“Better than Digital Chocolate”—that’s what drew me in. It was the title of a post that found its way somehow across one of my social media feeds and I was intrigued. I like chocolate! What I had stumbled across was the website for LearnBrite, a company that specializes in e-learning tools. They had already created 100 free virtual badges that were geared towards enterprise and were in the process of creating 100 more for use in a university context. They were looking for suggestions and of course, I leapt in with some ideas for anthropological badges.
I had just discovered badges through a workshop offered by UVic’s Technology Integrated Learning centre. It’s where I often find out about new possibilities on campus. UVic uses a local instance of Moodle, called CourseSpaces. Moodle is an open-source virtual learning environment, similar to things like Blackboard and WebCT. I learned that I could create badges that appeared on student profiles, depending on whether or not they met certain criteria. For instance, I could create a quiz and if they did the quiz, they could earn the badge. I also learned that I could manually award badges, so if the students did something in class, I could give them the virtual badge on CourseSpaces.
My first badges were simple. I created a syllabus badge for reading the syllabus and a forum badge for taking part in the forum. They had simple descriptions and were easily earned. Not surprisingly, given that the badges aren’t obvious on CourseSpaces, there was minimal engagement with them. I tried again, but this time, I upped the stakes and the effort. I gave the syllabus badge a silly name (Syllabus SuperStar), found a good looking image for it on the LearnBrite site, and actually made it harder to earn. Students had to read the syllabus, read the assignment guidelines, and complete an online quiz that asked them the questions that I always seem to be asked in spite of the answers being found on the syllabus. That semester, I think I had about 10% of my 400 students earn the badge. It wasn’t heaps, but I got fewer syllabus-based questions that year. As I use more badges, the number of students earning them goes up and the number of syllabus questions goes down, so it’s worth it to me! I built other online activities that students could earn badges for but I’ll leave those to another blog post.
On impulse, during human evolution week, I decided to bring out eight primate skulls from our collection of casts. I often use casts for teaching when I get to the primates and the hominids because we have a great collection and I can project them on the document cameras, so the students get to see them on the big screens. Every time I bring the skulls out, a handful of students ask to see them at the end of class. This time, I arrived early, laid the skulls out along the stage, and ran a contest during my 10 minute set-up period. I asked the students to guess which one was not a primate (there was a badger hiding in the set). They dropped their guesses and their names into a box, and I drew one out at the beginning of class for a prize. That semester, I had maybe 20 students come to look at the skulls the first time. They crowded around and I got nervous about them handling the casts, but we managed. After it was all over, I awarded every student who took part in the contest a virtual badge. Later, I showed everyone the virtual badge, and when I ran the contest a second time, using hominid skulls, there were about 40 students crowded around.
Once again acting on impulse, I asked how many of the students would be interested in having a sticker to go with the badge. I polled them, using our i>clicker voting system, and much to my surprise, 67% of my students said that they would likely collect the stickers if they earned them. I sweet-talked the folks at LearnBrite to let me have good quality images of just a few of the badges they had designed at my suggestion, and asked a guy I knew at Blink (then a brand new print shop on campus) to make me stickers. I paid for it myself, but it was absolutely worth it. When I brought the stickers to class, students queued up for them. I had to make myself a list of who had been awarded the virtual badges, and then handed out stickers until I ran out.
It’s been two years since I first started with the sticker-badge combination. Since then, I’ve developed five contests (a subject for another post) and have had to modify how I give out the stickers to reduce the costs. I limit them now to the first ten students from each section of the course who come and ask for them. The rest have to make do with their virtual ones. Happily, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. There may be a look of disappointment from a few, but they are usually among the first to enter the next contest and they are at my desk quickly the following class, in hopes of getting the next sticker.
This year, for the first time, I looked out into my third year class to see Anth 100 stickers on the backs of a few laptops, a water bottle, and a cell phone. I have to admit that in that moment, I was the one feeling motivated.
Badges from MoodleBadges.com licensed under Creative Commons.
Current badges include: