Blog Post

Super Mario Bros promotes social responsibility??

Super Mario Bros promotes social responsibility??

Super Mario Bros promotes social responsibility. 
Chess cultivates empathy. 
Capture the flag encourages creativity. 
Or do they?
These comments and question were on a wall at the entrance to the recent Games for Change Festival in NYC. They were directed at “The 100”- a crowdsourced list of “the games that everyone should play”. Attendees could add a sticker to the types of skills they thought the game teaches. Minecraft had lots of stars for collaboration and creativity while SimCity was recognized for teaching citizenship.
A proposal we developed at the Providence After School Alliance ( just won the 4th Digital Media Learning Competition held by HASTAC and supported by the Macarthur Foundation and Mozilla. I was there to immerse myself in a group of people thinking about games and digital learning to inform the development of a digital badging system for our afterschool system and programs. I direct The Hub, the high school initiative of the Providence After School Alliance (PASA), which has built a citywide afterschool system where high school students receive graduation credit for learning that happens outside of school. PASA itself is a national leader in the afterschool world-aspects of PASA have been replicated in 17 cities- and manages a system that provides high quality after school programs for nearly half of all middle schoolers in Providence, RI. There are 100 local organizations that provide programming through PASA’s system, and with the recent Digital Media Learning grant award, we are beginning to build digital badges into all that we do.
On Day One I learned about the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) a tool based on the basic psychological needs as defined in Self Determination Theory. These are:
·      Autonomy: The player/learner has a sense of volition, of not feeling controlled. “What if” thinking abounds…what if I did this, went there, created that?
·      Competence: a sense of effectiveness, challenge and growth. The player/learner wants to feel challenged and successful. Timely, informational feedback can help keep a player at an optimal level of challenge. The video game Rock Band was used as a good example. Rock Band has:
·      Granular Feedback: Are you hitting the note?
·      Sustained Competence Feedback: volume of the crowd.
·      Cumulative Competence Feedback: Overall picture.
·      As well, something meaningful has to happen as the player/learner grows from level 1 to Level 2.
·      Relatedness: Feeling cared for and connected to; a sense of belonging with others. Also can be seen as relatedness to the game.
·      Outcomes: Prolonged engagement; increased creativity; greater vitality; greater satisfaction at school and in relationships.
Game designer after game designer repeated that the satisfaction of these basic needs IS what largely underlies the experience of “fun” and deep engagement of games. 
Questions for us: 
Autonomy: How are Afterzone youth owning their experience? How do the mechanics of our badging system provide autonomy for the learner and support behavior that reflects values and interests that are truly their own?
Competence: What types of badges might be designed that motivates them to explore and try new things? How is timely, meaningful feedback being provided to keep our kids feeling growth, challenge and success? How might badges enhance or extend this?

Relatedness: How do badges provide a sense of belonging?

Outcomes: How can badges prolong engagement?
Add your answers in the comments or email me. dewens at mypasa dot org


1 comment


What a great topic and an intriguing post.  The idea of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation is at the heart of your question, "How can badges prolong engagement?"  I feel students are likely to view badges as a positive and fun reward that encourages them to work harder on various educational tasks.  This is turn helps keep them engaged longer.  However, there is a lot of research that shows that students who get rewards for learning are motivated less and less by a desire to learn and more and more by a desire to receive a reward.  So how do we use badges in K-12 without hurting a student’s motivation to learn?  Perhaps we don't start using them until high school, when students have already had a chance to be instilled with intrinsic learning values at the elementary and middle level?  Ideally there would be a way to have students work towards these badges at all ages while still retaining a love of learning itself.  Any ideas on how we can do that?  

I think the biggest issue about digital badges has been centered around this issue of motivation, so if we could think of a way to build badges into the curriculum of formal and informal learning environments without eroding intrinsic motivation, it would go a long way towards badges seeing widespread use and acceptance.  A great article (which happens to mention HASTC!) that looks at this issue from several angles can be found at the link below:

Finally, I believe the answer to how we can get badges to overcome this issue may lie in your other questions, "What type of badges might be designed that (motivate students) to explore and try new things?  How is timely, meaningful feedback being provided to keep our kids feeling growth, challenge and success?"  What if badges really were well-integrated with teacher feedback, and every badge was designed to be completed in a way that encouraged students to take their time, dig into the material, and really enjoy the learning process itself?  Is that even possible when the final outcome as to whether or not you get the badge is based on a test?  After all, students are aware that they must learn everything correctly if they are to receive that badge.  Is it possible to design badges that are only given for successful completion of a course or area of study, without the need for a test?  Of course, but then how do those badges retain validity when used as a demonstration of proficiency in any given area?  Again, thank you for a great post and I look forward to your thoughts on these issues.