More on Badges

Having returned from THATCamp Games hosted at the University of Maryland this past weekend, I wanted to open the "Badges Done Right" discussion to a wider audience after a very productive session. You can view the notes from the session here at this link: Google Docs: Badges Done Right
Here's the session as I proposed it for THATCamp Games:
I’d like to propose a session, or at least a conversation, on the topic of badges and achievements in education. It seems to me that many of the “trend-settters” of gamification are using badges in a very unfortunate way: badges as simple extrinsic motivators that have very little value for creating intrinsic motivation. For example, take a look at the ready-made badges provided by one course-management company.

From my point of view, none of those badges is indicative of the student achieving meaningful progress towards the course objectives. They aren’t tied to any real learning activities and at a glance tell me nothing about the student other than that s/he might have not missed a class or that she “worked hard.” However, the kind of small sample shown here is generally what I see whenever I look around at the badge and achievement systems which are being grafted onto pre-existing learning-management-systems by the major players in the education industry.

Before we embrace badges in education, I’d like us to discuss ways we might be able to move past badges-as-21C-gold-stars and to consider how we might craft meaningful badge systems that are a true record of accomplishments towards the learning objectives for the particular course, curriculum, or program.
There seemed to be two different conversations happening: badges on the macro-level as credentials across disciplines or institutions and badges on the micro-level in the individual classroom as records. Naturally I'm more interested in the latter discussion but both are worthwhile ones to have. So what are your thoughts? Are we able to effectively remove the "gold star" nature of badges and instead use them to accurately represent accomplishing learning objectives in a way that will motivate our students intrinsically rather than extrinsically? 


  1. Kevin,

    I'm new to your blog and the ideas behind a lot of what you're working on, but I've been thinking about this idea for a while now. It seems to me that the problem can be further broken down into two key issues:

    1) Badges as accurate representations of accomplished learning objectives
    2) Badges as intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivational tools

    In terms of dealing with the first, I think that the easiest way to accomplish something like this would be to tie the badges to curricular objectives, so that when a student "earns" a badge, (s)he does so by achieving one of our learning objectives. This would require a much more granular approach than the current national standards support, but would probably fall rather easily in line with the curricular materials that you already use, especially if broken out into success in discrete areas of study: morphology, vocabulary, syntax, culture, history, mythology, etc. "Leveling up" in each of these various skill sets as students move through the unit seems natural. One could even require a certain amount of achievement in *each* section before moving on to the next level. I know this is rather rough, but it seems the most natural direction to move the idea in.

    As far as the intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation of students as it relates to badges, I think slicing this topic up discretely is a bit more difficult. ANY form of badge system contains some sort of extrinsic social value, especially in a competitive gaming environment. The bigger question then seems to me about how one would make the intrinsic motivational factors more significant in the student's decision making process. I'm not sure I have any answers for this outside of the general drive to "do your best" (as quantified by the badges). I'm a first year teacher, so I have a lot to learn about motivating students' to WANT to perform better for intrinsic reasons, so I'm not sure if I can be of much help on this one currently.


    Alan v.
    South Brunswick High School Latin

    1. Alan, thanks for the comments.

      You are absolutely correct on both points -- for a long time I was a badge hater and it took a lot of convincing for me to come around slightly. I'm using badges right now in, more or less, the way you describe a hypothetical situation of finite Latin grammatical skills. The badges, as I am using them, are just social markers for CARDs that the students have unlocked. (Over on the right hand side you'll find links to the Play the Past articles Iteration of the CARDs and Iteration of the Collection, both of those explain the collection mechanic and CARDs in greater detail).

      The activities to unlock the "badges" are 100% linked to learning objectives for the course -- recognizing accusatives, imperfect verbs, etc -- rather than, say, nebulous things like "Asked a good question".

      The extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation is always the hot button debate and even here I'm not entirely convinced this mechanic is creating intrinsic motivation in the way that I would like. While I have quite a few students who partake in the collection (and unlocking of badges) as a way to better their skills, there are still quite a few who are doing it purely for the social standing -- although I suspect that there's a lot more ingrained behavior that I'm fighting against for those students.

      Are you on Google+? If not, you should jump over there (and Twitter), there are quite a few Classicists having great discussions in those places.

  2. Kevin,
    Sorry for the delay. The last week I've been tied up with finishing a portfolio for my formal evaluation for the year. I am on Google+, but I'm not a member of any particular communities there. Which ones should I join? I don't partake in Twitter currently, but I'm on several other list serves - Classics-L, Oerberg-L (for his Lingua Latina text), the Yahoo Latin Best Practices group, the AP list, etc.

  3. Alan, circle me on Google+ and I'll share some circles with you - both games+learning and classics related.