly required? Strategies to do this include:

Explaining why this assignment is especially important. Research shows helping students understand why they’re doing the work, especially if it is repetitive or boring, helps them be more motivated to do it.

Increasing the point value awarded for the work

Setting completing the assignment, or completing it at a certain level of mastery, to unlock other assignments or opportunities, for instance taking part in a project with their fellow classmates.

How many points an assignment is worth is a balance of two things in a gameful system: how challenging it is, and how much you want students to do it. So a semester-long project that gives students the opportunity to engage with many learning objectives in the course should have a high number of points, but an engagement activity like class attendance should also be valued relatively highly. See below for examples of how a couple of different classes have assigned points to different categories of assignments.

Instructors understandably take a wide variety of stances on how much they should be responsible for the process of helping the students in their class learn how to be successful students–whether that should be something they come in with or something that can and should be taught in the classroom. What we have found is that multi-part assignments, where students begin by submitting a proposal or an outline, followed by a draft, and then a finished piece produces higher quality work. This sort of scaffold helps students understand the significant amount of effort it takes to produce quality work, and experience what it looks like to complete that successfully. It can also be valuable to share estimates from past students regarding how long specific assignments took to complete successfully, and encourage them to come to your office hours to get feedback on ideas and drafts. We also recommend setting due dates for different types of assignments throughout the term. For instance, if you allow students to write up to three short papers, make one due at the end of each month of the term, with only one submission allowed per month.

Creating assignment choice doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more grading–for instance, if you allow students to choose between writing an essay and doing a group project, but they’re only able to select one, then the assessment workload for the teaching staff will remain the same (although the work itself may be slightly more varied). But if you do create more assignments for students to engage with, then balancing the workload can be tricky.

We usually see that this more open style of choice means that the grading will naturally distribute itself throughout the semester – students won’t all opt to do the same assignment at the same time, so you’ll be assessing in a steady stream of individualized content rather than facing a mountain of grading on a single assignment. However, to defend against student procrastination, it may be useful to set due dates for different types of assignments throughout the term. For instance, if you allow students to write up to three short papers, make one due at the end of each month of the term, with only one submission allowed per month.

Thus far, we’ve identified the following strategies for structuring assessment in such a way that provides students regular feedback while still making it manageable for instructors:


In some disciplines auto grading is possible. For example, in programming assignments, or with multiple-choice assignments. Qualtrics (and other survey software) supports auto-grading in one type of survey that mimics a quiz. We would generally recommend these not be used as high-stakes assessments (for instance a single, multiple choice test as the final in a course), but rather as formative assessments for students to take, and retake, assessing for both of you how far along they are on learning content knowledge. This helps them maintain a sense of progress while keeping the grading burden relatively light.


We encourage you to consider opportunities for peer-feedback and peer-grading. This builds connections between students in the classroom (core to supporting belongingness and thus intrinsic motivation), and again provides a stream of in-context feedback.


It’s generally easier to grade resubmissions than it is completely new work from students. Allowing resubmissions enables students to take safe risks–they can try an assignment type they are unfamiliar with and begin by producing less-than-stellar work, that can then be iterated on until they are competent at it. We recommend declaring a minimum threshold of competency; if students don’t make a legitimate effort on a submission, they should not earn the right to re-submit it. You might also use a minimum threshold for quality in order to earn points; below a set level, students don’t earn any points towards their grade for their work–this prevents students from doing mediocre work across a large number of assignments, and achieving a high grade as a result. Assignments that can be resubmitted should be used to reduce the amount of open choice students have (selecting from 15 assignments rather than 50) while still providing the ability to practice, and recover from failure.

How many points an assignment is worth is a balance of two things in a gameful system: how challenging it is, and how much you want students to do it. So a semester-long project that gives students the opportunity to engage with many learning objectives in the course should have a high number of points, but an engagement activity like class attendance should also be valued relatively highly. See below for examples of how a couple of different classes have assigned points to different categories of assignments.

One of the things we’ve discovered is that students will be frustrated if they haven’t levelled up past an F until the very end of the semester. This is common in traditional courses – the majority of your grade, relies on a final exam, or a single semester project. Because of the transparency in the system, and the way GradeCraft tells students what level they’ve earned, this aspect becomes quite prominent for students. We find courses are most successful when we distribute assignments (and thus, earned points) across the semester so that students experience the feeling of progress throughout the semester. We recommend that substantive assignments be distributed throughout the whole semester, with the goal of students being able to level up every week or two throughout the experience. We have a spreadsheet available here to help you map out how points accumulation maps to timeline of the semester. We also strongly recommend having students use the Grade Predictor early in the semester, and then advising everyone to revisit it later in the term (perhaps in section). This can help minimize student concerns about their progress.

Careful thought needs to be put in to the point values you give to learning experiences in a gameful course. You will want to make sure that assignments and assessments carry the weight they need to (i.e. have high enough point values) in order to accurately reflect the effort students are putting into them relative to other point earning opportunities. It is also critical when thinking about gameful courses (or even more traditional courses), points are not the only motivational lever instructors have for inspiring students to engage in the course.

A philosophical question an instructor can ask themselves about their attendance policies/points include is, “Why is it important for students to attend class?” If it is because you want your course to be a learning community where everyone is actively engaged, then you will want to structure your class sessions to motivate those interactions (and, in turn, attendance). If it is important for students to attend class because they will be getting opportunities to practice the skills you want them to learn, then structuring your grading scheme and class sessions to encourage participation in those activities is another way to leverage.

We’re still working on identifying exactly what the maximum amount of choice should be, but we know that when there are more than approximately 20 assignments in a single category, this becomes overwhelming for students to keep track of. However, there are ways to provide support to get around this: you could establish a large number of assignments and only make a few of them available at any one time to help make this manageable, or create archetype assignments that offer many opportunities for students to complete them. For instance, in SI110: Introduction to Information Studies, students are able to complete up to ten Explorer Reports, where they attend a relevant talk on campus and write a reflection on the experience and connect it to the course content. This allows students to have autonomy over which talk to attend, while not creating an overwhelming set of different assignments to make select from.


When badges have points attached, they become a mini assignment with an icon – which means that students are likely to be even more focused on how consistently you award them. Adding points to badges is a great way to get students to actively work to earn them – but make sure you’re ready for the emails from students arguing for the ways in which they’ve earned them.

We’ve observed three different types of things badged in courses:

  1. Skills (teamwork, presentation skills, creativity)
  2. Engagement (attending X lectures in a row, going to on-campus activities)
  3. Content Knowledge

When considering adding badges to your course, look at your learning objectives and see if any of them map neatly only skills that might be badged, or if there are clear levels of content knowledge development that lend themselves to badging.

Two challenges about badges as an approach: it’s important that it be very clear to students how they should go about earning them, and it’s important that the moments that they’re awarded match the teaching team’s workflow. If badging is to be successful it needs to be done consistently. Most badging systems embedded in course designs that we’ve seen so far have been challenged by the fact that it adds an additional workflow and assessment process that is above-and-beyond the grading process.

Course Outcomes

Definitely not! But you’re likely to see a higher number than normal, especially when compared to classes that have a curve applied after the fact. When you make the expectations to earn a high grade transparent, students will be empowered to do exactly that. Not all students will manage it, for a variety of reasons–but we believe that an intrinsically motivating learning environment should make it possible for all students to earn excellent grades if they’re willing to do rigorous work at a high level. We argue that the rigor of a course should be reflected in its learning goals and the challenge presented by assignments – not by how many (or few) students receive an “A” at the end of the term.

At the end of the semester we encourage instructors to reflect on any instances where they feel like students have received a high grade but not really done enough work or learned what was hoped at the outset. We’ve observed two things that can address this situation:

  1. Grade accurately. Don’t award points on an assessment that doesn’t match up to how the student genuinely performed. Because gameful systems allow students many opportunities to do work, this will quickly build to an A that you’ll feel like doesn’t represent how much they’ve learned, or the effort they’ve put in. If you can help students see what they aren’t doing successfully, and enable them to resubmit the assignment until they do achieve it masterfully, you’ll be happy with the grade you’ve awarded them and what they’ve learned.
  2. Play out a model of what anticipated student behaviors are, and explore how easy or hard it is to achieve each grade. We have sample spreadsheets that can help you map this out. Consider whether each pathway and behavior leads to a grade that feels appropriate. This sort of ‘gut check’ has helped us prevent obvious gaps in the assessment design, identifying spaces where more assignments are needed for student autonomy, or grade thresholds aren’t set quite high enough.

There are two schools of thought here – the first is that it’s difficult to feel like a student should earn an A when they don’t have A-level mastery of the content, and so if we see grades as representative of skill level or content knowledge, then we need to prevent this. The alternative is that practice, especially at a task like writing, is valuable for student learning. Students who achieve As through this route have typically done a great deal more work, and learned significantly more than they would have otherwise.

However, if you want to block this route there are a couple of methods: The first is to set high levels of competency for assessments, and that work that is determined to be below this threshold is not awarded any points. This prevents students from building up a high grade through poor work. It should be balanced by the desire to help students feel like they are making progress, so look for a way to recognize the successful work that they do complete – if we experience nothing but failure, we “check out” from an experience pretty quickly. The second option is build levels that reflect both points and competencies earned. So I might earn 600/1,000 points through writing an essay, but because achieving Level 2 requires both 600 points AND for me to have earned at least a 3/5 on the “Strong Writer” objective, I won’t level up until I’ve achieved that second objective.

Gameful courses make it possible to design better learning experiences for students who need more practice and support in the content area, as well as students who come with a high skill level and need to be challenged. For the latter, we recommend creating assignment sequences, where early work unlocks later assignments that makes use of the earlier lessons to create a more interesting and advanced assessment. Another way to ensure students stay engaged is to build the levelling system such that it requires students to achieve on a variety of levels to earn advanced grades. An example of this that we’ve seen is courses requiring students have a 90% attendance rate to earn an A – they may have done stellar work outside of this, but they won’t have an A if they haven’t continued to engage in the course experience. However, use required elements like this with caution: as you add more rules like this, you reduce students’ autonomy, and the resulting intrinsic motivation.

Language Choices

We recommend you think about naming levels in a way that makes sense within your content. Think about the level names as an additional way for students to naturally pick up language (and hierarchy) that is embedded in the material they’re studying.

Excellent examples we’ve seen in the past: a Spanish class that used location names on a trip to reflect progress; a class on video games that named levels after historical platforms; and a class on the History of Science that named levels after beings representing different stages of evolution. Badge names often also reflect the semiotic domain, or else broaden the perspective to connect to soft skills (Creativity, Group Work, Leadership, etc.) we value across domain.

Extra credit and assignment choice are two strategies that can look quite similar, both in the goals for using them, and in the shape they take practically. But we’ve found that the phrase “extra credit” has a specific meaning for students: in traditional systems where assignments each count for a percentage of the amount up to 100%, they expect that extra credit points are special and will act as a different sort of boost to their grade. In gameful systems you award points directly for each assignment. If you build in assignment choice then there are more points available to students than they actually need to earn. They have the choice to select which assignments match their skill level, interests, and time requirements. But points for each and every assignment are counted the same, and some types of points aren’t more beneficial to your grade than others. We advise against using the term “extra credit”.


GradeCraft was designed to replace the gradebooks of other learning management systems because they each assume that all students should complete all assignments (with some rules about contribution, for instance taking the top 10 grades from a particularly category). The perspective that a class might have more assignments available than students should actually complete is what we have built GradeCraft around. With the creation of this choice, students then need support to make sense of it; the GradeCraft Points Planner is built explicitly to do that. The Points Planner allows students to plan each assignment than they will engage with, and map out their goals for performance. Before GradeCraft was developed, we saw students be excited about gameful learning but also confused about the choices in front of them. We have found that GradeCraft is successful at help students make sense of their progress in gameful courses.

We recommend you introduce GradeCraft right at the beginning – it is, in a way, the living syllabus. It’s particularly good at helping students keep track of what’s going on, and encouraging them to set goals for their semester. We have put together a video to help students understand the approach here: Intro to Gameful Learning with GradeCraft

Potential things include:

  • Which system (Standard LMS or GradeCraft) students should submit work to
  • Which system students should expect to receive feedback on
  • What the required elements of the course are (the common pathway that everyone engages in)
  • What the opportunities are for students to customize the class to their interests and schedules
  • How to use the Points Planner