Blog Post

4. Benefits to Using Badges in the Classroom

I've been applying gamification principles to my classes and so far the results have been positive.  Specifically, I've eliminate all exams, quizzes, and papers in my course and replaced them with a set of 24 badges students can earn.  Students are free to choose which badges they will to earn.  No specific badge or set of badges is required for students to pass the course.  If a student does not earn a badge on their first try, they can try as many times as they wish or try earning another badge.  Finally, there is no timetable for when badges must be earned.

If you're an educator and reading this you might be skeptical about this course design.  If students can choose any badge to earn, what insures that all students are learning the same things?  If there are no due dates what insures that students will earn badges in a timely fashion and not simply put everything off until the last minute?  First let me outline some benefits I've experienced so far in using this approach and then address these questions directly.

1.  Badges give students autonomy.  I think for learning to be meaningful students need to own it in some way.  One way to convey ownership is to allow students to choose what they wish to work on. Badges allow students to customize their learning and feel like they have some say in what they are pursuing.

2.  Badges allow students to directly and visually see their progress.  When a student earns a badge I immediately post the badge to their profile.  The can a clear visual sense of their progress in the course.  Plus, it's fun to see the different badges you earn all in a row!

3.  Badges eliminate questions about make up work and extra credit.  Since I have no timetable or due dates except the end of the semester (once the semester ends work on badges has to end!) there is no need to talk about makeup work.  You can't miss an assignment that has no specific due date.  In my course there are 24 badges and you need 18 to earn an A.  But, while there are more badges available than you need to earn a grade, the notion of extra credit is irrelevant.  If you've only earned 14 badges and want an A you don't need extra credit.  You just need to earn 4 more badges.  Thus students don't look to me to provide them other options for earning the grade they want.  They look to themselves.  

4.  Badges allow for more individual feedback and improvement.  One of the things that has bothered me for some time about giving exams is that once you grade the exam you have to move on to new material.  For the students who do poorly on an exam they have no chance to improve their grade or their understanding of material that may be relevant to the rest of the course.  With a badge system feedback can be used immediately to improve performance and understanding.  Students can engage in a learning process instead of simply a grading process.

Skeptics might look at this and still wonder about how I can be sure that all students are learning the same things and how I prevent procrastination.  Let me address these points briefly.

While it is possible for different students to earn different badges and still receive the same grade, the underlying theme of all of the badges is the same.  What I am really trying to teach in my courses is a method for thinking and solving problems in philosophy and ethics.  Each badge assignment requires students to demonstrate their understanding of a particular theory and how to apply it.  In doing so they are learning the process of identifying philosophical problems, finding evidence and arguments that are relevant to the problem, and formulating a solution to the problem the badge assignment posed.  These are the important learning outcomes I am trying to achieve.  Whether one student achieves them by focusing on Plato and another learns them through engaging with Kant is not  the point.  There will be a common core of knowledge and ideas that every student will come away with.

My experience so far shows that badges are an excellent remedy to procrastination because they tap into many levels of motivation.  First, it's fun to earn badges and see them appear on your learning profile.  This is no different than the fun people have on other websites that use badges.  Second, badges allow me to introduce an element of competition to the class that motivates students to earn badges.  At the start of the semester, I break the class into groups and then post the badges earned by each group online.  At the end of each full month of the semester, I award a badge to the group with the most badges earned.  

Even though I have only one semester's worth of experience using badges, so far my experience is positive.  Students are more engaged with the material, more open to discussing and asking questions, and are benefiting from the added feedback I give them on assignments and the possibility for improvement. 

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1 comment

Kevin,

I would be very interested to hear what the students opinion's on the new course assesments and badge reward system.  Whether they prefer it to previous/traditional papers and grades. If they felt more engaged and motivated, if they did feel that they owned the learning process.

and of course how thier opinions an dthe means they communicate them with others might affect yoru enrollments next year.

Mike

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