Professor Abandons Grades for Experience Points


A professor at Indiana University has instituted a system of gaining experience points through classwork instead of receiving traditional grades.

Lee Sheldon is an accomplished screenwriter and game writer, having worked on TV shows like ST:TNG and Charlie’s Angels as well as the Agatha Christie series of games from The Adventure Company. He now teaches game design courses for Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications. Instead of assigning his students a grade at the end of the course, he instead starts every student at 0 xp and they earn points through completing quests like solo projects and quizzes in addition to grouping up for guild projects and pick up groups. How many points they have at the end of the course determines their actual “grade.”

Sheldon put the system in place so that his students were motivated by the game theory with which they were familiar. “The elements of the class are couched in terms they understand, terms that are associated with fun rather than education,” Sheldon said.

Escapist Magazine: Professor Abandons Grades for Experience Points

I could see this being a little more granular as well – awarding points in specific areas. At the end of the course, students could really assess where their strengths are. Over the course of a larger program of study (2-6 years or whatever), “experience points” in certain areas would really start to stack up. Having a bigger assessment of strengths would be more useful than a GPA or a list of pass/fails.

My alma mater Evergreen State College works something like this. You take only one class at a time. Each class is worth 16 credits, and the credits are usually spread across a few different areas. For example, I took a class called “Science of Mind” which awarded credits in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and statistics. If you don’t meet the objectives for one area of study, say statistics, you might lose credit for that subject, ending up with only 14 credits that quarter. There are no grades, so your GPA doesn’t suffer, but you won’t have as many statistics credits.

However, having a more defined set of areas that one could accumulate points over time through different classes and projects (“written communications,” “leadership,” “technical problem solving,” “mechanical aptitude,” etc. etc.) seems like it would be very useful for both the students themselves and for potential employers or graduate program committees or whoever else might need to evaluate a students strengths.


  1. Now all we need is “KMFDM”, a “Drug against War”!!!

    Just kidding… But serious;-)

  2. For more information about Sheldon’s game design classes and using games to teach please visit his blog at:

  3. Reminds me of Jane McGonigal’s “Gaming can make a better world” TEDtalk on channeling gamer’s “epic wins” into real life events.

  4. Theoretick – yep, and check out John Robb’s comments on said talk:

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