Education is already Gamified: Dan Hickey on Badges

July 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm 5 comments

This is the most insightful and balanced piece that I’ve yet read about badges, including Nora Sabelli’s spot-on comments at the tail end. The insight from Henry Jenkins, that education is already gamified is important and one I hadn’t really considered. It is already about getting “score,” and beating some relatively arbitrary challenges/bosses in order to gain points. A possible benefit of badges is to expose the current flaws, and possibly create a better model. I’d love to see this in CS, to address the kind of “We covered that in a five line example, so you should be able to build this 75 line program!” assumption that the cartoon about CS textbooks was lampooning. We assume that students learn much more than what our assessments say that they’re learning. But Dan and Nora point out that it only gets better if we can measure what we really think is important, and it’s still not obvious that we can.

In particular, I agree with Henry’s argument that education is already “gamified”. So the answer to Mike’s question about what badges promise is really another question: Compared to what? Given the trivial amount of learning supported by many current formal and informal educational contexts, ANY attention to learning outcomes might be an improvement. Introducing digital badges is sure to change most learning ecosystems. On the upside, the incentive value of digital badges is likely to draw attention to dubious credentialing practices and lousy assessments. While stakeholders who have a vested interest in the existing ecosystem are likely to blame the badges, most will agree that such attention is needed and generally helpful.

Certainly some of the changes that follow from digital badges will be bad. In particular, I worry about the fetishistic obsession with test-driven educational reform expanding to badges. I believe the policy researchers who argue that overconfidence in test-driven reform undermined achievement in many schools that were already high-achieving before No Child Left Behind. I worry that the same thing may happen as well-meaning administrators and governing boards insist that high-functioning schools and programs incorporate digital badges.

via re-mediating assessment: Responding to Michael Cole’s Question about Badges.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  July 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    In a sense education was gamified when I was in 5th grade creating a mini book cover to paste on the reading chart every time I finished a book? (I won that game 🙂 ) I’ve been thinking about this whole badge thing lately. Visual Studio and Microsoft Office both have add-ins that award points or badges of what not and I wonder what’s that all about? As an incentive to learn and use new features I guess there is (may be) some value. Badges in education as well? I wonder about the value. One of the things that has me wondering is my own usage of FourSquare with it’s badges, points, “mayorships” and the like. What does it mean to be the mayor of “on my couch?” SOme people play these games (and make no mistake FourSquare is a game) and get wrapped up in the points and badges and miss the rest of the game such as there is. Also people “game the game” to get the badges and points. I have to beleive that people will do the same with badges in education. We already see students for whom the grade is everything and the learning is a side benefit that may or may not be retained. But while for some of us learning is its own reward and grades are not relevent (I claim that explains some of my grades in the early years) far too many seem to care less about learning than getting through the course with a particular “badge.”

  • 2. Daniel Hickey  |  July 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Thank you very much! This did prompt me to go back and reread the prior post on learning more than our assessments can show. Your post and the nice discussion makes the point that I think is huge for badges: In many cases where badge will be deployed, it is going to be impossible to define assessment practices that can produce conventionally valid evidence of what students have learned. More crucially I think it will always be impossible to generate convincing evidence of what students have learned. I believe the most important kinds of learning can’t be capture by the practices that most people consider “assessment” because they allow ready and reliable comparisons of what individuals know about something.

    So it is not really a challenge if creating better assessment devices. It is really about accepting broader assessment practices that recognize broader forms of learning. That comes up some in your your post, but it is really central to the success or failure of the badges initiative.

    I would love to discuss possible uses of badges in CS contexts. The folks at Mozilla and people like Greg Wilson of Software Carpentry are really inspiring me!

  • 4. umbrarchist (@umbrarchist)  |  July 7, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Yeah, kids are not supposed to be motivated by curiosity. But then they don’t provide material worth being curios about.

  • 5. A Virtual World Educator Badge | Gridjumper's Blog  |  September 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    […] Education is already Gamified: Dan Hickey on Badges ( […]


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