Science Supports F.A.I.L. U.


There is a growing body of research about the importance of failure and gaming in an educational setting:

  • “[The] Number of level failures in an educational game [are] shown as a positive predictor of learning gains” (Anderson, 2018).

  • “21st-century skills such as critical thinking and grit are fostered most in games that give players maximum agency to define their game world” (Rementilla, 2016).

  • “game-based experiential learning increased such indicators of engagement as attention and temporal dissociation even though players widely failed to meet game objectives” (Jensen, 2016).

  • “Not only do games present failure as a challenge to overcome, game-based learning helps students better retain information and offers an engaging way to meet learning outcomes” (ISTE, 2015).

  • “fundamentally, all good games … engender in players a desire to persist past failure” (Gee, 2004; Hayes & King, 2009).


More evidence that GamEDX instruction at F.A.I.L. U. provides the best means to imbue learners with the tenacity they need to lead successful lives:




A Revolutionary Approach to Game-Based Instruction

by Jeremy Royster 


Gamification, game-based learning, and serious games (FIG. 1) are enjoying ever-increasing use in the education and business worlds to meet a desperate need for increased engagement and productivity in school and at work (Laning).

FIG. 1


According to a recent Yale nationwide survey, nearly 75% of American high school students have negative feelings toward school including boredom, fatigue, and stress (Belli). Further, these feelings increase as students continue through school (Busteed). A survey conducted in 2018 by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning found that “eight in 10 elementary students reported that they were engaged, compared with 6 in 10 middle schoolers and 4 in 10 high schoolers” (Lyons, “Bored in Class”). Math and science scores in the triennial Program for International Student Assessment reflects the impact of this trend on American 15-year-olds

The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science. (DeSilver)  

The education system in the United States has long been criticized for student disengagement and poor performance without an understanding of the systemic cultural and curricular challenges that prevent meaningful change:  

  • a culture of “fixed” mindsets that stigmatizes failure and places students accustomed to success at a disadvantage when facing challenges outside of their comfort zone (Dweck, Bregman). 
  • Standardized curricula that fail to target 21st Century skills like creativity and higher-level thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Robinson, Talbert, Niall McNulty).
  • A meritocracy bias that justifies increasing college tuition and an elitist work ethic that has fueled favoritism of affluent students and graduates (Markovits, Ma et al., Bell).
  • School rankings driven by standardized testing results and the consequential preservation of K-12 punitive grading and assessment systems (Armstrong).

In this essay, a new game-based learning pedagogy, GamEDX, will be introduced as a viable alternative to these systemic educational barriers to universal engagement and productivity (FIG. 2). 

FIG 2. 

It will be shown that GamEDX training at F.A.I.L. University (Fearless Adventures In Learning) addresses the systemic cultural and curricular educational barriers by

  1. Promoting a “growth mindset” that reframes failures as a learning opportunity and facilitates better performance on the transfer of learning tasks (Dweck, Gee et al., Kapur and Kinzer). 
  2. Modeling personalized curriculum development to capitalize on student interests and target higher level 21st Century skills (Robinson, Rementilla).
  3. Engaging educators in online game-based instruction to aid in the completion of difficult work and to keep up with increasing dependency on internet delivery of instruction (Fain, Torres, OECD and Burns).
  4. Providing an intrinsically rewarding, student-centered assessment system for learning (Pink, Rementilla, Goble).

It will further be demonstrated that the personalized curriculum developed according to GamEDX Pedagogy meets the following learning standards (FIG. 3).

FIG. 3 (Hancock, Duckworth, “Social . . . Success,” Kivunja, Niall McNulty) 



F.A.I.L. University

Jane McGonigal, PhD, was an early pioneer of game-based self-improvement. In 2015 she invented SuperBetter, a game that helps players tackle real-life health challenges such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and traumatic brain injury. She argues that, “Playing to get better at something (anything!) really does help you become . . . more resilient in real life” (McGonigal).  Soon after, Angela Duckworth won celebrity for proving her definition of “grit” to be deterministic of future success (Duckworth). More recently, Brene Brown has earned acclaim for highlighting the damaging effects of the crippling shame that often accompanies failure (Brown). Although McGonigal, Duckworth and Brown have raised public awareness about the relationship between living gamefully, grit, and failure, their contributions are only a fraction of a growing body of research about the importance of failure in an educational setting.

Enter:  F.A.I.L. University’s online “Fearless Adventures In Learning,” which aids in the achievement of personalized, meaningful goals through GamEDX experiences that increase intrinsic motivation and reframe failures as learning opportunities. 


The Problem With Winning

A culture of “fixed” mindsets can be mitigated by reframing failure as part of a game, which facilitates better performance (Dweck, Gee et al., Kapur and Kinzer).

Challenge:  A “fixed” mindset culture stigmatizes failure and places students accustomed to success at a disadvantage when facing challenges outside of their comfort zone (Dweck, Bregman).


Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” presentation is the most-watched TED Talk of all time (Brandon). Clearly, he struck a chord.

You’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. (Robinson)

Fear of failure can permanently blind students to learning opportunities.

Carol Dweck, Stanford professor, researcher, and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, coined the now-familiar terms “fixed” and “growth mindset” to describe her research on self-imposed learning barriers. Dweck found that a fixed mindset, or the belief that intelligence is unchanging, acts to inhibit intellectual development. Conversely, she found that children trained to embrace a growth mindset can improve their intelligence with deliberate practice. Not to be confused with “uninformed effort” in the form of meaningless repetition, deliberate practice involves expert feedback and examining mistakes in order to learn from them (Dweck, Gil).

Despite the years that have passed since Dweck’s landmark findings, “children are acutely aware of where they stand . . . and identify as ‘smart’ or ‘not smart’ . . .  —beliefs that can stick with them for life, according to multiple studies” (Berwick). 


Alternative:  Promote a “growth mindset” that reframes failures as learning opportunities and facilitates better performance on the transfer of learning tasks (Dweck, Gee et al. Kapur and Kinzer).


Dweck’s findings fly in the face of a traditional deference to “smart” students for whom traditional school learning comes easily. She discovered that students accustomed to success are actually at a disadvantage when facing a challenge outside of their comfort zone. Children who have historically persisted through challenging schoolwork, however, are more likely to complete math problems that have previously been abandoned as unsolvable (Bregman). 

Dweck’s observations find support in the work of Kapur and Kinzer, who introduced the concept of “productive failure.” They found that learners who struggled with ill-structured math problems experienced productive failure and subsequently performed better on transfer of learning tasks than learners who were initially confronted with well-structured problems (Kapur and Kinzer). 

GamEDX produces improved learning outcomes because properly designed educational games 

    1. Help players meet goals
      Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff, argues that we accomplish our goals much more easily when we enjoy the process. The way hundreds of participants interacted with Acuff’s 30-day online challenge to help people finish goals was observed by a University of Memphis Ph.D. candidate, Mike Peasley.  Acuff and Peasley’s research concluded that participants’ chance of performance success increased by 46% when performing tasks they thought were enjoyable (Torres).
    2. Teach
      According to Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design, games are “limited formal systems,” that exercise our brains in a way that can be useful in real life. They are fun because they provide “that moment of triumph when we learn something or master a task . . . In other words, with games, learning is the drug” (Koster).
    3. Provide a safe environment for trial and error
      Game-based experiential learning increased such indicators of engagement as attention and temporal dissociation even though players widely failed to meet game objectives” (Jensen). 
    4. Reframe failure as a learning opportunity
      “In good games, the price of failure is lowered—when players fail, they can, for example, start over at their last saved game. Furthermore, failure . . . is often seen as a way to learn the underlying pattern and eventually to win. These features of failure in games allow players to take risks and try out hypotheses that might be too costly in places where the cost of failure is higher or where no learning stems from failure” (Gee).
    5. Produce learning gains 
      “[The] number of level failures in an educational game [is] shown as a positive predictor of learning gains” (Anderson et al.).

Not all games meet this criteria, however. GamEDX lessons (X-Quests) are specifically designed to precipitate persistence “through challenging [problems that have] previously been abandoned as unsolvable” (Bregman).

F.A.I.L. University courses teach the following GamEDX methods (FIG. 2) to engender grit: 

  1. Resilience-Building  
    1. Unlimited retakes and revisions 
    2. Points accumulated, not deducted; perfect score attainable for everyone
  2. Just-in-time 
    1. Resources/accessories needed to complete X-Quest challenges (X-Steps) available as-needed
    2. Immediate automatic/self/peer/teacher feedback 
  3. On-demand  
    1. Sequential X-Quests available through “X-Key” (essential) and “X-tra” (extension) categories
    2. Leveling up dependent upon content/skill mastery
  4. Self-paced  
    1. Asynchronous access to sequential X-Quests
    2. Flexible X-Step objectives replace deadlines

X-Quests are designed to include the following grit-building X-Steps (FIG. 4):

FIG. 4 



Personalization Leads to Productivity

Impersonal, standardized curricula can be mitigated by modeling the development of personalized curricula that teach transferable skills (Robinson, Rementilla).

Challenge: Standardized curricula fail to target 21st Century skills like creativity (Talbert) and higher-level thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy (Robinson, Talbert, Niall McNulty).



Sir Ken Robinson recognized long ago that to encourage greater engagement in schools the developed world’s Industrial Era teaching model would have to go. Robinson found issue with the assembly line norm in which students are moved in herds through a standardized curriculum to produce compliant workers. Instead, he called for personalized curricula that targeted individual interests in hopes of reversing the decline of higher-level thinking skills like creativity (Robinson).  

As of this writing, the “Learning Revolution” Robinson called for still hasn’t materialized. Despite its primacy among the skills advocated by Bloom’s Taxonomy, creativity traditionally receives less attention in school than less sophisticated skills like memorization (Niall McNulty, Talbert).

The demand from today’s Information Age employers for highly-skilled analysts coupled with the waning need for easily-automatible, low-skilled labor has prompted a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy (FIG. 5). Note that the largest space is now occupied by the most complex and important skill, “Creativity.” (This honor had been reserved for “Remembering,” formerly situated as the foundation of the original pyramid.) 

FIG. 5 (Niall McNulty)

Creativity is also among the much-lauded 4 C’s (FIG. 6), a distillation of the 20-plus competencies defined as essential for student success in the 21st Century:  Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking and Creativity (Boss).

FIG. 6

The personalized curricula Robinson envisioned is within reach, thanks to the increasing use of netbooks in schools accelerated by the Coronavirus COVID-19. F.A.I.L. University demonstrates how netbooks can simulate a 1:1 teacher-student ratio with differentiated options that satisfy curriculum objectives while preparing students for a future of uncertain career options. (Herold, Rauf, Howton)

The importance of universally transferable skills to meet the demands of an unpredictable career market cannot be understated. Whether or not students understand the gravity of their predicament, a study released in 2017 illuminates their struggle to engage with content that seems trivial.

Just 54 percent of middle schoolers and 46 percent of high schoolers think their studies are relevant, according to new data from the nonprofit YouthTruth. Relevance was rated lowest on the survey of various measures of student engagement. (“Only Half . . . Real World”)

Teachers find it difficult to justify their curricula to their students because so few of them have applied the skills and content they teach outside of the school system. 

A little less than half of the teachers [have] no prior work experience (46 percent, n = 1,837). Thirty-five percent . . . had some prior experience (n = 1,414) and the remaining 19 percent (n = 756) . . . had more than six years of prior work experience. (Boyd et al.)

Unfortunately, this problem runs deeper than teachers’ mere inability to explain the relevance of current curricular demands. Much of the curriculum actually isn’t relevant. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27 percent of U.S. college graduates are able to find a job related to their major, and only 62 percent of grads have a job that required a degree (Abel and Deitz, Fain). 

Curricular irrelevance isn’t limited to colleges, though. Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University laments,

When we look at . . . the jobs students are going to have, many . . . will be working with big data sets . . . statistics is really important, as a course, but is under-played. This is a fifth of the curriculum in England and has been for decades. But here in the U.S., it’s sort of a poor cousin to calculus. (Levitt)

The irrelevance of K-12 math curricula presents a unique challenge in the United States because it disproportionately influences ability tracking in schools.

In eighth-grade math classes alone, 75 percent of American schoolchildren are placed in ability-based classes, making math the most tracked course in school. (Brown Center) 

Once students have been tracked according to their performance in a single subject, 

“it is not uncommon for tracking systems to encourage a sort of segregation within the school system,” which can have long-lasting negative impacts.

By dividing students into a group by their academic ability, the educational system may cause those students to self-label themselves as inferior to upper track students. This leads to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy as the students experience lower self-esteem due to this separation which, in turn, can lead to reduced academic performance. (Barrington)

Tracking can even do permanent damage. 

Children are acutely aware of where they stand in tracked classes and identify as “smart” or “not smart” based on their placement— beliefs that can stick with them for life, according to multiple studies. (Berwick) 

Potential damage from standardized curricula, fixed mindsets, and tracking can be mitigated by personalized curricula that support transferable 21st higher-level thinking skills.


Alternative:  Model GamEDX personalized curriculum development to capitalize on student interests and target higher level 21st Century skills (Robinson, Rementilla).


F.A.I.L University shows teachers how to employ the following GamEDX techniques (FIG. 2) to make the instruction of universal skills feel meaningful:

  1. iQuest:  
    1. Choices for inquiry-driven pursuits
    2. Learner (Sleuth) curiosity drives exploration
  2. Realism:  
    1. Role Player Game (RPG) opportunities to try a profession
    2. Authentic real-world simulations including tools of the trade

While these approaches can make learning feel relevant, others target 4 C skill development. 21st Century skills “such as critical thinking and grit are fostered most in games that give players maximum agency to define their game world” (Rementilla)The GamEDX techniques (FIG. 2) below empower students to personalize their game world:

  1. Immersion:  
    1. Compelling virtual reality (VR) and/or 3D graphics
    2. Immersive storyline:  You are a(n) [avatar] facing [obstacle] to achieve [goal].
  2. Transformation:  
    1. Opportunity for Sleuths to take on a new identity
    2. Don an avatar, or just a name (Dr. Smith).

GamEDX supports agency in other ways, too:

  1. Differentiation:  
    1. X-Quests of varied difficulty/style
    2. Variety of ways to complete X-Steps
  2. Open Collaboration
    1. Asynchronous contributions
    2. Automatic or student/teacher-driven grouping 
    3. Live avatar interaction
  3. Free Expression:
    1. Sleuths create X-Quests for each other
    2. Guide fellow Sleuths with original solutions 
  4. Activism: 
    1. Champion a personal cause through an X-Quest creation
    2. Solve a problem to benefit others

Games that include “activities like creating, combining, constructing, designing” offer the greatest opportunity for higher level thinking development, while those that allow players to “practice, iterate and develop skills at pace with time invested” and to “choose their actions . . . based on their own level of interest [are] building the passion that ultimately fuels grit” (Rementilla). 

GamEDX Sleuths express their learning in creative ways, including acting as guides or developing their own GamEDX X-Quests (FIG. 2). Sleuths also develop transferable, relevant, higher level thinking skills as they perform X-Steps (FIG. 7).

FIG. 7 



Unnatural Selection

Elite access to specialized training can be mitigated by professional development in the integration of game-based instruction with online education (Fain) to aid in the completion of challenging work (Torres). 

Challenge:  A meritocracy bias that justifies increasing college tuition and an elitist work ethic has fueled favoritism of affluent college graduates (Ma et al., Bell).


The American education system is stacked against middle class entry into the highly-skilled job market. The Meritocracy Trap:  How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, by Daniel Markovits, critiques the organizing principle of the American education system and job market.  A meritocracy is defined as “an elite group of people whose progress is based on ability and talent rather than on class privilege or wealth” (“meritocracy”). Markovits argues that the American meritocratic ideal has led to more testing in public schools, overpriced college education, and the over-valuing of credentials (Bell). To guarantee the entry of their offspring into the job market, the elite invest heavily into private schooling, specialized training, and tutoring, all but eliminating competition from the middle class. 

Markovits sees the elite as equally consumed by meritocracy’s trap. To maintain their place in the meritocratic system, the wealthy work long hours. 

A Harvard Business Review (Luce) survey found that 

  • 62% of high-earning individuals work over 50 hours a week.
  • +33% of high-earning individuals work over 60 hours a week.
  • 10% of high-earning individuals work over 80 hours a week.
  • Elites work an average of 12 hours/week more than middle class. 

The elites aren’t the only ones working hard. According to a Gallup poll, all adults who work full time in the U.S. work an average of 47 hours per week. Half of all full-time workers surveyed by Gallup reported that they work more than 40 hours a week, and nearly 40% said they work at least 50 hours a week (Saad).

All of this serves to reinforce an American school culture with long hours of homework and increased stress. According to a 2017 poll of high school students, teens reported spending, on average, more than three hours on homework each school night (Lohmann). There are serious risks associated with excessive homework: 

  • “A 2013 study found that high school students can experience serious mental and physical health problems, from higher stress levels to sleep deprivation, when assigned too much homework” (Galloway et al.).
  • “A 2015 study found that when middle school students were assigned more than 90 to 100 minutes of daily homework, their math and science test scores began to decline” (Fernández-Alonso et al., as cited in Terada).
  • A 2018 survey found that about 1 in 3 high school students are stressed all or most of the time, and increases to 1 in 2 students after high school (DePaoli et al., “Bored in Class”).

Just as the American meritocracy favors the elite, so does its homework culture. Underprivileged students are less likely to have a quiet workspace at home, resources such as a computer or broadband connectivity, and/or parental support. As a result, such students’ GPAs often unfairly suffer from low homework scores, limiting their college and scholarship prospects. This discrepancy has been exacerbated by the increased need for internet connectivity due to COVID-19. (OECD and Burns, OECD and Cerna)

In addition to justifying excessive homework, the extraordinary work ethic of American elites has fueled increasingly prohibitive college pricing: 

Between 1990-91 and 2020-21, average published tuition and fees increased from $1,810 to $3,770 at public two-year, from $3,800 to $10,560 at public four-year, and from $18,560 to $37,650 at private nonprofit four-year institutions, after adjusting for inflation. (Ma et al.)

Due to increasing income inequality, these climbing prices hurt minority non-college educated families the most:

In the last 30 years, income inequality increased as average income increased by 56% for the highest fifth of families and by 21% for the lowest fifth of families. In 2019, median incomes for black and Hispanic families were 60% and 63%, respectively, of the median for white families. Median income for families with at least one four-year college graduate was more than twice the median for families headed by a high school graduate. (Ma et al.)

Meanwhile, with the onset of COVID-19, most families are finding it more difficult to afford college. 

Students and their families are dealing with the pandemic’s economic consequences. The United States Gross Domestic Product, which measures a country’s economic activities, declined at an annual rate of 5% in the first quarter of 2020 and 32.9% in the second quarter of 2020, after adjusting for inflation. (Ma et al.)

Markovits’s meritocracy “frames disadvantage in terms of individual defects of skill and effort” (Bell) so that one’s failure to complete homework, afford college, and/or get a job is easily classified as a personal failure rather than a flaw with our meritocratic system. This disadvantage is compounded by ranking systems that embolden colleges with the most selective admissions policies.

“Ranking schools based on selectivity of admissions is counterproductive to creating diverse communities” according to Arizona State University, disputing their own success in that year’s ranking, performed by American City Business Journals.  “Fifteen percent of the overall ranking was attributed to admissions selectivity and the test score percentiles of admitted students . . . Consistent analysis has shown that success on standardized tests like the SAT is highly dependent on family income, and is also marked by racial favoritism” (Armstrong).

Sociologist and author Malcolm Gladwell was once asked why Harvard University chooses to remain small and insular despite its $40+ billion endowment.

Gladwell responded,

Why doesn’t Louis Vuitton sell a $59 bag? Because they don’t want to be in the commodity bag business. They’d rather sell a small number of bags at $10,000 each . . .  These schools are in the luxury handbag business. They are interested in sustaining a certain brand equity. They see expanding the size of their schools as diluting their brand equity in exactly the same manner as Louis Vuitton does . . . They’re very conscious of maintaining that aura of exclusivity. (Buck)

Even worse, “need-aware” and “need-sensitive” colleges (as opposed to “need-blind”) give preference to students who can pay full “tuition, room and board — up to $300,000 or so over four years — without needing financial aid.”

Private consultants know all about this advantage, one that is available at most private schools across the country, including selective institutions. Among the schools that have such policies: American University, Bates, Boston University, Brandeis, Carleton, Case Western, Colgate, Colorado College, George Washington, Haverford, Macalester, Mount Holyoke, Northeastern, Oberlin, Pitzer, Reed, Skidmore, Smith, Tufts, Wesleyan and Washington University. (Lieber)


Alternative:  Training educators in online GamEDX instruction to aid in the completion of challenging work and to keep up with increasing dependency on internet delivery of instruction (Fain, Torres, OECD and Burns). 


Online GamEDX instruction makes higher level thinking skills required for the meritocratic job market more accessible to those from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and experiences. GamEDX is easily integrated with nontraditional education providers such as online and employer-based training programs, which the Strada survey reports are more likely to be considered by Black and Latino Americans over an in-person, four-year college or university (Fain).

GamEDX incorporates the following net-friendly strategies, leveling the “playing” field for socio-economically disadvantaged learners:

  1. Resilience-Building:  Automated grading for retakes
  2. Just-in-time:  Embedded resource links
  3. On-demand:  Unlimited asynchronous leveling through free Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Google Classroom, Schoology and Canvas
  4. Self-paced:  Offered through LMS integration
  5. Differentiation:  Customized X-Steps of varied difficulty/style via LMS
  6. Open Collaboration:  Zoom and Knowledge Avatars (EscapEDX) provide live interactivity in real-time.
  7. Free Expression:  Create choose-your-own-adventure games with Google Slides, Google Forms and Thinglink 
  8.   Activism:  Authentic audience through social media
  9.     iQuest:  Internet access broadens inquiry options
  10. Realism:  Compelling digital graphics
  11. Immersion:  3D game setting 
  12. Transformation:  Avatar adoption for play


Tests That Teach

The emphasis on punitive assessments can be mitigated by an intrinsically rewarding, student-centered assessment system that improves learning outcomes (Pink, Rementilla, Goble).

Challenge:  School rankings driven by standardized testing results and the consequential preservation of similar punitive grading and assessment systems. (Armstrong)



There is little evidence to support the widespread use of standardized testing. According to “Assessment Trends In Education: A Shift To Assessment For Learning,” published in 2020, “Expensive, high-stakes, end-of-level tests . . . have persisted for decades despite providing little benefit to the students(Goble). A 2017 study for the Journal of the Collegiate Honors Council found standardized testing results are a questionable predictor of future success: 

The relevance of standardized tests has come under particular scrutiny in the past few decades, most notably because of concerns that such tests are biased against underserved populations (see for example Banerji; Linn, Greenwood, and Beatty). (Mould and DeLoach)

Standardized tests came into wide use with the adoption of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002.  This federal law required all U.S. students in grades three through eight to be tested annually, and for school districts that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards to be publicly labeled as “failing.” According to 2004 study entitled “Teaching To the Test: What Every Educator and Policy-maker Should Know,” 

There have . . . been documented cases in the United States where teachers and administrators had given students the answers to standardized reading and mathematics questions (Goodnough, 1999). These cases of improper behavior . . . were a direct result of increased pressure on schools that resulted from public rankings (Simner, 2000). (Volante)

Although the most punitive measures of NCLB were reversed by the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, the federal pressures sustained by U.S. schools endure. Schools are still required to test students in reading and math once a year in grades 3 through 8, as well as once in high school. They also must still publicly report their standardized test results (The Understood Team).

Under local pressure to perform, school districts have little incentive to change assessment practices that began with the passing of NCLB: 

Faced with increasing pressure from politicians, school district personnel, administrators, and the public, some teachers have [employed] test preparation practices that . . . may include relentless drilling on test content, eliminating important curricular content not covered by the test, and providing interminably long practice sessions that incorporate actual items from these high-stakes standardized tests (Popham, 2000). (Volante)

Further, despite the ESSA emphasis on personalized learning (The Understood Team), no changes have been made to the grade point average (GPA), used by high schools and colleges to rank their students. Averaging scores is antithetical to mastery. A perfect average in a traditional course is statistically unlikely because retakes, if not forbidden, don’t typically offer students the chance to earn 100% on the second try. The lack of time and credit for such opportunities disincentivizes learning from mistakes. The GPA of a student who experiences multiple failures on the road to mastery will suffer more than that of a student who experiences fewer, despite evidence that “[the] number of level failures in an educational game [is] shown as a positive predictor of learning gains” (Anderson et al.). 

Studies at Bucknell and other universities have shown the GPA to be a seriously flawed statistic that is “incapable of meaningfully representing a student’s academic achievements.” Its use breeds  

a risk-averse mind-set that is antithetical to the core mission of any institution of higher learning. Grading norms . . . at the same university can differ by more than a letter grade . . . this uneven playing field provides a powerful incentive for students to avoid courses (especially electives) in which grades tend to be lower. (Solomon and Piggot)


Alternative:  Model intrinsically rewarding, student-centered GamEDX assessment system that improves learning outcomes (Pink, Rementilla, Goble). 



Daniel Pink, author of Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, found that traditional rewards and punishments don’t work. Not only do these methods fail to motivate students, they can act as deterrents. Pink found that motivation, particularly with respect to creative tasks, depends upon the provision of opportunities for mastery, a sense of purpose, and agency. When these conditions are in place, students are motivated to perform learning tasks for the mere pleasure of learning (Pink). The GamEDX Pedagogy (FIG. 2) was purposefully designed with these intrinsically motivating conditions in mind (FIG. 8):

FIG. 8

These provisions can be integrated with assessments. In response to criticism of standardized tests over the past few decades, particularly because of concerns of bias against underserved populations (Linn et al.), “some Ivy League schools [have] become test-optional, no longer requiring standardized test scores to be considered for admission” (Mould and DeLoach).

These Ivy League schools are on the cusp of a budding assessment trend. “Assessment Trends In Education: A Shift To Assessment For Learning,” published in 2020 argues that, “assessment practices are changing to embrace assessment for learning, not assessment of learning . . . assessment is becoming more student-centric  . . . more personal for the individual student” (Goble).

A shift to personalized assessments for each student does not mean that a different assessment needs to be created for each student. This would place an unnecessary burden on teachers, even if they took advantage of online automated assessment platforms like Google Forms. A more practical approach to personalized assessments involves engaging each learner as a self or peer assessor. A 2020 meta-analysis of control group studies on the impact of peer assessment on academic performance found that “peer assessment is more effective than no assessment and teacher assessment and not significantly different in its effect from self-assessment” (Double et al.). The validation of peer and self-assessment paves the way for a flipped approach to personalization. The most effective way to ensure that a personalized assessment appropriately addresses learners’ preferences, abilities, and needs is for them to design and perform the assessment themselves.

In more than 60 schools and 28 states across the U.S., teens create their own curriculum through a program called Big Picture. Play, relevance, and choice feature prominently in the Big Picture model. The path to a proficiency-based diploma includes self-assessment as well as authentic feedback from peers, parents and the public (McIntyre). Likewise, GamEDX Sleuths assess themselves and each other as they progress through X-Quests created by teachers and/or more experienced peers, called “Master Sleuths.” A Master Sleuth has earned the proficiency standards-based (FIG. 9) authority to produce X-Quests and guide fellow Sleuths. 

FIG. 9 

The learning-by-teaching effect is well documented. Studies have shown that when students teach a lesson they develop a deeper and more persistent understanding of the material. Rubric-guided (FIG. 10) self and peer-assessment occurs throughout and after predetermined stages of the X-Quest creation and participation processes. The learning-by-teaching benefits enjoyed by a Master Sleuth is equal only to the resilience Sleuths gain as their game-based failures are reframed as paths to success (Jarrett, Gee et al.). 

FIG. 10 

Sixth grade and graduate students surveyed after playing through GamEDX quests rated their experiences in terms designed to fall into Pink’s categories:


  • 97% listed “choosing a topic that interested me” among their favorite features (2017).
  • 86% is the average ranking granted to “motivated by the feeling I had control over my own learning” (2019).


  • 83% listed “choosing my own level [of difficulty]” among their favorite features (2014 -16).
  • 82% listed “going at my own speed” among their favorite features (2014 -16).


  • 80% ranked “motivated by the freedom to find [relevant] information” 7 out of 7 (2018).



The GamEDX Alternative

A learning environment prepared according to GamEDX principles promotes universally engaging and transferable learning outcomes including increased resilience, critical thinking skills, creativity, and social emotional learning skills. F.A.I.L. University’s GamEDX Pedagogy mitigates: 

  • a culture of fixed mindsets by reframing failure as part of a game, which boosts learning performance (Dweck, Gee et al., Kapur and Kinzer).
  • impersonal, standardized curricula by modeling the development of personalized curricula that teach transferable skills (Robinson, Rementilla).
  • elite access to specialized training by providing online game-based training modules that aid in the completion of challenging work (Markovits, Fain, Torres).
  • an emphasis on punitive assessments by providing an intrinsically rewarding, student-centered assessment system that facilitates learning (Pink, Rementilla, Goble).

Through F.A.l.L. University, teachers and their students may enjoy an engaging, personalized, relevant, safe environment to teach and learn.




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