Gamification: What about badges? / by Tyler Wood

My Gamification Plan


One of the tenets of gamification is using badges to motivate students. Badges are not a new concept. I am reminded of Boy Scouts when I think of badges. When I was in Scouts, I earned badges after completing some form of challenge or performance of mastery of a skill. Thinking of that experience teaches me a few things that might change if we adopted this approach fully into a public education.

Photo courtesy Orange County Archives

1. Kids will have more fun. Most children I can remember in Scouts were there, and stayed there, because they wanted to keep learning and participating. There may have been a few parents pushing their son into it, but I do not remember a single boy I talked to that did not want to be there every week for our meetings. It was fun, and not just because the activities were different than school. It was not graded, it was useful (and we understood that), and it was encouraging. If we can change the way we offer education and assessment to align more with this approach, it will be more interesting and fun for kids.

2. Learning a skill meant something. In school when I learned a skill, I do not remember any fanfare or even much idea as to how to use that skill later. In Scouts, the usefulness of these skills was apparent and we had some ceremony for each badge that was given out. We felt proud of the accomplishment. Those badges made us feel confident about what we knew, rather than always feeling like we were going up a steep hill we could never see the end of.

3. Customized learning. Scouts would work on projects together and earn badges together, but many of the badges we earned were of our own choice. We would do or make something and we would all be getting different badges at different times. I understand that the scout leader was not meeting us everyday like a teacher, but they had just as many or more children they were responsible for. Offering badges means opening up the option of self-directed learning, which would cause more students to feel some autonomy in their learning. The classroom could be more of a hangout area where students are busy working on their projects together or individually while the teacher (like the scout leader) walks around helping. Sometimes scout leaders would have instructions for all the students, but it was never long. It was broken up into manageable chucks, that way the scout could get back to trying. This fits well with project learning, of course. 

4. Parents were always involved. This might be a harder one to transfer into public school for many reasons, but scouts were active and their parents were generally active, too. This has something to do with who joins scouts, but it shows a model that works. The parents were very accomidating with each other as well, many became friends. Having an environment where sharing and collaboration within the parent group might help parents get involved or help students whose parents are busy earn their badges together with the help of another parent. It may not be a perfect solution, but it can be an aspiration at least. 

5. Learning through activity. The reason I eventually quit Boy Scouts was because the leadership changed and we were doing too many meetings where we learned simple things, or were being talked to too much. It started to feel like school after school. I would rather school start to feel like the scouts instead. When my older brother was a scout, they would go on treks and camping excursions pretty often, which is why I wanted to join. That dwindled. I know that field trips can be hard to organize, but having students visit places as homework is less so. Especially, if some days off were offered to accomplish this mission, or we are designing a blended learning or online learning course. Restructuring time in a class would be great. Building an online class makes this a little easier because there is no class time, but even a traditional class could open up to the idea of opening the door more often. Children can earn different badges based on outside the school activities because badges can be earned from organizations the school trusts, like museums, where they know they had to do something do get that badge. 

There will be those parents and students who complain about this transition. There are parents and students who complain about any transition, so that is par for the course. Many students will complain about the changes we are making in my school as well, because certain students get comfortable being "good" students because they figured out the system, not the skills. Those students will get tested in a different way they might struggle with at first. They may not be able to accept failure as well, but over time, even those students will start to feel proud of badges. Parents may not like getting rid of the easy to understand grades they are used to. Much like the standards based report cards, it will take some time to get used to not having an overall number to attach to the student on how good they are. 

Another issue is that this could be the laser disk of education. If it is not adopted widely enough it may fail because it will not connect to the wider community well enough. If there is no pay-off for students and teachers in the expansion of it, any optimism for this project could ruin it. When people set up a certain idea in their head about the possibilities of some trend or change and it does not live up to that completely, it can falter and lose steam. 

I am going to try and adopt this idea into my class this year to create a more gamified feel in the class. Last year, it was points and prizes, but this year I am going to try and tap more into the intrinsic motivation of my students and see how that goes. However, it will not be the basis of assessment alone. 

My Badge Experience