Grading With Badges Revisited

All, Teaching

I learned something new this week. Yet another reason why teaching is such an awesome job. Actually, I learned lots of things as my students are wrapping up their class projects, but one thing I learned is specific to teaching and that thing made me think again about how and why I grade with badges.

I use badges to grade class activity – specifically class discussion (whether in person or via online discussion board and/or class blog). Typically, students are assigned two weeks (one in the first half and one in the second) when they must submit a Community-Reflection report on class discussions. The report (see template) helps me keep track of attendance and participation, but its most important function is to recognize good participation. Students can award up to 11 badges to their peers, but they choose (although evidence must be provided for all badge awards) how many to award and which classmate(s) deserve the badges.

It is a simple concept, but I have found three benefits to using badges to assess class discussion plus an unexpected bonus I discovered just this week.

Crowdsourcing Cuts Workload

It would be impossible to grade two sets of class discussions for every class every week. It is really really hard, but dividing the workload across the roster makes it possible. Even better, with multiple eyes on participation each week, there is much less chance of a noteworthy idea going unnoticed. It is really hard for one person to observe all the great ideas shared in a class as some students are more naturally noticeable than others.

Focus On Coaching

My contributions to class discussions, both in person and online, can focus on coaching rather than grading. I can be much more of a participant or mentor (as is needed) when I am not worrying about how I will assess the discussion. Forgetting about the grade also means I can focus on checking in with everyone because I do not need to monitor the discussion for assessment purposes.

Authentic Audience

Students are less likely to focus on me (the instructor) as their primary (or only) audience. This manifests itself in two important ways, both of which support more meaningful discussion. First, it gives students an authentic audience and purpose. When they see the instructor as their only audience, too often the focus is on pleasing the instructor or regurgitating ideas they believe the instructor wants to hear/read. Too often there is little thought put into those responses. However, knowing their classmates are looking for evidence of thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas spurs most students to really craft their responses and engagement. Second, students pay much more attention to the ideas of their classmates. At first because they are required to, but the more they engage with each other the more they learn about and from each other. Not only does this spur discussion, but it also sparks a more supportive classroom atmosphere where students are not competing but encouraging.

Badges Are Fun

This week, due to poor planning on my part, I found myself without class reporters, so I decided to award badges myself and I learned something really interesting. Grading with badges is fun! I discovered that knowing I would need to award badges made me review our class discussions through a new eye as I was specifically looking for ideas to reward. I could take off my coach hat, or set it aside, and put on my cheerleader uniform and that is a pretty cool place to be.

Do you ever grade with badges? Have you ever considered grading with badges? What are the benefits and drawbacks to grading with badges?

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