Classcraft: Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Classcraft is an online platform that allows teachers to transform their classroom into a role-playing game (RGP). Students are divided into three character teams with different powers who interact in a rich, illustrative environment modelled on the imagery of games such as World of Warcraft. It uses a collaborative game-based design where students gain points and privileges through personal performance and helping their classmates. Students can also lose points or cause their team to be penalized for poorly done work or negative behaviour. Their relationships with each other and the course content are reframed through the motivation of ‘leveling-up” and customizing their characters. The platform has a free subscription with unlimited student logins, the full game experience, a parent app, support and a “lite” version of the avatars. The two paid subscriptions include customizable avatars, gamified LMS, in-class quests and student analytics. Their motivation is to use game mechanics to engage students to transform the learning experience and to provide teachers with simple and effective tools to do so; however they are a for-profit venture with an enormous online advertising reach and sales in 75 countries comprising thousands of classrooms since their launch in August 2014.
Shawn Young was a Physics 11 teacher with 8 years of experience with some web developer experience when he developed Classcraft for his own students to use. One of them posted it online and received thousands of responses. Shawn saw a venture opportunity and approached his brother Devin, a New York free-lance creative director with a wide range of start-up experience, and father Lauren with 35 years of start-up experience in fashion, fitness and technology to be partners. Shawn’s training and career is in education rather than business, but his brother and father have considerable venture experience. He shares the profile of a passionate and dedicated educator-entrepeneur with others in the for-profit venture proposition.
The family connection has strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, they could share a commitment and engagement level that results from a deeper emotional investment than strictly a financial arrangement. On the other hand, this relationship could be an encumbrance to making decisions that are strictly in the best interests of the company and investors. Devin Young’s involvement with Chanel, Microsoft and Intel are a positive indication of his abilities, as is Lauren Young’s longevity in start-ups.
No information is available on the remainder of the team. Stephanie Carmichael is the community manager, Alexandre Tremblay is the developer and Jianli Wu is the talented illustrator who has created the richly rendered characters and scenes in Classcraft. Their advisors are well rounded: Mark Wilson is a career educator who has been recognized as the National High School Principal of the Year in the United States, and Jared Cohen who was involved in starting-up Kickstarter and ran their business operations for 3 years.
Shawn Young gives me hope that committed and passionate educators can bring original value to both student learning and teachers’ practice. Despite his obvious family connections and exposure to venture culture, he seems to be motivated by a vision of collaboration and improving achievement through playful learning. I share his belief in the impact that game-design thinking can have student learning and performance. Shawn’s story helps me to realize that teachers are not limited in their potential for personal change and sharing ideas that can engage learners on a wide-scale.