Badges for Learning

Posted by reyjunco on January 12, 2012 in Research |

Badges for Lifelong LearningRecently, I’ve been thinking a lot about using badging systems to support student learning. There is great potential for using badging systems to add a game layer to learning in the traditional classroom, thereby increasing student engagement and learning outcomes.

Last year at SxSWi, Seth Priebatsch from SCVNGR gave a keynote (video) about adding a game layer on top of the world. If you don’t have much time, I’d recommend skipping to the part about game mechanics and engagement in education which starts at 10:30. Seth’s talk sparked a number of ideas for me, one of which grew to be our proposal Game Dynamics in the Classroom: Badges to Improve Student Engagement and Learning in Large Lecture Courses for the Digital Media + Learning Research Competition.

The gist (straight from our proposal):

The goal of this project is to create and evaluate a badging system for learning in order to increase college student academic engagement and improve class attendance and academic performance. We hypothesize that we can improve college student academic outcomes by combining Location Based Services (LBS) with a badging system employing game dynamics and integrating it in an educationally-relevant way in a large-lecture course at The University of Florida.

I’m really excited that we were able to partner with SCVNGR to develop a badging system for this project. If the project gets funded, we’ll use an experimental design to evaluate the impact of integrating our badging system and related game dynamics into large lecture courses. As outcomes, we’ll measure differences in student engagement, attendance, and academic performance between the experimental group and the control group. Here are our methods:

Research design
Before the semester begins, university students registered for a large-lecture introductory course will be randomly assigned to either a control section or an experimental section. Both the control and experimental sections will be taught by the same instructor and will follow the same schedule in the presentation of course material. Each section will contain at least 200 students for a total of 400 participants. The Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects will approve research procedures

Experimental Section
Students in the experimental section will use their Android or iOS devices to engage in academic challenges in order to earn badges. Students will check in to the classroom after indicated class sessions. Once they check in, they will be presented with a challenge that involves answering five questions about that day’s lecture, developed in consultation with the course instructor. Students will receive a point for each question they answer correctly. They will also receive points for checking in to the class location, posting pictures of their notes, and posting questions about the day’s lecture. Additionally, students will receive points towards badges by participating in relevant challenges outside of class, including “social check-ins” with a study group, visiting a professor/TA’s office or supplementary instruction session, or checking into the tutoring center.

When a student accumulates a pre-determined amount of points, she or he will receive a badge. Students may earn one badge for each week of the course. At the end of the semester, students will receive course extra credit based on the number of badges they have earned.

Control Section
Students in the control section will have the opportunity to answer the same questions as the experimental group; however, these questions will be presented as quizzes using TurningTechnologies ResponseWare. ResponseWare allows students to submit answers by using either their mobile phones or their laptop computers. The quizzes will include the same content and be administered at the same time as the experimental group. Control group students will also be able to complete the other challenges, but they will be presented as extra credit opportunities accompanied by manual tracking methods and a traditional scoring rubric equivalent to the badge system.

You can read the entire proposal here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this project. Please feel free to leave a comment below or on the proposal page at the DML site.

[Update 2/13/12: Our proposal was not selected for funding by DML; however, we are still looking for funding. Please read this post and share it through your networks.]

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  • I think this is a fascinating proposal and hope it gets funded.  It will be interesting as well to see if there’s a difference in effectiveness between men and women as some believe men are more competitive i.e. gamification of learning may benefit men more than women.

  • Thank you! Yes, we’ll be examining differences across background characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, SES) as there are known differences in these areas in technology adoption and use. We’ll also examine student motivation/personality styles to see if they influence badging system adoption or use (frequency, type, etc.). 

  • Very interesting. So students in both control and experimental sections will receive course credit for these activities? Your study should clarify the difference between points-as-rewards and points-and-badges-as rewards.  I suspect that you’ll find that the badges add very little to student motivation beyond what the points provide, extrinsic motivations (like points) doing what they do to more-intrinsic motivations (like badges).  I like that this study should isolate that effect, but I would be more interested in seeing a straight-up badges vs. points comparison.  I’m curious, why did you decide to put points on the line in the experimental group?

  • Thanks Derek. Yes, they’ll both be receiving course credit. The idea will be to make sure everything is equivalent minus the badging system. Your point is well taken and it’s the fun part about this kind of research– we may find an effect… or we may not. For our Twitter study, I would have wagered we wouldn’t have found an effect on grades, but we did (and we’ve also found longer-lasting effects on academic performance that we are currently writing a manuscript about). We’ll definitely have good data to assess whether there is any shift in internal motivation using the badging system. And to clarify– points are built in as part of the badging system platform design. 

  • What a great idea and exciting proposal.  I hope it gets funded and will definitely be following this work!  I teach graduate students (most mid-late 20s, some older) and non-traditional students, and am finding that there is still a wide variation in their comfort level and familiarity with media (i.e. how much they use social networking and how long they’ve been using social networking).  Your work with undergraduate students provides a nice peek into the future and perspective on how much students are changing in terms of their use of social media and technology in education.  I suppose that, in a few years, these types of activities will become the expectation in my classroom.

  • I’m very intrigued by this proposal, especially as a University of Florida Student Affairs grad student! I’m excited to follow along with the progress. Best of luck! 

  • Thanks, Rey. I’ll be interested to see what the study shows!  To your last point: There are points in the badge system, but it’s not the case that points or badges necessarily translate into course credit, right? That’s up to the instructor, I’m guessing. 

    Sorry for any confusion. I was using “points” in my comment to refer to course credit, not points within the badge system.

  • Thanks Cheryl! We’ll keep you posted. I really enjoy my colleagues at UF– they are very interested in integrating new technologies in higher ed. And of course, I’m a Gator too.

  • Ahh… Ok. To answer that question: the badges will translate into course credit (extra points), whereas we will use an analogous grading scheme to award course credit for the control group. 

  • Really fascinating.  Your blog post was the perfect follow-up to the Chronicle article from earlier this week (http://chronicle.com/article/Badges-Earned-Online-Pose/130241/).  I’ll be interested to see how this turns out.  I wonder if there’s an opportunity to see how this plays out in a co-curricular context as well.  I know that some Universities are experimenting, but haven’t seen much research on the topic.

  • Thanks Paul. Yes, I certainly have ideas about how to use badges in student affairs/the co-curriculum; however, as you might imagine, such projects require a good deal of resources in order to conduct. Among other things, there are costs associated with developing the badging system as well as the need for time to allow researchers to help plan and implement the study, collect data, and support the practitioners using the system. In addition, data need to be collected, checked, and analyzed. Usually we obtain time by “buying out” some of a faculty member’s teaching or covering the cost of a graduate assistant to help with the research.

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