Sunday, October 7, 2018

Badges? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges

This week I have a recommendation for all my fellow teachers, especially those who teach online: Don't try to make all the changes in one quarter.

Of course I don't like to take my own advice, so this quarter I have significantly reorganized two of my classes and I am trying to learn two brand new tools and one or two additional new-to-me features in Canvas as well. Unsurprisingly this is all taking me longer than I hoped.

The tool window for adding a badge in Badgr.

I've written before about SoftChalk, which I am continuing to use this quarter. I now have required students in all 7 of my Fall 2018 classes to complete at least one SoftChalk lesson. Two classes, my online Art History and my Intro to Clay, have had several lessons in SoftChalk, and between all the groups, I'm pleased to say, I've had relatively few accompanying tech problems in the first two weeks of the quarter. I'm happy with the SoftChalk lessons, and I think they improve the students' experience or learning in class, but they are an awful lot of work to set up. Luckily, many of them will be entirely reusable, and some will be adjusted to fit other classes.

My Unit 3 badge. Pay not attention to the crooked text.

Another new tool, Badgr, is really pretty quick for me to set up. This morning I timed myself as I made new badges and it took me just about half an hour to make and import two badges from "scratch" using Photoshop and some stock badge designs I purchased online. 

My Section 1 badge (for a test covering 2 units)

The Badgr tool is designed to add a competition feel to the class by awarding badges and allowing students to see how their progress/badges compare to their classmate's. The students names are not shared, but they can see a "leaderboard" of where they stand compared to other anonymous students in the class. 

I thought the badges/competition it would be a good fit for the online Art History class I am attempting to "gamify" this quarter. So far I haven't gotten any feedback from the students as to whether they like it, but my view of the Badgr tool shows me who has completed both the required and the optional modules so far. It actually serves as a quick visual reference for who is behind (and who is ahead) in their class progress.

My Ancient Egypt (Unit 4) badge.
Though there is probably a correlation between how far students have progressed in the class and their overall grade, the badges really don't show or indicate grades themselves. Right now I am only able to award badges for module completion. As I am also using module completion as prerequisites for moving forward in the class, the badges only show that students have completed the required tasks.

For example, there is information in the first module that sets the tone for all the rest of the class. I need the students to understand the organization of the class and requirements before they proceed through the class. Therefore, the first module requires students to view to pages, contribute to a discussion and score at least 0 points on their first quiz. I keep the quiz scores at 0 because I don't want students who have done poorly to be blocked from continuing, especially since a computer problem is occasionally responsible for a low grade. I also don't want the students to proceed to chapter 2 until they have at least attempted to finish chapter 1. This means that the badges are awarded for going through the motions, not necessarily for mastery.

My Ancient Greece (Unit 5) badge

My original grand plan for badges and this competition between students included awarding special badges for students who submit early, catch typos or errors early enough so that I can fix them, or ask really great questions in the discussion forum. Since these sorts of things should be celebrated, but aren't directly tied to test scores, these would be both fun to reward with a badge and would celebrate the right sorts of things in a class, but I would not end up comparing scores directly and students who are struggling, but doing the right things, could feel good about their progress. Right now YVC has only a more basic package for Badgr, but it sounds like, later this year, I might have access to awarding badges for other these other sorts of things, too.

My Section 2 badge (for a test covering units 3 and 4)

Like I said, this morning I made up a batch of badges. Because they are meant to be fun, but they aren't central to the class and don't impact the students' learning process, I didn't fuss about the look of the badges too much. The ones I've made aren't as professional as they could be, but the Badgr leaderboard tool only allows them to be seen at a pretty small scale. I figure they are at least more interesting than the straight clip art badges that come standard, and students won't be able to see that I've trimmed the edges of the border crooked or that the curve of my text doesn't quite match the curve of the banner.

My list of badges in Canvas (so far).

Most of the badges I've made are simply a stock badge shape surrounding an image from our textbook chapter. This approach offers me a reasonable balance between my fairly rusty Photoshop skills, the fact that I need to not spend a ton of time on this task, and the fact that the students can barely see the badge detail anyway.

On the other hand, the badges might be a complete waste of my time if students don't find them useful. As I said, the original idea was to reward not just module progress, but actions and skills that are used by active learners. Before I learned about Badgr this summer, I was seriously exploring how to (automatically) reward students for excellence by unlocking or sending them Art gifs that would be a reward they could strive for (related to but separate from a test score). 

I even collected a bunch of art gifs like these dancing prehistoric female statues. I am still considering how I might use them this quarter (in, uh, my free time). Maybe I should just email the top scorers or something.

My thinking was that rewards of this sort are often used in silly little iPhone or video games and then tend to make these sorts of simple activities addictive. It would be nice to add enough competition and "addiction" to my class to make students want to keep coming back and interacting with their class.

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