Badging is becoming a hot topic with the rise of the Gamification trend. Many educators see badges used in game based learning platforms and would like to harness the power of badging in their classroom. Many educators have asked me about how to properly go about a creating a badging system. Since every classroom, project and learning culture is unique, I cannot provide a detailed step-by-step guide to this process. However, there seems to be a pattern in the more successful programs I have seen.
1. Diversify the Learning Environment- Before a single badge is ever given, the learning environment must be diversified. By that I mean that the system must allow for multiple pathways to success. A great example of this is the adventure map from Playmaker School. Inversely, imagine a non diversified learning environment where there is only one way to prove proficiency. At the end of the process, all students would have the exact same badges in the exact same order. In this type of system, a badge would be no different than a checkmark. What makes a badge valuable is the unique nature of the accomplishment. The more unique a set of badges, the more ownership a student will take. Applying a badging system to a standardized learning environment is a cheap trick that will eventually sputter out. Diversify the learning first. You may even find that the diversified learning structure would be enough to motivate students, even without badges. Why not stop there? But if you must continue…
2. Make Badges Highly Visible- There is no best platform for badging. Choose a platform that your users are comfortable with and go to often. For badges to maintain their value, they need to be VISIBLE and seen often. In a face to face classroom, would an online system be the most effective location for badges? Will they be seen on a regular basis or does it require a side trip? Football players sometimes have badges on their helmets and Boy Scouts display them on their sashes at troop meetings. A good badging platform should easily integrate with your daily routine and not require a series of complicated steps in order to distribute and display the badges. The more effort expended on the badging process, the less energy there is for teaching and learning. It is not about the badges. It is about the work behind the badges.
3. Be Flexible- The greatest thing about badges is that you can create new badges anytime a student is creative enough to forge their own pathway. This may sound like a lot of work but it really takes the pressure off of the instructor to preemptively create badges for all possible scenarios! Teachers and students may collaboratively create the badges as they go, giving the students more ownership in their own process of learning. Don’t forget to badge as you see fit to reinforce positive, unexpected behavior in the classroom even if it is not directly related to learning outcomes. For example, a student might be awarded a badge for sharing, cooperating, or helping. Stay flexible and be ready to reward unexpected achievements and positive behavior.
4. Be Consistent- Once a badge is created, record the specific criteria for attaining that badge and reward it to others who also complete those objectives. Students care very much about fairness and if they perceive that the system is not fair, the badges will be devalued. Make badging requirements available to students upon inquiry. Also, be consistent in the rewarding schedule. Set up a badge distribution schedule so the learners can expect when to receive their badges. This also makes those spontaneous behavior badges, given out immediately, more special.
5. Celebrate!- Badges themselves are not incredibly motivating. Receiving a badge can be exciting in the short term, but the badge in itself is not an intrinsic motivator. The successful learning and work behind the badge is an even greater reward. But the most powerful motivation behind badging comes from the status that badges represent within the learning community. (For more on this, see my last post on The Paradox of Badging.) If the learning community does not celebrate the individual achievements of its members, the badges mean less. The most successful badging communities celebrate, on a regular basis, the unique accomplishments of their learners. They create frequent events where their badges can be displayed and revered as they connect with others to compare the uniqueness of their individual journeys.
Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.