If You Build It, They Will Come:
How Badging Programs Can Boost Engagement and Learning in Whole-Division Initiatives
By Dale Plotzki
Learning and Innovation Coach, Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lima, Peru
firstname.lastname@example.org or @dale_rickardo
Trends in education come and go, but there is one pedagogical fact that is the Lord’s truth; kids love stickers.
When it came time for our annual middle school launch of the ‘Bring Your Own Laptop’ program at Colegio Roosevelt – The American School of Lima, I was tasked with making sure all of the positive skills and concepts of good digital citizenship came with it. It can be hard to talk about online bullying, digital footprints and internet etiquette without coming across as a negative geezer who just doesn’t get what it’s like to be 14 with a smartphone. This year I was determined to try a different approach in teaching these essential skills.
The solution I wanted to implement was what is known as ‘badging’ – awarding small digital or physical certificates which recognize achievements in a particular area. Badges in education have been a hot topic as of late; anyone who follows the #edtech scene knows that this trend has been gaining traction lately. Promoting badging for learning was a key part of this year’s ISTE Conference in San Antonio. Google has been using a badging system for years to recognize its Certified Educators, Innovators and Trainers. The idea of ‘micro-credentials’ is also in line with new forms of technical training like Udacity’s nanodegree programs and represent what post-secondary education might look like in the future.
I wanted to make the badging program unique, relevant and engaging, so each learning experience and lesson would stick. Some lessons involved mastering hard skills with computers to boost the painfully low level of student efficiency with their devices. Others were focused on the social-emotional side of digital citizenship that every school is hyperaware of these days. This differentiation allowed us to bring in a myriad of unique texts and tools to teach these concepts. Arts used a forum-theatre piece that allowed the audience to suggest productive ways to react to online trolls. The Humanities badge was about playing an online game called ‘Interland’ which teaches valuable skills like creating strong passwords and detecting phishers. The Math badge involved an online scavenger hunt which guided kids through the usually intimidating Google Calendar interface. Once kids had been taught the specific lessons in class, it was up to them to independently pass the quiz and show a level of mastery required to earn their badge. Students could show their certificate of completion to their teacher and redeem a colourful sticker to display on their device.
What I was not aware of was how ravenous our kids were to earn these badges. The program launched on a Tuesday afternoon. By Friday, 821 badges had been mailed out! My Google Drive and Gmail inbox almost began to smoke there was so much activity! Our kids were deeply motivated to learn digital citizenship by this endeavour. Success!
So here are my top 5 tips for building your own badging program at school:
- Have physical stickers made! I am almost completely confident that had this been online-only with no tangible badge at the end, it would have fallen flat. Spending the money to print the stickers was very much worth it.
- Engage your community! Without the incredible support of Roosevelt teachers to roll-out the lessons for the badging program in class, this would have never happened. Having your teachers see the value of the program, getting their input into the lessons, and most importantly, having them earn the badges themselves, is key!
- Automate the work! A middle school student has the opportunity to earn 7 badges in the program. This means some 2500 badges need to be registered, logged, verified and distributed. Without a firm knowledge of Google Forms, Sheets and Autocrat to take the administrative load off of the program, it would be unmanageable.
- Diversify the lessons! This should be a space to experiment! We really rolled the dice with the forum-theatre activity and were completely blown away by the learning that happened in the play. So try new tools and methods. Think outside of the box in your planning and design. You want the learning to really stand out from the student’s perspective.
- It’s a ton of work, but so worth it! Developing a badging program from scratch is no easy task. It will be weeks of work and you will no doubt hit many snags along the way. Give yourself the proper time to develop it, but at the same time, know that it is okay to make mistakes along the way. And maybe treat yourself to your own badge when it is all over!