Project Q&A With: Buzzmath

Project Q&A With: Buzzmath

At BuzzMath the goal for students is to master concepts based on the Common Core Mathematics Standards. As such, the requirements for badge acquisition by students have been designed in accordance with the Common Core Standards (CCSS). BuzzMath badges will convey grade-level mastery of required mathematical concepts as well as demonstrated positive behaviors that lead to mathematical achievement and success. 

What are the 3 most important things about building a badge system you would share with another organization just getting started?

  1. Have a solid plan on how you will credibly assess the credentials for what the badge will be awarded for. 
  2. Get feedback from your end users about their expectations and desires for the badge system. You will quickly learn about the privileges they’d like to have and other intrinsic motivators located at the top of the pyramid.
  3. Explore how your badge system will integrate with your current business model early in the project, especially if you are a for-profit company.

Who were you addressing with your badge system design?

Our badge system is designed for two target audiences; students and teachers. The system is designed so that students see a clear path to obtain badges and that teachers can easily track the acquisition of badges by their students and distribute badges at their discretion.

What were your initial goals for the badges? Did those goals change at all throughout the design process?

The initial goals for the badges were a) to display a clear path for students to navigate through the math concepts stated in the Common Core State Standards, and b) to provide a simple and credible way for educators to validate and assess the understanding and progress of their students. While the goals still remain the same, we have modified how we would meet these goals by altering how we would assess a student's comprehension before automatically awarding a badge.

What types of badges are you using (participation, skill, certification, etc.)? Are there levels or pathways represented in your badges?

There are three types of badges awarded in BuzzMath: content knowledge, process knowledge and achievement. Content knowledge badges are automatically awarded by the system once a student has successfully completed an assessment of a concept at a specific level (bronze,silver, and gold). Students are provided with a clear path for obtaining these badges in the table of contents. Process knowledge are awarded by the teachers for observable behaviors that attribute to success in mathematics. Achievement badges are automatically awarded to the students as he progress towards small goals inside the system.

How was the criteria for the badges determined. What pedagogies (if any) informed the learning and badge system design?

The criteria for the badges is determined by the Common Core State Standards for mathematics. Activities in BuzzMath are designed in accordance with these standards, therefore successful completion of these activities validates the understanding and mastery of each mathematical concept for which a badge is awarded.

What are three things you learned about badge system design? What would you do differently if you were to start over?

  1. Ideas and designs change over time, especially when projects are built over a one year period. Show and ask for a lot of feedback early in the design process and try to release smaller parts instead of big chunks.

  2. Think about how badges integrate with other gamification elements. How will the system evolve, and are points, levels, rewards also useful and complementary to badges.

  3. Explore how your badge system will integrate with your current business model early in the project, especially if you are a for-profit company.

What is left to do? What is left unanswered?

  • Iterations on our “Challenge” activities: After discussing with dozens of teachers and instructional experts about our “Challenge activities”, we are starting to have an understanding of what they should become. Even if we don’t have the resources now to change our initial planning and build these “ideal” custom activities, this is something we’d like to do in the near future.
  • Deeper collaborative aspects and privileges associated with the badges: These “features” are a lot easier to discuss than to actually implement. They require more planning, iterations and testing but can really positively enhance student engagement. Once the core functionalities of the badges are implemented, we will start implementing some of these more complex ideas.
  • The overall perception and adoption of badges in K-12 could greatly help us get noticed if the badges do have traction in schools. This could become a good differentiator, especially if teachers and administrators see a potential.

What are the 3 main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

  1. Some states do not use Common Core State Standards.
  2. Limited to only 6th grade for this year with a planned two-year roll out for 7th and 8th grade.
  3. To be noticed in schools, it needs to get the attention of teachers and administrators, and not only from students.

What is your badge system testing strategy? How have you or will you be testing your badge system prior to deployment?

We are on track to finish the missing 6th grade content required for some gold badges. When all new activities will be published (end of July), we will start supervised usability testing with English-speaking students here in Quebec. Before September, two newsletters will be sent to current users and the badge system will first open to teachers ready to give detailed feedback about their students’ experiences.

What are the top 3 factors that the success of your badge system are contingent upon?

  1. Content and assessment design in accordance with the CCSS.
  2. Widespread usage by both students and teachers.
  3. General attention and “buzz” around badges in the next year.

What have you done, or do you plan to do, to evaluate your badge earner community?

We don’t have any precise plans right now, but we did plan to integrate our achievement badges with our monthly contests.

Please describe any impact your badge system may have already had on your organization and your learners.

  • Overall, working on a badge system is a very motivating project for the team. Many discussions around gamification have emerged and everyone had something interesting to share about their experiences. It also helped create a bridge between our pedagogical consultants. The Common Core and the different types of assessments made their way inside meetings and general discussions.
  • Since we started working on this project, we started listening more to our student’s needs and how they experience BuzzMath. We conducted many school visits over the past couple of months and have heard great feedback. This project was first planned only for the US version but our French content team is starting to manifest strong interest in adding badges to our Canadian curriculum.

How would you characterize the impact your badge system will have on the Open Badges ecosystem?

These badges will be part of the first ones awarded based on the Common Core State Standards. This could open up the idea of badging to many online educational programs that are developed in accordance with these standards for all disciplines. This would provide a simple and comprehensible way for educators to assess and track students according to these standards.

What plans do you have to scale your badge system?

Depending on the success of the BuzzMath 6th grade badges, we will decide to add more or less resources to complete our 7th & 8th curriculum and badge system in time for next year. In addition to the Content Knowledge badges, we could add more Achievement badges (for example, class achievements instead of just individual badges). We also have plans to integrate the badge system into our french program that  has 120,000 french-speaking users during the next school year.

Once your badge system is built, how self-sustaining is it? How much do you anticipate maintenance to be?

We have low server costs and support to schools so the system should be easily sustainable. A big part of the project was to build the admin tools to easily maintain, add, or modify the data and requirements of each 3 types of badges.

For those who want to follow the development, implementation, and adoption of your badge system, what social media sites will you be posting updates to?

We will be posting main updates on our blog, blog.buzzmath.com. For regular updates, follow us on Twitter @BuzzMath.

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