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The Lure of Badges

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Use gaming elements, such as competition, scoring, levels, and the achievement of badges to engage users.


If you have watched a teenager playing World of Warcraft, you know how the digital universe motivates people. You can also motivate your students with a form of "gamification" by incorporating badges into your courses. With the Blackboard achievements tool, you can provide this kind of incentive by designing a badge system to encourage your students to explore and participate more.


You can award badges for the completing a project, mastery of a skill, or levels of experience. A student's badge collection can represent the key learning milestones that he or she met. Earned badges can show a complete view of a person’s skills and achievements.

You can also award badges for skills and knowledge acquired outside of the classroom setting:

  • Extra-curricular activities and after school programs
  • Volunteer programs and community service
  • Work-related projects
  • Military experience
  • Study abroad
  • Student government
  • Membership in a club, group, or other organization
  • Internships and mentoring
  • Job training
  • Soft skills, such as collaboration, leadership, and community-building

Basically, you can allow students to combine a diverse set of badges to tell the story of their accomplishments, in and out of class. Together, you can create badges to spotlight skills that will help students work toward a specific goal. Whether the goal is to gain admittance into graduate school or finding the perfect job, you can collaborate with your students to design the pathways.

When students are allowed a voice in the process that unlocks the access to what they want, you may see a spike in their motivation for additional learning. You want to facilitate your students' "what if" thinking stage. Allow them the flexibility to be innovative and determine what they value and recognize as important to their own educations.

Questions to Consider Before Using Badges

Will you organize your badges into groups?

To help engage your students, you can "tier" your badges. After your students earn one badge, it unlocks the next badge. The difficulty in earning the badge doesn't necessarily have to increase. You can allow students to follow your recommended path for earning badges or let them design their own learning experiences. If students have goals in mind, they may be more enthusiastic about the process.

Are privileges attached to badge collecting?

Consider building in other types of incentives for earning badges. For example, after earning badges A, B, and C, you can offer your students a coveted internship. If it is associated with something they value, your students will be more likely to be motivated to earn badges.

After your badging system is in place for a period of time, you may find that additional incentives beyond badges aren't necessary. However, privileges may help you get a jump-start on encouraging your students in this new form of assessment.

Should badges be made public?

Excerpt from: Schenke, Tran, and Hickey. "Design Principles for Motivating Learning with Digital Badges." HASTAC. 5 June 2013. Web. 17 July 2013.

"Thanks to Mozilla's Open Badges Infrastructure, badge earners in most projects can decide if and when to publicly display badges they are currently working on or have earned. Some projects give earners the option of displaying badges themselves, while other projects automatically display badges for learners. We know from the motivation literature that providing choice makes learners feel more autonomous (in control), and that different levels of choice have implications for motivation. However, displaying badges to the public may induce competition among badge earners."

As students collect badges, they determine how potential employers, organizations, and schools can view them. In addition to the Mozilla Open Backpack, students can post their badge collection on social networking profiles, personal websites, college applications, job search sites, and online résumés.

With credible information included with a badge, it becomes the evidence of a person's skills, competencies, accomplishments, experiences, and talents. Anyone can explore the badge's data to verify its worthiness.

As the value of badges increases, they can help unlock new possibilities for lifelong learning.

Who is your audience?

As you create your badges, think about who may want to access the evidence behind them:

  • Badge earners
  • Graduate schools
  • Peers who could be motivated by the achievements of others
  • Colleagues and professionals in your field you want to network with
  • Those who could provide internships and mentorships for your students
  • Potential employers

These people all help with the sustainability of your badge system through time.