Today, @mrjarbenne wrote a great blog post reflecting upon a session he attended @ISTE12 regarding the topic of achievements and badges in and for learning. This is a topic Jared and I have discussed on numerous occasions and one that we both find fascinating – definitely our next big challenge as we consider teaching and learning through a social learning space such as the HWDSB Commons.

Here is my extended comment to his post, which can be found here

I definitely agree and can attest to the effectiveness of achievements in education, especially in a social learning management system. @learninghood and I used the achievements plug-in in our “LearningHood” (Learning + Neighbourhood = Learninghood”) social learning network developed a couple of years ago. Much like the HWDSB Commons, the LearningHood is a social learning space where students can reflect and collaborate and share their ideas and work with one another, their teachers, and their parents. As successful as using achievements in education was then, and can be, especially in this environment, there were some inherent challenges that can be addressed from Jared’s post above. I created stickers for each of the achievements that we had put in – so for instance: signing up and logging in for the first time, logging in after 5, 10, 15 and 20 times (etc), starting a group, posting a discussion, starting a collaboration, supporting another student on their owns, etc. Some of these achievements and badges were pre-advertised and listed on a page so that they could aim for them – others were hidden, Easter eggs if you will, that were awarded when a certain action was completed. This process is very similar to video gaming; for example, when I play certain games on my PS3 I am awarded trophies during gameplay. Again, some of these trophies I can aim for and many are hidden and unlocked after a certain level, action or series of moves has been implemented. There is an inherent problem with this type of trophy system however. Whereas students playing video games do strive for the next achievement and do try again and again to accomplish their goals, the trophy really is just one of many. Sometimes after locking a trophy for a series of moves I’m happy for a very short term but then that trophy is quickly forgotten as the gameplay and the momentum continues. I also couldn’t necessarily tell you how I achieved that trophy or what series of moves I had used in some cases – I may not even be able to replicate it easily (if at all). If that’s the case, I didn’t really learn a new set of moves, I just did it by accident. Whereas that may be the first step on the road to learning, it’s not learning itself. So, if we’re using the same functionality in a classroom – we can’t necessarily say that we are supporting deep learning for our students. So, back to the previous story I was telling. Our students did find the achievements to be very exciting. They found them to be something that motivated them to use the social learning network and found themselves creating groups. But then we noticed that they were only trying to get “the stickers”. In essence, the students weren’t actually aiming to achieve and to be recognized, they just wanted to “collect the stickers” – and we all know that working to collect stickers does not equal or support learning. There have been many times where my daughter comes home with stickers on her work and when I ask her what they were for she quite often doesn’t even know. One other difficulty we were finding with this system was that each achievement came up with a series of points. So, for instance, signing up to the network and logging in for the first time would get you 20-25 points to start. From that point on, each major achievement would give you about 10 points and lesser achievements would give you 2-5 points. These points could all be listed on a sidebar widget and a leaderboard. Again, this whole process emulates the system of trophy and point accumulation from the online social gaming communities. The question then became, however, what can we do with these points? We certainly can’t translate them into marks and we can’t award any type of credits to a student in an unfair way as compared to other students. So what can we do with them? We found that we could use the points gained through the achievement system to award students with opportunities that they may not have had otherwise. For example, we kept certain avatar costumes hidden. We gave students with high group collaboration points the ability to rate certain groups within the network. Themes for blogs could be awarded so that they could customize their blog in a certain way. So there are many ways that a point system could be used to help motivate students and recognize certain elements of learning. As you can probably imagine, this type of process did motivate a large number of students but it did not motivate all and there were a bunch that were not interested whatsoever. There was always something missing, and once again challenging, when considering from a whole class approach combined with personalized and responsive learning opportunities for each individual student in the room as well. The concept of linking badges to external opportunities or agencies and as badges of honour and recognition that can carry forward with this student attached to their digital learning portfolio is probably what was missing. This type of badging is more authentic and carries with the student. It also has relevant and long lasting meaning for the student themselves. These would be badges of learning that students could carry with them and celebrate them and show them off with pride. Perhaps they could even have value for the students moving forward attached to their resume or any form of application for any opportunity. Perhaps they could even have merit when applying to college or university. Much has been written on the effectiveness of the intrinsic motivation of the video game system. I’ve always thought that if we could harness the whole mental and physical process of gaming into the whole system of teaching and learning that we may have that that special spark that can help to motivate and move students forward in a variety of different and dynamic ways. Jared and I have talked about the whole concept of badging and achievements in education with the HWDSB Commons on many different occasions and I love how this conversation will now take that whole idea to a new level and we could see what we can do it in the coming years.