A hierarchy of digital badges – level 4 Classroom

The final level of digital badges (in education at least) is Classroom badges. Now in keeping with the let’s-not-get-caught-up-on-semantics theme of this series of posts, it applies equally to the training room, the tutorial group and so on – the name ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s the function that counts.

Classroom badges I would consider to be the most informal of all badges, used primarily to add fun to learning and to give recognition to learn progress through a subject as well as to acknowledge notable contributions to class. This might be in an online forum or class discussion, for punctuality or courtesy or in dozens of other intangible ways.

These aren’t generally going to be badges that learners would attach to their e-portfolios or online presence but they can still be valuable tools to enhance motivation and engagement.

Classroom badges are closely tied to gamification, which is simply about taking game mechanics (e.g. instant feedback, competition/leader boards, collection quests, unlocking levels) and applying them to new contexts. Gamification is facing a not-unjustified backlash because it is possible to doing it quite badly and many gamification evangelists take an oversimplistic approach that involves copy-pasting concepts that work in advertising.

Used in education, gamification can drive intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators take the form of external rewards – physical prizes obviously but also unlocking access to new content and particularly peer respect. This can be incredibly effective in the short term but you run a serious risk that learners engage more with the rewards than the learning and when the rewards dry up, motivation plummets. Intrinsic motivators tap into a learner’s own desires and their reasons for undertaking the study. These often focus on recognition of progress and achievement, curiousity and personal interests. These can be more difficult to design but are far more valuable in sustained engagement.

It’s certainly possible to find the right balance of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators in a gamified approach using classroom badges, it just requires a little more consideration.

I’m currently working with the head of our Year 12 program (final year of secondary education) on a badge based approach to encouraging at-risk youth to complete their studies. It is currently largely driven by extrinsic motivators – get enough badges during the year and we will put on an end-of-year BBQ that you can come to – but we will also include some subtler drivers.

Lee Sheldon, in his fantastic “The Multiplayer Classroom” book notes some examples of teachers that also got learners to design and issue classroom badges (a limited amount to increase their value) to their peers for certain achievements such as explaining a concept in class in such a way that they were able to understand something for the first time. Peer based badging opens a whole new door to this approach that is well worth taking further.

So this is what I consider to be the four levels of digital badging in education. Maybe I’ve missed some, maybe the terminology needs some work and maybe creating a hierarchy is redundant (as different people have different needs of badges) but I think this is a decent start.

I’d really quite like to hear your thoughts on this – and particularly where we go next.