Christine Yu

Christine Yu | GradeCraft Intern

Christine’s Thoughts on Interning at GradeCraft

Ever since second semester of my freshman year, I’ve worked some form of job all year round. I’ve worked at daycares, small offices, and tech companies — all of them filled with great people and unique experiences that have taught me a lot about who I am and the kind of work I want to do in the long run. As a student worker throughout my years as an undergrad, I always felt like I was in a ‘support role’. I’d work on smaller tasks on different projects that I felt weren’t important to the overall end-goals or vision of the projects. Even a “thank you so much for all the work and effort you put in!” felt insincere at times because I wasn’t really an essential asset to the team.

Joining the GradeCraft team was a daunting but refreshing experience because it deviated so much from the kind of work environment I had grown accustomed to. The in-house team consists of a small group of dedicated people who work on a variety of different aspects of the platform, from back-end to design to marketing.

I started off working with support videos and social media but eventually moved into working on usability testing and interface design. I had experience doing all of these different things from my undergrad program in Informatics, but I was able to really apply and hone my skills through all of the different projects I worked on. I was getting more and more feedback with every project and task I worked on, and as I continued working on different projects, I was able to take ownership of my work — and that was one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences I’ve had while working at GradeCraft. Rather than focusing on small and seemingly menial tasks, I could see my work contributing to GradeCraft’s greater vision. I could really invest in what I was doing knowing that it’d be valuable work that would get taken seriously.

It’s still scary to have something that I’ve worked on for weeks looked at and evaluated because I want my work to fit standards and expectations. I had to learn to start defending my work as well; rather than working on something and simply having it be approved or disapproved, I had to design and defend my work with rationale as to why I proceeded the way I did if I wanted my voice and work to be taken seriously. I felt like I could really make a greater impact on the team. Even if I was wrong with the direction of my work or if I was missing pieces in my thinking, I could still learn and grow from my mistakes.

The GradeCraft team is full of hardworking and driven people that really inspires me to set my standards high for all of the work that I do.  Being able to ask for and receive serious, tangible feedback has helped me learn a lot about myself and my work, helping me set and meet new standards and expectations for myself. I’ve grown and learned a lot during my time with the GradeCraft team and I’m thankful and excited to carry these lessons on to my future endeavors.


This semester we had the opportunity to work with five new instructors at the University of Michigan to make their courses gameful. We asked each to share a bit about how they got started with gameful learning, and what they hope to see over the course of the semester. We’ll be featuring their responses here on our blog over the next several weeks.


joanna-millunchickJoanna Millunchick, College of Engineering:

MATSCIE 220: Intro to Material Science Engineering

What got you interested in gameful learning?

I heard about this approach from Barry [Fishman] and Mika [LaVaque-Manty] and was intrigued.  But what got me to try it was something else entirely.  My colleague Steve Yalisove has been employing some really exciting teaching methods in his introductory MSE course. While I am certain that his approach is excellent for really getting students to engage with the course content on a deeper level than we typically see, I’m not convinced that all students want or need to get that in a 200 level course.  So I thought I’d see what would happen if students had a choice between the kind of activities we typically offer (exams, graded homework, quizzes), and the kinds of activities that get students to engage more deeply (annotating the text, homework reflections, etc).


What are you excited to see this semester?

I can’t wait to see how the students choose to go through the course material.

This semester we had the opportunity to work with five new instructors at the University of Michigan to make their courses gameful. We asked each to share a bit about how they got started with gameful learning, and what they hope to see over the course of the semester. We’ll be featuring their responses here on our blog over the next several weeks.

Laura-OlsenLaura Olsen, Director of the Program in Biology, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology



Alex-SternAlex Stern, Professor of American Culture, Women’s Studies, History, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Director, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies/Brazil Initiative




AMCULT 241: Health, Biology, and Society: What is Cancer?

What got you interested in gameful learning?

Laura: It sounded like fun! It sounded like something different. I like fun and different.

Alex: I love games so I liked the idea of gamification. Now that we are using GradeCraft, I love its flexibility. Thinking back, when I put together the Health in America course about two years ago I was trying, without these tools, to gamify it. Gamification helps you take a one dimensional course into three dimensions. Now I am looking forward to designing many of my courses this way. It meshes with with my flexible and interdisciplinary teaching approach. For this course, it allows us to build in certain requirements in an integrated and holistic way. I do think students students will take something substantive away with them from the foundational assignments we’ve created.

L: Something I have discovered is this difference in philosophy: I’m used to lecturing and being focused on the content, wanting to make sure that I present all of the details correctly. And now, I don’t have to deal with the stress of that because they don’t have to take an exam. But we have very high attendance at lecture, and they’re coming with questions that show they’re engaging with material. I started with the idea that I couldn’t bring this to my other courses like Intro Bio – and now I think I could, it’s just a question of coming up with the right activities.


What has this meant you’re doing differently in your class?

L: I’m trying to be a lot more creative in what I’m doing – certainly with a broader range of interactive options. My other classes tend to be interactive, but maybe not as much as this in a way. I’m focusing less on grades and points, that’s for sure. That may or may not make students feel better.

A: This class definitely has more group work. We’ve built that in because we have group tables in the classroom and we do in-class exercises. In the past I’ve done this but they’ve been shorter, more individualized exercises. Students work together to solve a problem or answer a question, and get points for it! This can create a buzz of energy in the group, which then builds into full class discussion. I am very enthusiastic about this mode of teaching and hope to see it expand in the humanities.

L: We’re getting different people to speak up now too!


What reactions have you observed in your students?

L: Everything from anxiety to enthusiasm. I think the students for the most part really like it, I’ve heard them talking to each other about it at different times. The first week or two there was more anxiety, but now I don’t think it’s so much that.

A: I think especially once we get back from break and have completed more grading, generating more points for them, the students are going to start to feel more reassured.

L: I think once they get into the B range, they’re going to be more secure. They’re starting to think less about points, and more about assignments, and that’s a great thing.

A: We want them to know that it’s not just the quantity, it’s also quality. I have been giving them a lot of feedback on their assignments, and I think now they realize that just submitting an assignment doesn’t necessarily result in receiving full points.

L: At the least the ones I’m seeing know how you use the grade predictor and are using it.

This semester we had the opportunity to work with five new instructors at the University of Michigan to make their courses gameful. We asked each to share a bit about how they got started with gameful learning, and what they hope to see over the course of the semester. We’ll be featuring their responses here on our blog over the next several weeks.


Jay CrisostomoJay Crisostomo, Department of Near Eastern Studies

NEAREAST337 | Ancient Mesopotamia: History and Culture

What got you interested in gameful learning?

My introduction to gameful learning resulted from my approach to teaching. One of the most fundamental tenets of many of my classes is allowing students options. I have found that when students choose their own adventure, so to speak, they feel more in control of their education. I want my students to feel free to explore their questions and to express their ingenuity and creativity in doing so. Traditional evaluations cater to particular types of students; gameful learning provides alternatives that allow other types of students to succeed or gives students the courage to try something different. When I as the instructor dictate the method of evaluation, I always feel as though it is a missed opportunity for a student to express themselves. Gameful learning offers a natural way of achieving these goals. Since I give my students options, it makes sense to allow them to build up towards the grades that they desire. Allowing students to set their own pace and determine their own outcomes is, in my view, part of giving them control of their learning experience.

Traditional learning evaluations certainly have their place, and I always allow my students the option of pursuing a more comfortable method of demonstrating what they learned such as writing an exam or producing a research paper. My students tell me that they appreciate having a break from doing the things they do in all their other classes. Some students appreciate having the ability to set their due dates so that all their work from all their classes is not due at the same time or setting a schedule of assignments for themselves that removes stress at the end of term and allows them to concentrate on absorbing whatever methods or narratives I want them to understand. Other students have felt emboldened to be honest about themselves and what they want to accomplish in my courses.


Was there something about teaching that you were dissatisfied with that you thought gameful would address? What has implementing gameful learning caused you to do differently in your class?

I still teach some courses more traditionally, so it is easy to contrast how I approach my gameful courses compared to the others. My gameful courses require more work on my part, more preparation. If I give students options from multiple reading assignments, I have to read all the options. If students want to hand in major projects at points in the term that interrupt the natural flow of my work and preparation, I have to accommodate them. But at the same time, I feel more engaged with my gameful courses because I’m more invested. And I think my gameful students are similarly more engaged.


What are you excited to see this semester?

One of the things I’ve experienced with gameful courses is that by giving students freedom to explore their creativity and innovation, I learn just as much from them as they do from me. I have had students hand in projects that blow me away in terms of creativity and production—I brag about them to my colleagues. Other students take the opportunity to utilize talents or skills that they don’t get to use often in a university classroom setting and, as a result, we instructors rarely get to see. So that’s what I’m excited to see—I’m excited to see what my students come up with as a result of a gameful course.


This semester we had the opportunity to work with five new instructors at the University of Michigan to make their courses gameful. We asked each to share a bit about how they got started with gameful learning, and what they hope to see over the course of the semester. We’ll be featuring their responses here on our blog over the next several weeks.


amy-pavlovAmy Pavlov, College of Engineering

TC 496: Advanced Technical Communication for Electrical Engineering/Computer Engineering

What got you interested in gameful learning?

I first became interested in gameful learning when I was struggling to solve a problem with how my course was set up. My students needed more variety in their assignments because they had disparate needs as graduating seniors working on senior design projects from across many disciplines. I puzzled over how I could revise my assignments in order to meet everyone’s needs. A colleague of mine suggested an alternate approach; instead of trying to meet everyone’s needs with the same assignments, why not create many different assignments for students to select from? A great idea, but how do I manage that? Answer: GradeCraft.


Was there something about teaching that you were dissatisfied with that you thought gameful would address? What has implementing gameful learning caused you to do differently in your class?

This is my first semester using GradeCraft, and so far I find myself being very transparent with my students. That is to say, I am up front with them about the learning curve we all face as we get to know GradeCraft. It’s not a difficult system, but it is different from CTools, for instance. Those places where we encounter differences are good times to talk with students about how we interact with the system and how we grow from the interactions. All in all, adding GradeCraft has encouraged me to be open and transparent with my class, which they appreciate.


What are you excited to see this semester?

Looking forward, I’m very excited to see how my students will choose to complete the class. Which assignments will they complete? What areas speak to their interests and experience? How will students respond to having so much control and agency in their learning? It’s going to be a great adventure.

We have so much to learn from our students. In an effort to grow the student perspective within our gameful community, we have invited nine students to join our team as GAME Ambassadors. They will help us spread the word about gameful learning on the U-M campus, including running demos, identifying bugs, brainstorming new features, and assisting their peers in navigating gameful courses. All nine have mastered at least one gameful course, and some have taken as many as three! We are incredibly inspired by the discussions we’ve had with them already this year, and can’t wait for you to hear more from them directly. To start us off, we asked each of the GAME Ambassadors to share one piece of advice for students who are new to gameful classes.


From top left: Monica Chen, Michael Digiovanni, Zain El-Amir, Ethan Goldberg, Jeremy Kaplan, Giacomo Squatriti, Shelby Steverson, Alex Wilf, Kelly Yuen

Monica Chen Senior, BSI- User Experience Design; minors in Music and Linguistics
“Take ownership of your freedom of choice early and frontload your work if you can because the future is always more uncertain than the present. Plan as if you need to achieve more than you truly do, and underweight your projected scores through the Grade Predictor to give you a comfortable buffer if something unpredictable comes up. Overall, more flexibility can mean more work – only if you let it – but the work is more rewarding and motivated!”

Michael Digiovanni 
Senior, BSI
“When taking gameful classes try to test everything and then stick with what you are passionate about. The class becomes more rewarding when you put more into it. The best lesson to learn from these classes is different for each person. I was initially uncomfortable, but eventually grew to love that I was able to make a mistake and “fail” by traditional schooling, but be able to try again and succeed. Being able to learn at my own pace is something that I look for in a learning environment and Gradecraft is one of the best resources for that. Good luck!”

Zain El-Amir Sophomore, Microbiology & English
My advice for students who are new to these types of classes is just to try new things without hesitation because the set-up allows you to fail and still succeed.”

Ethan Goldberg Freshman, Undeclared – deciding between Computer Science, Business, and Math
In gameful classes you are not expected to do every assignment. Instead, you are expected to broaden your horizons and try assignments that interest you.”

Jeremy Kaplan Freshman, Undeclared – most likely Cell and Molecular Biology
“Take feedback and criticism seriously. Unlike in normal classes where losing points is a permanent mark against you, gameful classes give you the opportunity to learn from feedback and gain back lost points through additional demonstrated mastery.”

Giacomo Squatriti Freshman, Undeclared – deciding between Poli-Sci and Computer Science
“Make sure you take full advantage of the opportunities gameful classes offer. Do something you wouldn’t normally do, branch out a little bit!”

Shelby Steverson Freshman, Undeclared – deciding between Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience (BCN) or Neuroscience
“Plan early. Don’t let a large project at the end of the course determine your final grade. Earn points early and often. Set some time aside each week to check your progress in the class and see what projects you can do right now to raise your grade to the next level. Even projects with small point values could be the difference between an A- and an A. If you work hard early on, before you know it, you’ve earned an A in the class weeks before the end of the semester. “

Alex Wilf Freshman, Undeclared – considering Poli-Sci and Computer Science
“This may sound obvious, but the course itself is a type of game. In this model, there is nothing against acting in whatever way gets you the most points (except for cheating).  Game the system.  [See Alex’s full post here]

Kelly Yuen Senior, BSI – User Experience Design and Minor in Entrepreneurship
“My advice for students who are new to gameful classes/using GradeCraft is to have fun with it! It’s a very different style of learning but if you have fun with it then you’ll be successful.”

Editor’s Note: As part of building a community around gameful learning, we’re asking students and instructors to write about their experiences within these classrooms. First up, one of our new GAME Ambassadors (more on this soon) shares his advice for students new to gameful thinking.

A bit about Alex: He is a freshman from Riverside, Connecticut. He has not yet decided on a major, but he is considering political science and computer science as possibilities.  When not in class, Alex sings for the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club.


Alex’s Thoughts on Gameful Learning

This may sound obvious, but it helps if you think of the course itself as a type of game. In this model, there is nothing against acting in whatever way gets you the most points (except for cheating). Game the system. It’s encouraged!  

I was always taught to reject this thinking. I was told that the “pure” pursuit of knowledge was the only thing I should be thinking about while absorbing information in a class. To an extent, my teachers and professors were absolutely right, but in another, they were neglecting the fact that our education system operates not only as a space for free exploration but as a filter in a meritocracy, with the weight of career expectations pressing down on those in it.

My advice to students new to a gameful course would be to set aside your moral problems with “gaming” a class which is supposed to be purely about learning, and give it a shot. When I did that, I was able to see that the course structure inspired me to put forth a larger amount of effort into learning the curriculum, which resulted in me actually learning the material better and enjoying the class more than I might have in a traditional course. Additionally, the act of “gaming” the system taught me important skills like scheduling, time management, and managing team dynamics.

There’s something liberating about this model in that it doesn’t force your desire to succeed in a course and your professor’s feelings about grading into conflict. Have fun, enjoy the odd kind of freedom that comes with such an overtly controlled environment, learn to be a rational actor in the game, and hopefully you’ll learn not just what the curriculum has to offer, but what you can achieve when asked to “throw yourself into a game.”


One of the primary goals of our Third Century Initiative grant is to build a community of teachers and learners engaged in and around gameful learning. Last Monday, we had our first gameful pedagogy community event where we discussed best practices in assignment design, leaderboard use and badges. Thinking about that event, we realized this was the perfect time to reflect on our community meetings so far as we approach the end of a great fall semester and prepare for a larger course load in the winter.

Slack for iOS Upload-1The attendees at the community event had a range of familiarity with gameful course design. Some were professors who have used GradeCraft for several years, and some had either recently signed up to use GradeCraft next semester or were just interested in hearing what it was all about. The roundtable sessions were a great format for open conversation on what has and has not worked for students thus far and how to iterate in the future.

As we continue to conduct research on gameful course designs, we are working to share our experiences with the community, to develop a broader understanding of the fundamentals of gameful course design and how we may apply those to a variety of different courses and subject matters. We are hoping to pave the way for gameful design in higher education and encourage our students to take more risks in their learning and discover how to choose their own pathways to reach their goals.Slack for iOS Upload

Future events will be held monthly and topics will include: exploring successful gameful syllabi, the pros and cons of competency based assessment, best practices in unlocks, levels and rubric design. We welcome all who are interested in gameful teaching and learning to join us, whether you think you want to use GradeCraft or not. Whether you’re a veteran of gameful or new to the idea, we hope you’ll join the conversation!

Upcoming Community Events:
Monday, January 25, 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Thursday, February 25, 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Monday, March 28, 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Thursday, May 5, 4:00pm – 5:30pm

Grades are complex information delivery vehicles: in a single letter we summarize something about a student’s effort, content knowledge, behavior, and their performance relative to their peers. Did you know the topic incredibly well but turned the paper in late? Not an A. Did you only get a 60% on the final exam…but that was the top mark in the class? A! Did you skip class but ace the assessments? Maybe an A. We then use these markers to make all sorts of decisions about students. Should you be admitted to the major you wanted? What about graduate school? Do you qualify for a scholarship to support your studies? Can you take the next course in a sequence? And what about that job? All instances where grades are consulted to provide a sketch of who a student is and some indication of their likely success, but the ability for a grade to be descriptive is inherently limited.

In gameful design, we look to well-designed games for inspiration on how we can improve the design of learning environments, including ways to describe a learner’s current standing. For instance it’s common in games to break apart assessment of a player’s effort (experience points, or XP) from their ability (skill points, or SP). In order for the game to feel engaging, there needs to be different challenges and feedback provided in response to each state. As we begin to address what it means to tailor learning experiences to students more directly, we’re going to need more information about a student’s experience and skillset than can be garnered from a single grade or even a whole transcript.

We have found competency-based learning to be an ideal way to address this need to create personalized rigor: rather than simply earning raw points, students must demonstrate mastery of specific learning objectives in order to level up–whether that means being awarded the next grade, earning new privileges, or facing new content content challenges. This allows us to design challenging courses where students can engage in a way that best fits their skill level, but prevents them from earning a high grade simply by producing mediocre work in bulk quantity. By incorporating learning objectives as explicit micro-credentials that students earn separately from their course grade, these can easily be communicated to a broader network, or even to the next instructor. Do you teach a class that is second in a sequence? What do your incoming learners really know? Grades don’t contain enough information to answer this question. But a description of their competencies met connected to learning analytics tools might help you tailor instruction to students’ actual needs and strengths.

The next phase of GradeCraft will be dedicated to understanding the needs of different approaches to competency-based learning and assessment practices and integrating support for them into the platform. We anticipate supporting this type of learning at a variety of scales, starting within courses, but building to support whole programs, colleges, and even across the co-curricular ecosystem. Are you currently using a competency-based approach, or considering doing so? We would love for you to join us in this conversation by emailing Rachel ( so that we can design the most efficient and engaging solution possible.

As we approach the end of the Fall 2015 semester, we are gearing up to bring GradeCraft to more courses on the University of Michigan campus. We have begun to schedule a first round of consultations with instructors who are interested in making their courses gameful and are looking to add more courses to our list for the Winter 2016 semester.

When considering using a tool like GradeCraft in your classroom, it is important to first examine some of your key philosophies to determine whether or not a gameful course design will work for you and your students.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the gameful environment is allowing students to take the focus off of grades by building up their score from zero points rather than through the traditional system where student grades start at 100% and can only decrease. Our experience and data indicate that the point-based system  encourages students to take more risks in their learning by allowing them to fail with fewer consequences than the traditional system. This does not mean, however, that courses are easier. Rather, the intent is to create an environment where students are more engaged with the course material and become more self-motivated and resilient to failure.

Another key feature of gameful design is providing multiple pathways to success. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways –  offering an array of assignments or tracks for students to choose from, enabling students to select different modes of completing the same assignment (for instance writing a paper versus creating a video), or even designing their own assignments.  

GradeCraft helps to support the logistical issues that come from giving students choices over their assignments and more transparency in the grading scheme. It also allows students to visualize their progress in a course and strategize about their choices in order to plan for their future. If you are still not sure you are “ready” for gameful course design, we have put together a short guide with questions to ask yourself which can be viewed here.

Our goal is to build a campus-wide community dedicated to reimagining course design to support autonomy, belongingness and competence. If you are a University of Michigan professor and are interested in what it may take to make your class gameful, we would love to meet with you! Please sign up here and we will be in touch with you to schedule a meeting.