I’ve been outspoken on  the topic of adding rewards & incentives or ‘carrots‘ to courses and classroom management, and so it is rather unusual for me to be thinking about things like implementing badges. However, I’m very interested in using gaming strategies in education and I’m also interested in providing students with opportunities to both learn at their own pace, and also to represent how they have met criteria or learning outcomes in ways that students want to, rather than ways dictated by teachers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m teaching a Digital Literacy course and this is where I’ve decided to add a badge system. Here are some of my thoughts on what I want to accomplish:

1. I offer an assignment that can be used to get the first badge, or rather first level of a badge, (give them a measuring stick and something to bite on).

2. Criteria for the next level(s) of badges, but no specific assignments. They can choose what they use to demonstrate the criteria, this isn’t prescribed by an assignment or task.

3. A pool of assignments to choose from and more importantly to add to by the students, they help create the pool (like they do in DS106). For the Inquiry Hub, I would also allow them to use their work on their big Inquiry Questions to demonstrate skills. For instance, if during their inquiry they ‘Seek out and engage with mentors and experts’ – an outcome for the course, then they can link to the interview as a way to demonstrate that they have met this criteria.

4. When a student gives themselves a badge, it must link to the task or assignment or evidence. Students can do this without teacher approval, in fact, it is expected that they progress through the course by choosing their own evidence. It is important that the teacher is notified (electronically and automatically) when a student adds evidence to a badge, so that formative feedback can be provided along the way.

5. Final badges for each set of criteria can only be earned when they show me, or a learning mentor, that their evidence meets all of the criteria. The reason for this is that only some, and not necessarily all, of the criteria might have been met when students award themselves badge levels. Students might reach the final badge and still not have represented all of the key skills or outcomes, or their representation around a specific skill may not have been done to a high enough standard to earn a final badge.

6. All badges are on one page, and the filling up of the page acts as a progress bar for students to see how far along they are in the course.

7. Final marks are negotiated based on the quality of the evidence. However, if all the final badges have been completed, that is a guaranteed ‘B’, because anything less would suggest that a final badge should not have been given. From this point, ‘we’ discuss/negotiate, and agree upon a mark. And yes, not only is a 100% grade totally possible to achieve, but if it isn’t attained at first, we can simply discuss which pieces of evidence need to be improved upon.

There are my thoughts in a nutshell. That’s all well and good, except I had no idea what kind of interface to use… that would come after talking to one of my code savvy students, Elijah. He decided to help me out and make his current Inquiry Question one that helps me figure out the dashboard and online interface of the badge system.

Here is an excerpt from Elijah’s Inquiry Update:

To achieve this task, I am using tools such as MySQL, PHP, and JavaScript. After completing the system, I plan on making it open source so that other developers may take my system and improve it.

I have already completed the bulk of my project.
Including; Setting up the database, implementing a login-system, creating admin-users, editing accounts, and creating/editing badges.

 These are the iterations of his Inquiry Question shared on our Wonder Wall: Elijah-Question-1Elijah-Question-2-0Elijah-Question-2-1

As you can see in the photos, it took a few tries to get the question down.

One of the people I spoke to after conceptualizing this badge system was Gord Holden. He is a guru in Immersive Technology and I wanted to make sure that what I was doing wasn’t just adding a reward layer onto a course. In a Skype conversation, Gord said to me, “The badges aren’t the goal…but the organizers, and way of recognizing effort and accomplishment.”

With Elijah’s help, I think we can create an interface that meaningfully implements some gaming strategies into the course, and allow students to demonstrate learning at their own pace, while using their own choices of how the learning is represented. We will probably be introducing this to the class in the next couple weeks and assignments we’ve already done will be linked to badges as soon as we get things up and running.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress, and since we are not even in Beta yet, feedback and suggestions are greatly appreciated!

16 comments on “Badges, Gaming, and Digital Media

  1. Hi David,
    It’s been some time since as a student I attempted to race through levels of the old SLA Reading lab, but I find myself really connecting to this idea due in large part to the individualized nature of the tasks. We know that as educators we should value self-assessment (and peer assessment, and parent assessment) as much as our own, and this project acknowledges that.

    This past semester, I used sticks and tape as a way to recognize student achievement of specific learning goals ‘with distinction’. While I was working with exceptional students, there were many who took great pride in their personally selected and evolving ‘sticks’.

    Your post has reminded me that it’s a story I’ve yet to tell…

  2. I’ve been running gameful classes for the past few years that have a lot of similarities. I don’t use badges though, instead each quest/assignment awards points into different skills. I built an open source LMS called conque.so last summer and have been beta testing it with a few instructors. I’ve realized that most educators don’t have the know how to setup a MySQL database, so I’m currently overhauling the software to be a service rather than a stand alone app. You and Elijah should definitely check it out.

  3. Thanks for getting me thinking on this. I am generally opposed to the use of badges and points as they usually represent just that… badges and points… and that often becomes the focus and kids can become quite skilled on the game of collecting badges and points. You have defined this differently. The badges represent learning… they seem to be a gateway into portfolios that represent student learning. A great opportunity for students to be involved in planning, self-assessment that includes criteria, and reflection of learning using digital portfolios.

    The thing to be cautious of is, of course, the idea that this could become like grades have become for some. As this is more about achieving a set of criteria, I don’t think this would be much of an issue but if a student or teacher didn’t fully understand the purpose – I could see it getting sidetracked a bit based on what we have always done.

    All in all, I am excited to see where this goes. Badges as entrances into a demonstration of a portfolio of learning that is based on clear, agreed upon criteria… sounds like this has got huge potential.

    1. ” I could see it getting sidetracked a bit based on what we have always done.” ~ The interesting thing I’m wondering about is how students will ‘game’ this system. My fear is that some will try to race through the course rather than focus on the outcomes. ‘Counting marks, not marking what counts’ as a colleague used to tell me. We’ll see how things go!

  4. Hi Dave,

    Great to see your thinking in this post (which I’ve shared on the Open Badges tumblr). In fact, I think it’s the first example I’ve seen where a group of people have set out from the start to self-award badges.

    I’ll be really interested to see how you get on. 🙂

    1. Kinda cool that we are going to be trying something you haven’t seen before with badges. To me the self-awarding of badges is the key piece of this, which allows students to represent their learning based on achievement rather than assignment.

  5. Hi, Dave. I really appreciate how thoughtful your strategy and process is around badges. I really like how the students are given the opportunity to think about their own learning and set criteria and benchmarks. This is very empowering for any learner. I look forward to hearing more about how this develops! This model is about the learning–the motivation is about student-direction–the way badges are meant to work:)

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