In July, I wrote a post describing my efforts to gamify a course for this fall semester. I'm using quests, outcomes-based grading, badges, and XPs (experience points) to model a gamified learning experience for students in my course on emerging web and mobile technologies. As part of this approach, I designed a pre-assessment, which my students completed within the first few days of the semester. The pre-assessment was vital for this course, in particular, because students in this graduate-level course vary widely in their background and experiences with technology. This pre-assessment provided students an opportunity to show what they know and is allowing me to customize the learning experience for students.
Based on students' pre-assessment responses, I awarded students XPs that can be applied toward specific quests (modules) in the course. For instance, when a student demonstrated on the pre-assessment that she has a great deal of expertise in concepts related to digital literacy, I awarded her XPs to be applied toward the digital citizenship quest. Later in the semester, when this student begins working on the digital citizenship quest, she can choose how to apply her pre-assessment XPs. Applying XPs from previously learned concepts and experiences can keep students from completing assignments that are unnecessary.
Since each student enters our classrooms with a unique set of strengths and needs, it is important to recognize and celebrate what students know and can do. It is equally important to recognize what students do not yet know and cannot yet do. Based on pre-assessment results, I know the strengths and gaps in each student's understanding of course concepts. Perhaps even more importantly, after completing the pre-assessment, my students now have an understanding of their own skills and competencies in relation to course learning outcomes. After pre-assessment results were in, a few students messaged me to say that they were surprised at how much they either did or didn't know.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this level of self-awareness. Without a pre-assessment or some other opportunity to activate students' prior knowledge in relation to course learning outcomes, my students and I would be moving blindly ahead, tackling each topic and task without regard for students' strengths and needs. In online courses, which many instructors design and construct in their entirety before the semester begins, it can be difficult to envision ways to customize learning for students. This approach has helped me strike a balance between the need to design the course in advance and the need to be responsive to the unique learners in my course.