Faculty Focus


Using Badges in the Classroom to Motivate Learning

Gold stars, Girl Scout badges, and Boy Scout badges—when we think about motivating our students to assist them in their learning and development, using badges in the classroom have a similar function as many of the rewards we were offered as young learners in primary schools (Ash, 2012). As a motivational tool, badges can be added to your college classroom using a fairly streamlined process, and with little or no cost to you at an individual level, or at an institutional level.

Why use badges in the classroom?
There are several reasons why you might want to use badges in the classroom. First, they recognize accomplishments and provide students with a tangible (albeit virtual) reward that acknowledges an achievement, whether it is a skill, competency, or completed task. Second, badges provide greater opportunities for student collaboration, cooperation, and interaction, as students motivate and encourage one another, and compete with one another to earn various badges in the classroom. Third, badges can provide an additional assessment tool for instructors to assist in the identification of a student’s specific strengths and weaknesses, as well as any additional areas needing improvement within the classroom. Badges can be tied specifically to a grade or class project, or can be used more informally as a motivational tool (Pearson, 2014).

How do badges benefit students?
In addition to motivating students to develop specific skills and competencies, both individually and collectively (Carey, 2012), badges offer the following benefits to students:

  • Enhance a resume, portfolio, or e-Portfolio by providing evidence of a completed task and knowledge gained through the completion of that task;
  • Focus learning on specific goals, which can lead to improved quality of work as students revise and resubmit their work through an open badging system;
  • Provide a supportive environment in which students’ learning emphasizes and encourages an action-oriented understanding of course objectives;
  • Foster deeper learning of course material, as the badges are content driven, specific to the course goals and content;
  • Create practical ways for students to learn in the classroom, and to share what they have learned in a public forum if they so choose, such as through Mozilla’s open badging platform, or through a class blog, class website, class wiki, or another social networking tool; and
  • Add an element of fun to the classroom, as students are encouraged to compete against their classmates in a cooperative and non-threatening way.

How to get started on using badges in the classroom

  • Check with your institution to see if any type of badging technology is currently being used and how. Determine if there is a preferred technology to be used with badging at your institution or if there are existing resources you can use. If there are limited or no resources available, consider using Mozilla’s Open Badge platform. This resource can provide the majority of free resources you will need to get started.
  • Determine how and why you want to use badging. Begin by asking colleagues and other stakeholders for desirable student behaviors in the classroom. For example, what are the habits, patterns, and attributes of those students receiving the highest grades? What are the characteristics of those students who achieve the lowest grades, and what are some ways to motivate these students? Which activities and classes are most compatible with badging? Which faculty are most open to badging? Which students are best suited for badging? High achievers? Low achievers? Which courses have the right content and structure for badging?
  • Start with a simple badge design. Badges need to have a clear and transparent design. Mozilla’s Open Badge framework can provide many of the tools to create badges. If you prefer to create your own badges, use imagery that can be easily added to classroom announcements, discussion boards, or within a classroom shared site such as a blog, wiki, Facebook page, website, or classroom RSS feed.
  • Create the criteria for badging in your classroom. Consider whether badges will be connected to grades. Will different levels be assigned to the awarding of a badge? If so, what levels will be created (for example, Rock Star, Proficient, Needs Improvement; or Excellent, Good, Needs Revision)? Will completion of badges be tied to tasks, skills, or competencies in the classroom? Can students revise the submission of a badge to earn a ‘higher’ score or grade if the badge is connected to a grade or level? How many chances will students have to earn a badge?
  • Consider the scope and timeframe of badging in the classroom. How many courses and sections will have a badging component? Will badging be housed internally? Will badging have the potential to be used externally? What is the timeframe for implementation? Who needs to be involved? How much involvement from other departments will need to be considered? What are the individual or institutional costs if free, open badging frameworks cannot be used?
  • Determine how badges will be given. Will you, as the instructor, give the badge to students? Will badges be automatically generated through a learning management system? Can students give each other a badge? Can students nominate their classmates to receive a badge from their instructor? What will the criteria or reason be for the nomination? Will students see when their classmates earn a badge?

With consideration given to the topics listed, badging within the classroom has the potential to be an effective learning tool (Ash, 2012; Pearson, 2014), and can assist an instructor in the accomplishment of these purposes: 1) deepen student learning; 2) drive the content; 3) reward students for their engagement and participation in the course; 4) foster a collaborative learning environment; 5) increase student interaction, student recognition, and student contribution; 6) encourage student competition with one another to earn badges, through a cooperative and encouraging manner; and 7) provide students with immediate feedback, which students desire from both their instructors and their peers (Cengage Learning, 2014). In addition, badging within the classroom has the potential to become externally used outside of one’s institution, where students could link to their profiles within social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. If your purpose for badging aligns with these aforementioned points, implementing badges within your classroom may very well be on the educational horizon.

Ash, K. (2012). ‘Digital badges’ would represent students’ skill acquisition: initiatives seek to give students permanent online records for developing specific skills. Education Week, 5(3), 24-25. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2012/06/13/03badges.h05.html

Carey, K. (2012). A future full of badges. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/A-Future-Full-of-Badges/131455/

Cengage Learning. (2014). What students say they need in order to become more engaged in class. Retrieved from http://assets.cengage.com/pdf/mi_digital_transition.pdf

Pearson. (2014). Designing your open digital badge ecosystem [Webinar]. Hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Suggested Resources:
Mozilla Open Badges at http://openbadges.org/

Grant, S. & Shawgo, K.E. (2013). Digital Badges: An Annotated Research Bibliography. Retrieved from http://hastac.org/digital-badges-bibliography