I just finished awarding my students their badges for our Community assignment and I wanted to share the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of my venture into gamification as opposed to grading. I originally shared my reasons for replacing grades with badges in my post “Community Building With Badges” which was sparked by Cathy Davidson’s description of her badging system but essentially I hoped that badges would be fun and spark student involvement. Plus, I have always hated trying to place a grade on something like community involvement and activity. It is easy to grade the active folks and the slackers but how do you grade the folks in between? What is a B or C when it comes to community activity? Plus of course there is the problem of logistics. How can you keep track of all the various forms of contributions that students can and do make? I hoped that crowd sourcing the assessment for this assignment by using badges would solve the problem of logistics for me. If you are interested in other reasons for teaching with badges you might want to check out TeachThought’s Gamification 101 which also introduces us to a great web site dedicated to the idea of class badges.
There were a number of positive aspects for using badges to measure community involvement. First and foremost, it took the pressure off me and gave students the freedom to measure their own contributions as well as to have a hand in measuring the contributions of their classmates. We worked up the list of possible badges together. They chose to focus on the positive and we awarded badges not just for being good community members (such as Helping Hand and Booster) but also for working hard, overcoming difficulty, and being an active lurker (Little Engine That Could, Tough Cookie, and Wallflower). I like that the badges ultimately reinforced that there are a number of ways you can be a good community member and gave everyone a chance to succeed. I think the students did enjoy awarding and receiving badges so it was more fun than other forms of assessment (not a high bar after all). I think it also increased participation – or rather meaningful participation – as it was not simply a numbers game (post x times to earn x grade). It was not simply about gaming the system (or the instructor) but convincing their classmates that they were a good community member in specific ways. Students are reporting to me that they feel a high level of community support from our class. It is hard to tell how much of a role the badges played but I believe they certainly contributed.
It wasn’t all flowers and cookies. This assignment was labor intensive, messy, and stressful for all of us. Of course, a large part of that was simply because we were building this machine as we flew it. This was my first time trying something of this sort and I did not want to build it alone. I think working through the award system and the badges with the students was valuable but working through something this complex in an asynchronous online class is not easy. Plus, some students were distinctly uncomfortable creating their own assessment, especially early in the semester when they couldn’t be sure I really meant for them to do so. There was often confusion which leads to stress in students. So creating our badge system was a challenge and a number of students spent a great deal of time and energy contributing to the system and badge descriptions. In the end it was very labor intensive on both ends although it was exciting to see the discussion and debates unfold. I believe this will be easier next time as I have already worked through the process once and I won’t have to start from scratch.
This messy, time-consuming, stressful assignment and assessment was also ugly at times. With the idea of crowd sourcing and collaboration in mind, I created a Google doc grid form to award badges. I made my students collaborators on the document so they could go back in adjust their votes as well as monitor results. But this turned out to be a mistake as parts of the form kept disappearing as students adjusted the wrong things. It was frustrating and time consuming on my part to rebuild the form multiple times and frustrating and stressful for students who would find the form gone or broken. I won’t make the voting process so fluid next time just to save all our sanity. The struggles with the form also made it difficult to tally votes and award badges at the end. I spent a lot of time and finally resorted to a large paper spreadsheet to do so. I will definitely need a better system to collect and count next time.
In the end, despite the fact it was sometimes messy and stressful, I think using badges to assess my class community assignment was a good decision as the positive aspects outweighed the negatives. Community participation was up and students feel a sense of community support and we had fun despite the complications. I’ll have to wait until midterm evaluations come in to be sure but I believe my students feel it was a worthwhile endeavor as well.