I’ve found myself in conversations about badges in education quite often over the past couple of years and lately, it seems the conversations are leaking more over into the traditional school system. Someone has heard something about badges and in their search for student engagement and motivation, they think, “Why not?”
I love that type of thinking. It’s the type of stuff that gets things done.
But before we just run out and start collecting Scout-types of badges, there’s some pre-thinking to be done. And toward that end, I’ve outlined some of the essential questions a leader and his/her colleagues might need to consider before jumping right into the badges in education game.
And please let me be perfectly clear: I have answers to these questions, but my answers won’t necessarily fit the unique needs of your community. What ultimately matters is your team’s answers and the adjacent questions that arise in the process. The power is in your hands.
Why badges? (level 1)
Badges are a great way to leverage motivation and engagement in the form of game mechanics (the tools and strategies of games), to connect with and hold learners to desired behaviors and tasks. In the case of school, we want kids to want to be at school, be deeply engaged in meaningful learning, and be developing skills that will carry them on into the greater world.
But really, as we begin, we need to get more specific than that. Why do we need badges? What’s going wrong right now? Who are the kids (and teachers?) we want to target? Are we considering Bartles’ Gamer Types of Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, Killers? What specifically, are the skills, content, and/or behavior we’re trying to help kids develop? And why won’t something else work instead? Why do we… need… badges?
What badges do we want? Skills? Classes? Content? (level 1)
So now we have a clear vision of “why badges,” we need to consider what specific classes and/or skills do we want to target? It’s time to start naming them. How many can you tackle and sustain with your group? What’s on your top, secondary, and tertiary levels of priority? Time to get a list together.
Which “brand” of badges do we want to use?
There are so many programs out there to help. Will you use Mozilla’s Open Badges and backpacks? Maybe a Credly/WordPress combo? Perhaps you’re looking at something more K12 school-friendly like ClassBadges? There are even more than those listed here (feel free to drop your unmentioned favorites in the comments below). Which fits the readiness of your group, both adult and students? How much time do you have to develop the badges and landing site? What levels of coding skills do you have on your team?
Where do we want to keep/access/display them? How will our community use them? (“why,” level 2)
Once students have earned their badges, where will they show them off? Secret badges are useless. These are things kids should be proud of earning (remember, kids earn them; adults do NOT “award” them — it’s about locus of ownership). Will you use hard copies? Will the kids display them on their websites? Will they live in a “backpack” and have an embed code on a class, school, or district website? Why or why not? And we cycle back to “Why are we wanting to use badges?” as a guide for answering this question.
Doing the work
- Who can build our badges? Who is on staff to do the graphic artistry? Or are you choosing a program where this is already done? What tools will they use that are compatible with our “backpack” page?
- What badges are they building? Skills? Classes? Content? (level 2) Now we’re getting really specific. What are the badges? Names?
- Who decides the metadata behind the badges? Who is going to be the people who decide what it takes to earn a badge? Will this be complicated? Will this be step-by-step instructions? Will this be more open and demonstrative, meaning will kids have to show what they learned, even if they took their own route? How will we come up with a universal understanding of what this badge means?
- Who will certify/verify our badges? Once a student believes s/he has earned a badge, to whom will they go? And who will “bless” the badges so that they truly mean something? Will they be worth grades? Credits? Can earning a badge take the place of a lesson? Unit? Class? Why? Why not?
When can we start?
Do we start in August? May? December? Which kids/teachers do we start with? Why not all? Why not just a pilot? In what amount of time can the badges be built and tested? How long will it take to earn a first badge? Is that too quick? Is that too long of wait for kids to get hooked?
Who do we need to have on-board?
Do we need to have all admin in the school on board? In the central office? How about teachers? Do all need to see the need/purpose for badges with our kids? What about kids? Who should we truly target with this first? Our natural go-getters? Our at-risk kids? Why? How does our hope and vision tie into this decision?
How will we sell this to parents? To kids? To teachers? Why are we doing this? (level 3)
We understand why this is important. We’re sold. We’re moving forward. But the conversations we have with parents and kids can make or break this initiative. Will badges take the place of grades? What might concern parents about this? How can we help parents see that badges are more reflective of their own everyday lives than A, B, C, D, F is? Or not? What are the predicted struggles our parents will have and how can we address those worries openly and honestly? Same with kids. Same with educator colleagues.
I know there are so many moving parts to adopting a full-grown badges initiative. I’m sure I may have missed a few questions that a leader might want to consider as they begin to move in this direction. If you have questions you think are also useful, please do drop them in the comments below.