#edtech #digitalbadges #edbadges Motivation and Engagement. These two words come up again and again as I try to describe the change I saw in my students when I began using badges. Now, if you’ve seen my badges, you may be wondering how in the world a 1” plastic button could drive such a dramatic change. You can get a fifth grader to spend five weeks learning to code just to earn that? Fair question. My badges are attractive, but they aren’t the flashiest things in the world. And that’s by design, because really, it’s not about the badges.
Yes, I, the badge guy, am saying that the magic behind the whole system is not the badges themselves. The motivation, the engagement, comes mainly from the accomplishment the badges represent. I’ve had students come to me near tears because they lost a badge. It’s not because the badge was so beautiful or so expensive-- it’s because they had worked their tails off to get it.
One of the biggest mistakes that can be made, then, is devaluing the badges by giving them away too easily. If we’re giving students badges just for showing up, tying their shoes, or maintaining a pulse, one of two things will happen. In scenario one, the badges will simply cease to matter. Students will lose them, forget them, throw them in their bag, neglect to post them, or toss them in the trash. They become worthless. On the other hand, things could go the other way. It could become all about the badges, and only the badges. Students will race through challenge after challenge to accumulate more and more shiny baubles. Although they may enjoy the sight of their blog or backpack being festooned with countless badges, they revel in the sheer number of badges without valuing or even remembering the skills that earned them.
As a curator of badges, then, it’s your job to keep badges valuable by emphasizing quality over quantity. As you design the system, there should be no “throwaway” or “gimme” badges. Each and every one should require the development and demonstration of a skill or group of skills, culminating in a high-quality artifact.
I originally thought that I needed to give my students a taste of success right away, so I initially made my level one badges quite easy to earn. I soon realized, though, that this was calibrating students’ expectations incorrectly. It did not instill inherent value in every badge, and it led to frustration when students encountered more challenging badges later.
I ended up revamping my level one so that all of the skills in that level earned only one badge-- the technology basics badge. The students still have to demonstrate several different skills, and they still have to create an artifact, but they don’t get a separate badge for each small skill required (such as sending an email, navigating Google Drive, or online safety). That way, even though many of these skills can be mastered in a matter of hours, or maybe minutes, badges don’t become cheap.
Timing is one of the things to be considered when deciding what level each skill should be placed at, by the way. On the whole, my level one skills are ones that can be completed in a matter of hours. As they move up to level two, multiple days will likely be needed, and then about a week for level three skills. Level four, the ultimate accomplishments in my system, includes badges such as coding and filmmaking that will take multiple weeks to attain.
Of course, there’s the caveat that the badges can’t be too hard, either. (I’m sure you heard something about the zone of proximal development back in your education psychology class-- that perfect zone where a new skill is just challenging enough that a student believes they can do it, but still has to work hard to get there.) If weeks go by and nobody’s earning a badge, you can bet that motivation will burn out pretty quickly.
On the whole, I think that awarding badges too freely is the greater tendency, so I would urge you to keep your standards high. Though the badges themselves offer some motivation, the students will be truly engaged if they know that each badge is worthy of respect.