“Badges ruin students’ intrinsic motivation to learn!” I hear this or a similar intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivational worry every time I talk about Gamification. What people are trying to say is that they are worried about the Overjustification Effect. The Overjustification Effect is a real thing. It does happen. Just not all the time to everyone always like people seem to believe. It’s more a sometimes to some people under certain circumstances kinda thing which you can see in studies like this one, this one, this one, this one, and, most recently, this one. I believe, when used properly and creatively, badges do much more good than harm. I’m not an expert in psychology, but I use badges and they’ve worked wonders for me; I love them. From the people I’ve talked to, things I’ve read, and mostly my personal experience in a gamified classroom here are 10 things you can do to get the most out of badges in your classroom and put the Overjustification fears to bed.
1. Consider a name change. I call my badges Achievements because I like the idea of my kids “achieving” something. Additionally, badges seem to conjure the Boy Scouts while Achievements are better liked and understood by students since most modern video games use the term. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to rename and rebrand the idea of badges to make them your own. I’ve worked with many teachers who don’t call them badges or Achievements. I’ve helped teachers create Merits, Dailies, Crests, Sigils, Banners, and Marks. Consider rebranding badges to better fit your gamified classroom’s theme or narrative.
2. Few of your badges should reward performance. Doing well in class is its own motivation for many Achievers. You’ll notice too, if you reward performance too much a few students will runaway with the game which isn’t fun for anyone. In my classroom, badges are given when a student displays a Heroic Trait or completes a Heroic Deed. I try to reward the whole student with my achievements because, by building up their status, I tend to get more out of them; sometimes the best thing you can do for a kid is build up their self-esteem.
3. Try to make your rewards as concrete as possible. For example, my students get a badge for coming to class, handing in work early, or when the entire class completes a side-quest (homework). Those are obvious and easy to reward. Many teachers struggle because they want to reward students for things like being helpful or kind. Abstract ideas are hard to reward. How much kindness equals badge? Can you really reward every act of kindness you see? When a student believes they are acting kind or helpful or like a leader and the teacher doesn’t notice or see the act the same way as they do it can cause them to stop believing in the fairness of your badge system. Try to make badges as concrete as possible just like in a video game.
4. Badges should be handed out daily, if not immediately. Using Schoology, it takes me seconds to reward a badge. We know that feedback, which is a big part of what a badge should be, need to be handed out as close to the action it acknowledges as possible to be effective. The sooner you reward a badge, the better it is for the kid and they more likely they are to repeat the behavior or action.
5. Students must know why they’ve earned a badge. Another thing I love about Schoology’s badge system is that they have an area for you to write a message on the badge. I use this area to let students know what they did to earn the badge. If a students doesn’t know why they’ve earned a badge, the badge has no meaning.
6. Display badges publicly. My data from the last two years shows ~50% of my sophomores reported checking other students Achievement profiles on Schoology. Kids like to see their achievements and that of their friends. Looking for a low-tech way to display badges or a great system for K-5 students? Buy baseball card holders and print out baseball card sized achievements (playing cards usually work too). Have students put them in three ring binders, on cubbies, or on the wall. When they earn a badge they get to run over and put in the holder! EZPZ. One thing I’m trying to work on this year is a way to announce who has earned what badges. I’m trying to find a way to do this without wasting class time, being annoying, or burning myself out. Hmmmmm.
7. Have your badges translate into class currency. In a future update, I will talk about how powerful a class store can be when properly stocked with awesome items (not stuff!) for students to buy. In the meantime, know that having your badges turn into class currency will allow you to create an awesome class store and act as a behavior modification system that rewards positive behavior and ignores negative behavior. The harder the achievement is to earn the more currency it should be worth which means you should…
8. Differentiate your badges. Some badges should be super easy to earn. I give badges to every kid for completing a level (Unit). It doesn’t matter what grade they get on the level it just matters that they finish it. On the other hand, some of my badges are so hard that no one has earned them in two years. You’ll see this a lot in video games. Many games have insane achievements that few will ever get close to earning, but many love to try anyway. Try adding some insane achievements into your gamified classroom and see what happens! If a student doesn’t go the bathroom for a marking period: Bladder of Steel Achievement unlocked!
9. Create group and whole class badges. Rewarding kids when their group and/or class does well is a great way to motivate a student who may not otherwise know what it is like to earn an achievement on their own. Last year, a student wasn’t rewarded for doing homework in my class, but if the whole class did their homework everyone earned the Unity Achievement worth 50ap. My homework submission rate was almost 85% last year. I don’t know what it was before I created the Achievement, but it wasn’t even close to 85%. Additionally, group and class achievements can be used to create positive peer pressure. My school has attendance issues, so I’m rewarding students for coming to class this year. If a kid shows up they get a badge worth 10ap. If everyone in their group shows up they all get 25ap. If everyone in class shows up, everyone gets 50ap. What I’ve been seeing is when a student is absent their teammates and classmates encourage the kid to come to school. I’m hoping the data shows an uptick in attendance with this method and I have to keep an eye on it to make sure it stays positive, but I’m interested to see if this works. It worked with homework last year.
10. Have secret/hidden badges. Just put ??? under your secret badges and watch how quickly kids will try new and crazy things hoping to unlock a badge. This also gives you the chance to create badges of opportunity. I can’t begin to predict some of the things that will happen in my class. Sometimes a kid does something so awesome I have to give him a badge. Since I have secret badges I can pretend they’ve been there all along. I used this last year when a student’s creation went viral (my students always publish to a wider audience) garnering 7,000 views in two days. He was thrilled and I knew I needed to make a big deal about it, so I created the Viral badge and pretended it was always a secret badge. Secret badges are by far my students’ favorite type of badge to (try to) earn.
It is clear that intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation isn’t black and white, but gray. The reality is our best students don’t need badges or even Gamification to be successful. You’re best students will perform well no matter what system you install in your classroom. Gamification helps engage and motivate our at-risk learners especially minorities and males. Badges, in my opinion, are an important part of that engagement and motivation process for these students. Can badges zap a kid’s intrinsic motivation? Absolutely. It happens, but not nearly at the frequency people believe it does. I’m starting my third year using Gamification and I’ve never seen it, but I have seen the power that unlocking an Achievement has on a students self-esteem. Gamification is about bringing the bottom up and badges done well are an important part of that process.
Until Next Time
*Riddle me this: how can those who oppose badges support a letter-based grading system? Isn’t an A just another type of badge?*