Why Gamification? Quests & Badges to Engage Students


“Badges, I don’t Need No Stinkin Badges”

Actually Yes I Do and Students Do Too!

If the caption above confuses you, this youtube video is where it came from. You can rest assured the video has nothing to do with online learning. 😉 But badges on the other hand, yes, they certainly do!

When I was in Boy Scouts years ago, they had a merit badge system. Complete the projects and learn what you needed to learn (competency based) and then you would earn a badge to show everyone that you accomplished something. This article talks more about badges for competency.

Now consider video games. One of the motivating components of a video game is the fact that you can earn points, acrue tokens, weapons, or other advancements as you proceed through the game.

Both of these concepts can be applied to online learning. There are a variety of articles on gamification in learning. Boise State University developed a 3D Gamelab Professional Development course, which I took last summer. It was a learning management system developed to implement gaming principles. There were options and rewards with a totally different setup compared to what you often see in traditional learning management systems.

So I’m left to wonder, If I’m using Blackboard, what principles of gaming could I still do? Here are a couple ideas but I’m hoping those of you reading this will provide some additional insight in the comments area below.

1)  Develop Modules So They Are Quests With Options. Give students the choice of selecting a number of the options (or quests as 3DGamelab calls them) to complete. You can even make the diffrent quests worth different point values (which is similar to how the 3DGamelab works).

Imagine you have 10 quests (modules/topics). Students are asked to choose however many topics they like, but they have to earn 100 points by the time they complete the course. Some modules may be worth 10 points, others 20 points or more, but this gives students a choice as to what they want to learn (which quest to complete). It also makes it clear of what is needed in order to “win the A” (earn 100 points). Finally students are free to choose what they like while still learning the key concepts the instructor wants them to learn).

2) Implement Badges as Proof of Concepts Mastered. Imagine being able to have simple proof that you’ve mastered something. Yes, a degree is that in a sense, but how much learning goes on that isn’t attached do a degree? How much learning is going on inside just one class or maybe even inside one unit? You still learned a skill. Why not have a badge that you can show for it?

There are several articles that talk about the use of badges in learning. What I take away from it is that students want to be able to say “Look, I learned this”. If a course is vague or not relevant to students, its less likely they will be able to finish the course and say to themselves (or better yet a future employer) “I have learned this skill, and this skill, and I know how to do this….,etc”. 

Badges are a great way to movitate students and let them know just how much they have learned. I think the motivation is similar to that of being “certified” in something. I’d sure like to add an “Social Networking” or “Adobe Photoshop” badge to my digital portfolio that shows mastery of these concepts. When relevance is often forgotten or overlooked in courses, these badges can really make a lasting impression on students.

3) Even better, do both! One of the cool things about the 3D Gamelab was that it had the best of both of these. It had quests (topics) open so I could pick topics that most interested me as I earned the points.  It also had badges, awards, and achievements to motivate me.

Here below is a video introduction of the 3DGamelab.

This all sounds great and I get really excited until… I remember that I’m not using the 3DGamelab system, I’m using Blackboard…But wait! There has got to be some way to implement these ideas (at least partially) using a standard LMS. Right? Now, I’m bound to figure out some way to implement these principles in a regular online class using Blackboard. I think its going to be a little tricky but its definitely worth considering!

Have any tips for me? Do you do quests or badges in your online courses (or using a standard LMS)? Please leave  comments in the area below.

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