A Botanical View of Badging

A flower is a beautiful thing to behold.  It is a plant’s visual attempt to get attention in order to further its propagation. The eye-catching nature attracts pollinators and other creatures that help the plant. It also catches the attention of humans who tend to rip the flower off of the plant in order to aid their own propagation. Yet, that flower would not exist if it weren’t for all of the smaller systems of the plant which causes it to grow and bloom: the roots, the leaves, the stem, etc. The whole system requires care and maintenance in order to culminate into that coveted blossom.  In general, humans have two behavioral relationships with flowers, Harvesters and Cultivators.

 Harvesters look at immediate value of the blossom. They consider what the flower is worth or could be used for in that moment. Maybe it could be exchanged for a smile from one’s mother, or perhaps it could be a “get out of jail free” card exchanged for one less night sleeping on the couch. Whatever the use, these harvested flowers, now separated from the systems which produced them,  quickly wilt along with their exchange value.

Knot_Garden_at_New_Place_-Stratford-upon-AvonCultivators take a different approach to the flower. They attend to the whole plant. They take responsibility for the entire system which creates the flower.  All of the work from tilling the soil to watering the seedling, to regulating the amount of sun, is considered and reflected in the final product. To the cultivators, flowers rarely have acute, immediate value. Instead they appreciate the general aesthetic they have created, not just with one flower, but with the cumulative beauty of the mosaic that now resides in their garden.

Badges are like flowers.

Some worry that the badges will be used as an extrinsic reward system, a cheap trick to get students to work harder. We have all seen simple reward systems that exchange the accomplishments of the participants for desired goods or experiences(pizza, recess, etc.). These systems are extrinsically motivating. I would argue that systems like this are not actually badging systems.  Attaining a goal to acquire a badge that can be exchanged for a prize is no more a badging system than winning tickets for playing skee-ball. The tickets are a currency. They have an exchange value but no indication of exactly what was done to get the tickets.  Even with a properly designed badging system, could the badges themselves be considered extrinsic motivators? Used improperly, as currency, they might be. An easy fix for this to to ensure that the badges have no exchange value.  The badge alone should never be able to be exchanged to get an extrinsic reward. If flowers had no exchange value, would we harvest them?

imagesMuch like a cultivated garden, a well designed badging system uses badges as a tool to visually represent the cumulative accomplishment of the learner. Just as flowers, badges should be displayed publicly. While each badge may be viewed individually, the true significance of the badges is amplified when viewed as a part of the larger mosaic of work. These symbols are never harvested from the garden because to do so would extract them from the meaningful system by which they came to be. A properly designed badging system focusses not on the badges themselves, but the underlying, often unseen effort that goes into the earning of the badge. When we use badging systems in our classrooms, lets create cultivators, not harvesters. Remember that the reward lies not in the flower itself, but in the garden.

Want to read more about Gamification? Check out the Insert Coin Series which details best practice for educational gamification.


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