Tag Archives: Badges

Top 10 Gamification Fails

Gamification is intended to increase learner motivation in the classroom. However, I see many practices which actually decrease the effectiveness of a gamified setting. Here is a top 10 list of gamification fails I have encountered. How does your classroom stack up?

#10 -Playing Games in the Classroom- Playing more games in class might be a strategy for Game Based Learning, but it is NOT Gamification. Gamification is applying layers of game mechanics to your classroom that create a dynamic learning environment for your players. For a deeper explanation of the difference, see my post on Gamification vs Game Based Learning.

#9 -Inconsistent Rules- If there is one thing players hate, it is when the rules of a game change because the game designer is scrambling to fix an error they did not anticipate. If a team finds a loophole in the rules they deserve to capitalize on it. If others find the loophole they deserve it too. If there is another thing players hate, it is getting penalized for something when someone else gets away with it. Enforcing rules only some of the time creates a sense of unfairness and nobody wants to play a game that is unfair.

#8 -Neglecting Player Types- People play games for many reasons. Some play to win, others play to play, others play to make friends. There are many models, most stemming from the research of Bartles, about player types. Most gamified systems cater heavily to the competitive type. If your game ignores the cooperative or explorative types, they will disengage. Diversify your quests to consider all types of learners or players.

#7 -One Path to Victory- The best gamified classrooms rely on a foundation of diversified learning experiences. A non-diversified challenge structure is a sure fire way to kill player motivation for anyone who is not inherently motivated to finish all the tasks. It will turn any XP or badge earned into a checkmark. Checkmarks are not highly motivating! Learn more about diversified learning structures in Designing the Player Journey.

#6 -Trading Status for Stuff- According to Gabe Zichermann, the most powerful motivator of players in games is Status, e.g. experience points or levels. Some teachers create a classroom store where students can buy real world things like school supplies, bathroom passes, or even homework passes. Not only does this create a lot of work for the teacher to keep track of points spent and items bought, it greatly devalues the in-game XP earned. This practice trades intrinsic motivation for extrinsic motivation. Don’t do it. Read more about it in Status: The “Ticket” to Intrinsic Motivation

#5- Shameful Leaderboards- Leaderboards operate on two mechanics, fame and shame. While competitive types thrive on the leaderboard, it will surely alienate non-competitive players. The easiest ways to make leaderboards shameful is by making them mandatory and long term. Running a whole-class leaderboard for the duration of a semester will most likely be demotivating for most players. See my post on 6 Tricks for Shameless Leaderboards for ways to effectively integrate a leaderboard in your gamified classroom.

#4 -Grading on XP- If you already have an in-game feedback system like badges or XP, it is tempting to use it to determine the traditional grade on the report card. XP or badges should be a celebration of hard work, not a way to compare a student to a standard. A clever teacher will design diversified experiences aligned with the standards and use rubric-based grading on each performance task. Never just say get “x” number of points for an “A”. Also, this type of grading mechanic can actually cause players to stop playing when they have earned an “A” rather than keep playing for the sake of the game. For a more in-depth look, check out Why Grades and XP Don’t Mix.

#3 -Feedback Lag- Gamification speeds up the classroom feedback process by breaking larger tasks into smaller, concrete quests and then letting the player know very quickly if they have succeeded.  The easiest ways to slow down this feedback loop are to have large tasks with subjective terms of success. Nobody wants to play a game where they hit the “jump” button and then have to wait a week to know if Mario made it cross the gap!  Technology can sometimes help speed up  this process, but don’t let it get in the way.

#2 -Breaking Character- Your students are trying on new identities as they play your game. You should get in there and play too. Avatars can be very helpful in this endeavor. Nothing makes people feel more self conscious about really getting into a game when one person, especially someone in power, refuses to “geek out” with the rest of the gang. If your theme is Space Pirates you better be ready to put on a space helmet AND an eye patch!

3729453412_b8ed13fda2#1 -Not Celebrating Failure- Games celebrate success, but they also celebrate failure. If you are not celebrating failure, you are not celebrating learning. By only celebrating success, you put a value judgement on perfection rather than growth and persistence. Do you have badges for “Sticking With It,” “Big Improvement,” or “Asking for Help”?  

How do you celebrate failure in your classroom?

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

5 Tips for Badging Done Right

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.

AdventureMap_B-300x1841. 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.

10842834543_806a895b68_z5. 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.


The Paradox of Badging

What makes a badge valuable, desirable, or motivating?  It seems that the answer may be a bit counterintuitive. I propose that there is a “Badging Paradox” currently at work. When planning a badging system, leaders are focussing on the badges themselves when in fact the more a system focusses on the badge, the less valuable the badge becomes.  I see four levels at which badges accrue value. We will start with at the lowest level and work our way out.

The Award- The lowest level of value is that of the awarding of the badge itself. The instant the badge is awarded, there is a feeling of accomplishment. This moment can be slightly motivating for many reasons. Maybe the badge looks cool or it may cause interest from others at the time of the disbursement. It may also induce feelings of pride or catharsis. However, this is short lived and when the initial reactions dissipate, the badge is just a badge.

The Effort- Zooming out from the badge we see the work which the badge represents. The work and learning on the way to earning that badge is more valuable than the badge itself. Even without the badge, learners can take pride in their actions. If the work is not difficult or something to be proud of, the badge loses value for the recipient.

imagesThe Person- One level up, we see the badge as a smaller part of a whole. Although one badge may seem small when compared to the accumulation of all the other badges, every badge serves to reinforce every other as they create a visual panorama of acquired skill. Each piece of learning, each new skill, means more when you add it to the menagerie of talent that has been accumulated by each individual. The whole of this portfolio, just as with each person, amounts to more than just the sum of its parts.

The Community- The fourth level and the most important is what the badge represents within the community. The issuing institution sets the consistent requirements for attaining each badge. That means that everyone in the community understands and respects the work done by that learner. When the badge, and more importantly the badge collection, is displayed, there should be a shared sense of accomplishment. This is the level that most systems overlook. If the issuing community does not publicly recognize and celebrate the status and achievements of its participants, the badges lose a large portion of their potential value.

*Beyond?- Taking it one step further out, badges tend to lose value because, once you leave the community, the badges may not be looked at with the same reverence.  It is difficult to make our badges worthwhile in the realm beyond our specific badging communities. We can attempt to extend our community and create a larger unified badging culture like the Scouts program has done. Yet even in this organization, when a scout exits the program, the badges still tend to lose value in the greater community.  

Escher-WaterfallThe Paradox: Badging works not because learners receive badges. Badging motivates learners through what the badges represent: an award, effort, a person, and a community. The less focus we put on the badge, the more the badge means in the context of the community that values it. Earning a badge may be rewarding for some, but status in a community is highly motivating for all. Less motivating badging systems focus on the rewarding of the badges themselves. Truly effective badging systems focus on a culture and community of diverse learners.

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

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.