Previewing the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer – Gameful/Connect

When I talk to people about gameful learning, frequently I hear skepticism about the idea of turning school into a “game” or into something “fun.” To consider what makes gameful learning so successful, we have to unpack why we consider games “fun.” Although we frequently associate a positive emotional reaction with playing a game, some games are more entertaining than others. Therefore, we have to reflect on when or why playing a game becomes enjoyment.

Ask a competitive athlete in the middle of a tough competition as to whether or not they are “having fun” at that moment. Most likely, they’re engaged with thinking about the game play, the strategy, and optimizing their physical performance within the competition that the idea of “enjoyment” is probably not the first idea that comes to mind. Instead, we talk about the experience of “challenge.” While challenge in and of itself is not generally considered pleasant (at least at the moment), it can make success extremely satisfying.

men and women sitting around tables with laptops listening to a lecture

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer, leading the GradeCraft workshop at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute

For example, consider a game that is based primarily on luck versus one based on skill. For example, compare the what it takes to win the card game “war” where winning the game is whoever happens to have the high card at that moment — to a game like chess which involves deep strategy to defeat an opponent. Winning at chess will most likely be more of a satisfying experience. Often, you will even hear a defeated player be grateful for the experience of playing a well-matched opponent; the challenge was the reward, regardless of the outcome.

Gameful learning is trying to capture that same experience. Learning should be challenging. Learning science research consistently suggests that we learn more when we are actively engaged in the topic and when the learning is appropriately challenging. Similar to how games encourage differentiated paths, we know that every instructor is a little different as well. Therefore, at the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute, we are so pleased to highlight educators who are willing to share what they have learned in their own classroom.

woman working on a laptop and a man in the background onlooking

Attendees of the GradeCraft workshop at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute.

One theme that has emerged from our presenters is how to use role-play in the classroom. Naomi Norman, Associate Vice President for Instruction at University of Georgia, and T. Chase Hagood, Director of Division of Academic Enhancement at University of Georgia, are returning to talk about their use of “Reacting to the Past,” which puts learners in control of a situation, guided by historic texts. A similar session last year was incredibly popular so we are thrilled they are returning! Similarly, Nick Noel, Instructional Designer and Media Producer at MSU Information Technology Services, is exploring how educators are similar to “game-masters” and how tabletop role-playing games could be adapted for education settings.

We are also so excited to have Angie Romines, Senior Lecturer of English at The Ohio State University, presenting on how to create and use escape rooms as a collaborative pedagogy. Hopefully, an escape room is never a true authentic task, however Angie notes that success “can only happen when participants collaborate, bounce ideas off of each other, and get comfortable with failure.”  

Women at lectern giving a presentation to attendees of a conference seated at banquet tables

Erin Baumann, Associate Director of Professional Pedagogy at the Harvard Kennedy School gives the keynote presentation at the 2018 Gameful Learning Summer Institute.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our exciting keynote speaker, William (Bill) Watson, Associate Professor of Learning Design and Technology at Purdue University. His work with the Serious Gaming Center at Purdue University researches how games can create engaging and innovative educational opportunities at all levels of instruction.

Of course, there are many more opportunities for new ideas at the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute. We hope that you will join us, feel challenged to take some ideas back integrate into your own teaching, and have fun.



Register for the 2019 Gameful Learning Summer Institute at the event registration page by Friday, July 5!

Using GradeCraft in Language Learning Courses at Michigan

Janaya Lasker-FerrettiJanaya Lasker-Ferretti, Coordinator of 2nd Year Italian Courses in Romance Languages and Literatures, GradeCraft user

GradeCraft is known for giving flexibility to students because it offers them choice and agency when it comes to their learning. However, now that I have successfully piloted GradeCraft in my Italian language classroom for a semester, I have to come to realize that not only does it offer flexibility to students, but also to instructors, especially when in comes to the implementation and exploration of new material. Because of this flexibility, I was able to incorporate a new and experiential learning opportunity into my course structure.

Students in the language learning classroom learn their skills in a bubble in that they are not learning language on the streets of Italy through copious contact with native and fluent speakers. Language learning can be tedious and the process is slow in this bubble (even though it can also be that way on the streets of Rome!). Often by the time my students arrive to class, which is the last semester of their four semester language requirement, they have lost enthusiasm and motivation. In order to restore these, it’s essential that we make Italian more alive and relevant, which is what I was able to do with GradeCraft when this amazing experiential learning opportunity fell into my lap mid-semester.    

At the end of October, when the semester was already well underway, I was contacted by the University of Michigan (U-M) Language Resource Center’s Language Bank.  The Language Bank supports non-profit organizations, social justice efforts and the community by offering translation services to those who need it. The program works on a volunteer-basis and it gives those people with language skills at U-M the opportunity to give to their community while advancing research. Dr. Denise Saint Arnault, a professor in the School of Nursing at U-M, had contacted the Language Bank earlier in the academic year to ask for help with her research.  She is working with several researchers around the world that use a type of interview she developed called Clinical Ethnographic Narrative Interview (CENI) to understand how trauma is experienced transculturally. The interviews were conducted in Italy and the researchers interviewed women who had experienced some kind of gender based violence in their lives. To advance Dr. Arnault’s research and that of her international colleagues, there was now a plethora of material to translate into English from Italian. This is where the flexibility of GradeCraft came to the rescue. Leah Squires from the Language Bank wrote to me asking if I knew of anyone who could translate several interviews done in Italian and I let Leah know that because I was using GradeCraft in my class, I could offer this experience to my students for points.  

The Language Resource Center, which funds the Language Bank, kindly offered to host an event so that my students and others in a few different sections of Italian, could get together for a few hours and translate Dr. Saint Arnault’s interviews.  They provided the students with pizza and I, along with my colleague Luisa Garrido Baez and an Italian psychologist living in Ann Arbor, Annalucia Pierro, were there to help students with the language and the process of translation. For three hours, our students, working in pairs, pored through the interviews and made the voices of these women heard in English.  In every interview there was the story of a woman’s life narrated to them in the woman’s own words, and in a language that the students had been studying for almost two years. This experience made Italian real to them and their Italian skills valuable. Moreover, this experience made up part of their grade in the course thanks to GradeCraft. I assigned 30 points to this event, the same amount that they would have received had they earned 100% on an exam. I firmly believe that this experience is worth more than an exam because it is more rooted in real-life and allowed them a window into the lives of Italian women.  

We had a great turn out for the event–there were over 20 students total. Many students were moved by the experience and some even had trouble putting the interviews down once the event was over.  All the students to whom I had spoken about the event told me it had been a great experience. In all of this, credit goes to Dr. Denise Saint Arnault and the Language Resource Center, but just as important in making this possible was GradeCraft because I was able to give value to this experience and the students jumped at this opportunity.  I also invited students who were enrolled in non GradeCraft classes. In these cases, students were awarded extra credit points. They, too, found the event to be meaningful and rewarding even though the points they earned did not, and could not, amount to the points of an exam for them. I plan on working with the Language Bank and Dr. Saint Arnault to host future events like this because there is still a lot of work to do and many more interviews to translate.  At the beginning of last semester I would have never imagined being able to offer such an incredible learning opportunity, but because of GradeCraft I was able to seamlessly implement it into the course once the Language Bank contacted me. I was able to test out this material in the fall and I am looking forward to hosting more of these events during the winter semester. Thanks to GradeCraft, I will be able to make these experiences a part of students’ Italian 232 course and in turn, they will be able to find relevance in their language study and promote research.

Hear from our Team about Accessibility, Gameful Course Design, Flipped Classrooms and Teach-Outs during Enriching Scholarship 2018

Jen Vetter, Design Manager

Several members from the Office of Academic Innovation team will present sessions showcasing our work in accessibility, gameful course design, flipped classrooms and Teach-Outs at the 21st annual Enriching Scholarship conference, held at the University of Michigan from May 7-10, 2018. The multi-day event, which hosts sessions across U-M’s campus, focuses on effectively integrating teaching and technology through lightning talks, panels, workshops, and more.

We invite you to join us for these sessions to explore how our office is enriching scholarship through education, collaboration – and innovation!

The Alt Text Writing Jam: Learning Accessible Design by Doing It!

Tuesday, May 8, 10 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

University Library Instructional Center (ULIC) – 4059 – Shapiro Library

Hosted by Rebecca Quintana, Stephanie Rosen, Yuanru Tan

What is the art and science of writing visual descriptions for course content? Instructors who use images within presentation slides do so to make content more engaging and understandable to students. However, students with visual impairments may not fully comprehend these images without a well-written visual description.

In this two-hour, hands-on workshop, you’ll learn effective methods for writing high-quality alternative text descriptions for visual elements such as photographs, tables, and charts. Reference materials and images will be provided by the facilitators. Participants are encouraged to contact Yuanru Tan ( with any questions.

Register for this session


Building Motivation into Course Design: Gameful and GradeCraft

Wednesday, May 9, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Shapiro Instructional Lab – 4041 – Shapiro Library

Hosted by Evan Straub

Have you heard about GradeCraft? GradeCraft is a tool built at the University of Michigan based on the principles that make games motivating. By offering students greater choice in the paths by which they pursue their assessments, creating transparent assessment systems and building up from zero, we have seen greater student engagement and satisfaction with courses here at University of Michigan. In addition, GradeCraft allows students to plan for the grade they want by using the Grade Predictor, which tracks assignments completed as well as assignments a student would like to do.

In this session, we’ll discuss the principles of gameful course design, go through some planning on how to redesign some (or all) of your class, and get started using GradeCraft.

Register for this session


Flipping Your Classroom: The Nuts and Bolts

Wednesday, May 9, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

CRLT Seminar Room – 1013 – Palmer Commons

Hosted by Evan Straub, Nicole Tuttle

The “flipped classroom” has garnered considerable attention in the academy in recent years. This approach to teaching involves the use of podcasting, videos, and other strategies to shift students’ initial exposure to content from the lecture hall to outside of the classroom. In the process, significant portions of class time are freed up for active learning and student engagement.

In this workshop, participants will explore teaching in a flipped classroom and consider how to use this approach in their own teaching. The session will highlight general principles for designing a flipped lesson, including how to hold students accountable for completing pre-class work. The workshop will provide an introduction to relevant instructional technologies and campus resources around them. Finally, participants will explore strategies for designing instruction to engage students during class time.

Register for this session


From MOOCs to Teach-Outs: An Emerging Format

Thursday, May 10, 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

University Library Instructional Center (ULIC) – 4059 – Shapiro Library

Hosted by Jeff Bennett, Jen Vetter, Steve Welsh

In the years since their inception, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have matured into a medium with a wide range of variable objectives and design models. Last year, the U-M Office of Academic Innovation piloted a series of nine Teach-Outs using MOOC platforms to engage a global audience around topics of pressing social urgency. Inspired by the Teach-Ins of 1965, the Teach-Out model was conceived as a two-day participatory learning opportunity providing 1-4 hours of content, with a constructivist emphasis on active community discussion. In contrast to a conventional assessment design, Teach-Outs culminate in a call to action intended to effect change at the individual, community, or broader societal level.

In this session, Michigan’s Teach-Out project team will present several case studies of innovative course design, focusing on moving from MOOCs as we have known them to a more agile, event-oriented model with narrower learning objectives and learner-centered outcomes. We will conclude with some generalizable findings with relevance for constructivist online course environments.

Register for this session


All Enriching Scholarship sessions are FREE and open to all members of the U-M community, but require registration. Click HERE to view a list of all sessions.

Sponsors include CRLT, U-M Academic Innovation, U-M Library, LSA Instructional Support Services, LSA Language Resource Center, and HITS (Health Information & Technology Services).

Join us May 7-10 for Enriching Scholarship 2018!

Reflections on the Gameful Learning Summer Institute

Rachel Niemer, Director of the Gameful Learning Lab

Back in June, I wrote about the (then upcoming) Gameful Course Design Summer Institute. Our goals for the event, held on July 24 and 25, were to introduce a new group of instructors, from within and beyond the University of Michigan, to the ideas of gameful course design. Attendees included K-12 teachers, higher ed instructional designers and educational technologists, and professors from a range of institutions. We hoped that giving people dedicated time, away from the requirements of everyday work, would open up space for them to imagine and create new learning environments and experiences. Beyond giving individuals a new toolkit for course design, we hoped to seed a community of adventurers: educators who want to experiment with new approaches to assessing student learning and blaze new trails to engage students.

The event began  with welcoming remarks from James Hilton, Vice Provost of Academic Innovation and Dean of Libraries, and a dynamic keynote from Barry Fishman, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the U-M School of Information and School of Education. Fishman’s talk explored ten principles of game design that make games excellent and engaging learning environments, and posed the question, “What might your classes look like if you applied these principles to the design of your courses?”

I followed the keynote with a mini-workshop to guide instructors through a set of exercises to articulate their teaching philosophies, identify gameful design principles that align with those philosophies, and employing practices they can use in their course design and teaching to embody those philosophies and principles.

Evan Straub, Learning Experience Designer in the Gameful Learning Lab, and emcee/creator of the Institute, led participants into the heart of the event: working through a design process for their courses. She provided a set of worksheets to help participants visually sketch out possible assessment structures and to guide them through developing a model for the point structures in their new courses. We capped off Day 1 with a scavenger hunt around central campus and downtown Ann Arbor, followed by an opportunity to socialize at a casual reception.

“Inspiration” was the focus of Day 2. We launched the day with a panel of U-M community members who have had a range of gameful experiences. Panel participants were:

  • Pamela Bogart, Lecturer and Digital Initiatives Coordinator, English Language Institute, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Monica Chen, BSI ‘17 and User Experience Intern, Digital Innovation Greenhouse
  • Jandi Kelly, Doctoral Student, Center for the Study of Higher and Professional Education, School of Education
  • Mika LaVaque-Manty, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Director of LSA Honors Program

Much of the rest of the day was collaborative working time so participants could share their designs with one another, get feedback and refine those designs.

Without a doubt one of the highlights of the day was the keynote address from Paul Darvasi, Educator, Writer & Game Designer, Royal St. George’s College/York University. Paul has explored many intersections of games and education, which he writes about at During the keynote he talked about his work developing pervasive games for learning. In his classrooms,  students can choose to be immersed in a role-playing game to learn about literature or technology. It was fascinating!

We are already preparing for next year’s event. In addition to the workshops, we hope to add a conference which will include presentations from some of this year’s attendees sharing the success and challenges of their newly designed gameful courses. Save the date: July 23-25 — we hope to see you there!