Badges: Why It’s Not About the Gamification For Me

Gamification can be a hot topic. It’s certainly one of the latest educational tech buzz words.

I am currently employing elements of gamification in my Core French and French Immersion classes. I use badges and the badges also are worth points, which accumulate over time.

Despite this, I actually don’t see gamification as an important part of my program.

Contradictory? A bit. But hear me out.

I never set out to gamify anything. I didn’t brainstorm and dream up ways to make my class more like a game. I don’t purposely try to insert more game elements. Some folks do – and have extraordinary courses in doing so – but that was never my goal.

My goal was to eliminate as much teacher-directed whole-class instruction giving as possible. The solution? Putting resources and tasks onto a website, accessible by all students. Not unlike “flipping” a classroom (minus the part where flippers typically expect students to do things at home – I never do).

My goal was to all students to direct their own learning path, while still having some say as a teacher over what those choices were. The solution? Setting out a variety of badges (think of them as tasks and/or goals), many as open-ended rich tasks. This let me show students many possibilities that aligned with curriculum goals while letting students ultimately decide what they want to do.

My goal was to more easily document the individual learning paths of my hundreds (yes, hundreds) of students without creating an administrative burden for myself that was not sustainable. The solution? Having students hand in “evidence” related to achieving the goals outlined in the badges let me put the majority of work in documenting in the hands of students. I can still supplement with my own observations but at least students’ products are neatly organized, automatically. I can pull up their user profiles on my website, see exactly what they’ve earned and embrace the individuality of it, without any more work for me.

And points? I could take them or leave them. In the same way, I can also take or leave grades but, in the system we currently have, learning ultimately has to be quantified in one way or another. (Funny how the criticizers of points in gamification settings often ignore that school is already a “game”.) Where each students’ learning path is unique from every other students’ learning path, points are a quick at-a-glance way for me to monitor progress and for students to set their own goals. I roughly estimate that 10 points is “1 day” of work. This wildly varies, of course, but is a basic estimation. As one might expect, the distribution of point totals among students roughly follows a bell curve. I can quickly see who may need additional support and who is right on track. It allows me to “translate” the different badges into a common denominator. A student might get 100 points from doing many shorter tasks or with one more in-depth task – and points respect that difference and allow many possible paths to earn a specific point goal. It’s just one (imperfect) way to quantify. It doesn’t tell me everything I need to know about a learner, but it is one piece of information that is quick to process. I do like that there is no ceiling. There’s no “perfect score”. There aren’t a finite amount of points available – there is always more to be achieved. I like that analogy better than reaching for 100%.

(For my figure skating friends, the difference between points and grades is like the difference between the Cumulative Points Calculation judging system and the One by one ordinal judging system. In CPC, skaters are given credit for what they do and it is added up – there is theoretically no maximum. In the OBO system, there is a maximum perfect score and skaters are penalized for mistakes. Neither system is perfect but it is generally considered that CPC is the better of the two. But I digress.)

All told, gamification is a means to an end for me. While many students do enjoy the game aspects, others don’t care. What all students do care about is that they are given ownership of their learning. What I care about as a teacher is that I am differentiating more effectively.


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