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The ‘gamification’ and badges movement in education has been growing for years. 

In fact, here at Edublogs, adding tools to manage or award badges to students has been one of the most frequently requested features that we get. 

We recently stumbled across Michelle Baldwin’s post on Edublogs, We Don’t Need Badges for Reading.

You should give the full post a read, but the quick version is that she noticed harmful effects from a reading app that her students use as a result of a feature that awards badges. 

Michelle’s post focuses on reading, but the same can be said across the board when it comes to motivation and learning. 

A colleague published a much more pro-gamification post here on TheEdublogger last year, and in certain conditions, perhaps there are advantages to these techniques. 

With Edublogs and our CampusPress platform, we don’t plan on adding any specific badging features anytime soon – though we do have users that will embed or upload images of badges to sidebars. We feel strongly that the blogging, reflection, and writing process would be hampered by a systematic approach to badges that often fail to reward quality over quantity. 

There are times, and for specific content areas, where some game mechanics like simulation, competition, or role playing might be beneficial to learning. We just need to be careful that current trends don’t lead us to ‘gamify’ just to ‘gamify’. 

Your Thoughts

How do you feel about badges and gamification with your students?

Do they help engage students?

Does it create extrinsic motivation that could do more harm than good?

Please leave a comment below (or even better, a link to your post on the topic)!

About Ronnie Burt

Manages the Edublogs, CampusPress, and WPMU DEV Hosting services. Former secondary math teacher and wannabe musician. Follow @ronnieburt on twitter!

23 Comments

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  1. I think this depends on the age of the child. Once a child gets to be a certain age, this type of reward does not work.
    For example, when I was in first grade we brought home a “baggie book” each day to read with our parents. Our parents had to sign the sheet that was in the baggie to show that we read the book. That worked for me in first grade, but as I got older, when teachers tried to use these incentives in junior high, it was embarrassing.
    That’s one of the reasons why I think kids drop out of scouting around 10 to 12-yearsold. I think they get a little embarrassed because some of it like earning badges for your sash can be childish.

  2. I have worked in special education the last three years. One of the best tools to motivate my students has been the use of extrinsic motivators such as prizes, awards and token economies. As a teacher I think it’s my responsibility to figure out what best motivates my students to get them to engage and learn. It’s also part of my responsibility to recognize when a classroom management strategy is not being productive and make the appropriate adjustments. Every student has different needs.

  3. Hi Ronnie
    I do support the recent idea that gamification causes extrinsic motivation that can do harm. Being an ex-teacher, I know how difficult it is to gain “pure motivation”, that is, the inner motivation that helps students become better in any subject they like.
    However, with the popularization of gamification, it has become really unbearable to see how my former co-workers (teachers, tutors, etc.) are trying to apply gamification strategy to their classes. That’s sometimes pathetic.
    Gamification isn’t a thing that can be used so easily. There are so many aspects of it that should be given a thought.
    Teachers often forget about that and turn the process into a hunt for updates.
    Do you think the paranoia about badges and gamification is going to decrease? Would be glad to hear your opinion.

    Sam
    Author of Gamification in Education at http://ow.ly/PWQi301RH35

    • Samantha Wilson
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  4. My school uses Carnegie’s Cognitive Tutor program and it has badges/achievements for the students built into the program. Since it is high school, I do not think they pay much attention to the aspects of the program that my elementary daughter does with her online programs. I think for the gamification to work, the attitude of the student needs to be changed first. I have noticed that students that are invested in programs and in learning really take control of their own learning in the classroom. Games, rewards, and gamification becomes an extra perk that doesn’t control whether or not they are going to make it.

    When playing a game on the PS4 or Xbox, you receive trophies/achievements for accomplishing something within the game. It is awesome to see and to receive, but why do I continue to play the game? Is it for the trophies? No! I am invested in the game that I am playing and want to see what the ending is or what happens to my character (if playing a RP type game). If students see their learning the same way in high school, then gamification would be awesome for them to have. Yet, I have not seen an increase of my students achievements just because there are awards or badges. Their motivation and achievement needs to start with their mindset. I don’t think that gamification is the way to change this… at least not at the high school level.

  5. To boil down “Gamification” to simply badges is a gross simplification of a complicated movement. I think as a whole, the movement is a positive force in the field of education, however just like any educational theory, you don’t have to use ever part of it. Baldwin might not feel badges benefit her class, but I be if she looked at other aspect of gamification she’d find they were a great fit! I taught a small book club this year, and my students LOVED the board game we built to review Sign of the Beaver.
    They were going back and pouring over the text, re-reading countless passages just to get it right. They were so engaged and self-motivated I felt like I wasn’t even teaching; but they sure showed me that they were learning!

    http://asoundmind.edublogs.org/

    • Frank Cademartori
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    • Hi Frank, appreciate the comment! I don’t think I was trying to say that badges are all about gamification, and I definitely agree, other aspects of gamification can provide incredibly valuable learning experiences.

      • While I’m not a fan of badges per se, I have come around to recognize that they are quite honestly a visual representation of the PD certificate that teachers get at the end of PD to submit for state licensing. I was looking to utilize our future campus press site as a way of developing our PD site and not having this option kind of means that I won’t be building our site through Campus Press. Is BadgeOS really that bad?

        • rafranz davis
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        • Hi Rafranz, thanks for the comment!

          There are still ways to add badges by uploading images or embed code. But the OpenBadges plugin doesn’t currently meet our guidelines.

  6. While I respect the sentiment that badging can cause issues, I think it’d be better to leave that decision in the hands of the users to determine when and where they’d like to use badges. Personally, I find that badges can be a beneficial force in producing quality work or pushing students to excel past the “passing” level into a level of excellence worthy of a badge. It also lets them take a tangible token of what they’ve learned with them to share with colleges and employers, especially in classes based on the Adobe Suite or other technical skills.

    A good middle ground would be installing the BadgeOS plugin (http://badgeos.org/download/get/), but letting individuals decide whether they see the value in producing and using badges. Forcing your choice on users makes us have to resort to inefficient and obtuse workarounds for something we feel is valuable pedagogically.

    I hope you reconsider your hardline stance. Your users deserve a choice.

    • Hi Eric,

      Many thanks for the comment. We’ve looked into BadgeOS several times and it just isn’t quite there yet where it works well enough for us to add. We used to have the ClassBadges plugin too, but that service seemed to change ownership and the plugin no longer worked, so we removed it. We do have many customers adding badges via image widgets, which seems to be pretty easy too. Definitely appreciate the feedback!

    • While I can appreciate the sentiment that someone authoring a specific course of action for students, should have all the tools at their disposal. I’m not sure that I can agree entirely. Using badges in the moment will contribute to badge blindness. Where everyone is making badges to suit their incidental purposes, and a more serious concept of badges can’t take hold. What I mean by that, is that badges are a form of language. They are pictographs that are designed to communicate. Communication is most effective when we use a commonly understood language. So when you are attempting to utilize badges but are essentially conceiving of your own words and creating your own badge language, you are likely just creating a need for more communication to explain your unique system, one that won’t translate outside of your specific course.

      Maybe that is fine, and maybe that is the perceived intend of badges. To do some incidental gamification of educational experiences that is internal and easily thrown out after the term of the course. I just imagine that there are things we can do to create a common pictograph language that does a better job of instantly communicating achievement. So that students can really value plotting a course to achieve those badges and they can take them into real world situations as an adult, rather than just being gold stars to discard.

      Overall I’m not a great fan. I think relative metrics across students are far more valuable than badges. Take the example of a badge received for doing 100 of x action. Say answering questions in a specific topic. It is a nice marker, but how many questions are being answered by other students? And how many would be valuable to answer? I think a students targets should be globally relevant so that the feedback they are getting is allowing them to truly compete. Badges are not necessarily relevant to that. As one day you might be in the 25% of number of questions answer and then the next drop to 22% as people answer more questions. So a badge that shows you in a certain group would need to be revoked.

      I guess my general problem is, are we going to create a interoperable standard language for the gamification of education that enables interoperability. Or are we just going to have hundreds of thousands of isolated silos of edtech that don’t mesh together? I would prefer that we focus on accessing the benefits of standardization rather than having everyone build a different competing solution.

      • Lots and lots of really interesting points in here, Trevor!

  7. nice blog my friend like me

  8. Why not set up a trial to test your assertion that badges often fail to reward quality over quantity? In my experience, and depending on how you define ‘quantity’, repetition is a key feature of learning and will lead to quality assuming the practice is appropriate. In fact ‘play’ is our natural mechanism for supporting repetition outside of formal learning and is what gamification is attempting to harness. As with anything it can be done well or poorly and the purpose of a trial would be to learn to do it well.

  9. I’m impressed that you are choosing not to badge – that’s awesome!

    • Brenda Sherry
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  10. Thanks for the post.

    I want to take a moment and recommend some great work on meaningful gamification created by a group at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education. I hope to use this framework this summer to encourage community building and networking during class and online in my CampusPress blog.

    http://gseweb.gse.buffalo.edu/org/game/

    I may also try to add a thematic or narrative layer to social interations using this badge maker: https://www.openbadges.me/designer.html

  11. Badges are an abstract. If you view them as one that can represent anything, you realize that some will have value and others none. So the concept can’t be evaluated without acknowledging that there is both bad and good badges.

    I personally don’t care for the general idea because I feel like arbitrary badges are harmful. They are essentially utilizing the positive feelings that people get from earning the badge to encourage, which is great, but are a lie if the feeling they get is not commensurate with actual value.

    So if you are going to use a badge, symbol, or mark to encourage, it should be a very carefully prepared representation of actual accomplishment. Or as close as possible. So that the value it represents carries weight for the people viewing the badge.

    I would skip badges if that were all I was doing. I believe there is much more important work to be done with the same concepts. The basic idea being that you use digital tools for tracking activity and then reflect that activity to the user in a way that encourages them towards more activity. Badges are just a part of that visualization of activity, but if I can just create a badge and give it capriciously without evidence of learning in the data then you just end up with a glut of badges.

    I think badges are also a false goal. Where a person can go so far as to get a badge and feel that is an endpoint. And stop progressing. It is far more valuable to track relative progress across students and use real data about your global position in “the game” of education to spur you forward to be better than average.

    We have to use new tools to be far more careful about how we tell students what is enough work. As projecting low standards is one of the primary failures of our education system that computers have the opportunity to turn around. We don’t need to pollute the technology with more low expectations so that it ends up being just as poor as what we are doing now.

    • I’m with Trevor on this one. If you are just awarding badges like giving out candy for having a student turn in their paper correctly, that’s just using tech for more of the same extrinsic carrot giving. I see and use badges more as certificates of accomplishment. So in my class if a student say successfully completes a lab on energy transfer, then answers the reflection questions, and does a blog post showing their understanding he or she gets the Energy Transfer badge. That badge is a visual representation of having shown understanding and completing the three activities. It’s not arbritary and it’s not given frivolously. In a game badges and achievements are given for doing something, for completing something. I can support that.

      • Alfonso Gonzalez
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  12. Gamification in education should be used to draw attention to the positive feelings that people have when they succeed in a quest or “win” in a game. Mastery of their subject or improving their skills will make students feel successful and proud. Using gaming words or tokens to describe these small wins is not bad. Gamification can be used to encourage a student to go farther than they think they can go and celebrate that success. Just like running races gives me a little motivation to train harder, I “win” because I beat myself, not those running around me.

    • Shawna Wright
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  13. I think badges come from the militarization of education, which games now reflect. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are a kind of indoctrination for uniforms, badges, and group think.
    http://www.OriginofAlphabet.com

    • Jennifer M. Ball
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