Last week I described why I decided to take a chance and try open badges in my college course, #ED216 (Literacy in the 21st Century). I promised to return with the “How” this week. What I have learned over the last few weeks in this course is that by and far, developing a badge policy and practice is a process of building trust and understanding between you and your students (if you were hoping to get a quick list of “how-to’s” on using badges in your courses from this post, I am sorry to disappoint you). Rather serendipitously, this story comes about at the same time as Jonathan Worth (of Phonor Nation) and I ready ourselves to lead up the Connected Courses unit on Trust and Network Fluency, which starts next week. So, in this installation, I’ll share three things: (1) The badge policy I started with, (2) developing trust through conversation and policy-hacking, and (3) Our badge policy as it stands now.
In the Beginning: The Syllabus Policy
“Badging (experimental): About 20% of grades for activities and projects will come from badges. Badges can be given by students or by the instructor. In order for a student to issue a badge, they must first post a nomination on our google community, and receive a second nomination and approval from the instructor in order for the badge to be officially issued. Please take badging seriously – only nominate badges for individuals that really deserve them. If too many badges are being nominated, the acceptance process will become more rigorous.” (excerpt from ED216 syllabus)
My syllabus introduced the badges as “experimental,” in order to ease students fears about this assessment method that many of them had never heard of. Yet, it was real – and it was 20% of the grade. Experimental doesn’t mean much when 20% of your grade is at stake. One fear I had was that students would take advantage of the badging system. So, I put a “nomination process” in place. While this process was helpful, As you’ll read later, my fears about “too many badges” were quite misguided (our challenge was quite the opposite).
Beyond the description of badging, my syllabus included a detailed list of rules and regulations:
- Each badge is worth 10 points.
- If you earn about 11 badges and complete your other assignments successfully you will earn an A.
- You can earn un-limited badges, but we stop counting points at 20 badges. Thus, you have potential for 90 points extra credits.
- Badges are tallied separately from the assignments. You might have 4 badges for one assignment and 1 for another. That is okay, it all goes into the pot – in the end we count the total number for points.
Are you freaking out now? Yes, the idea of badges is beautiful – recognizing each other for our unique and extraordinary gifts – but when you stare down at the policy on a page, it still comes back to “making the grade.” That’s the system I’m stuck in. I need to give a grade. Finding a way to bridge the two systems felt near impossible. Then I realized: WE need to make the system. The class needed to figure out together how to make a badging system we could believe in and trust. This badge policy-making was a community effort. I would give a it a few week weeks as is, and then check in.
After the first week of class, in which students made badges for themselves, badges became scarce. The ones that were offered by students were amazing – student-created badges like “Team Leader,” and “Connection Detection” helped me to learn what was happening behind the scenes in the class and what students valued about each other and their work. Yet, while I was fearfully preparing myself for the onslaught of badges and nominations, they appeared only in a slow trickle. I knew it was time to have a conversation about the badge policy.
I asked the students to anonymously write about what role the badges played for them as a learner and suggestions to improve the learning experience. There were three main categories of answers:
1. I don’t want people grading me! (3 responses) For example,
“I have a mixed feeling about badges. I like them because I feel good about myself when I get one. I don’t like that our grades are semi-based off them. That puts more pressure on us to give each other badges. Personally, I don’t like relying on other people to determine my grade.”
2. It’s too much pressure to earn/give 11 badges. (5 responses) One student wrote:
“I’m not sure how I feel about badges. On one hand, they are nice for encouragement. On the other hand, they feel like extra work and are, quite frankly, difficult to make. In the long run, however, I think they are beneficial. I think, though, to make them better, there should be a way to guarantee that everyone had at least two in the class.”
3. Badges are motivating and building community (8 responses) Some responses included:
“Badges are positive reinforcement. They make me feel like all my hard work is being appreciated – not only the aspects that are being graded. I don’t have any suggestions at the time but can we give out more than one a week?”
“As a learner in this class, badges have been pretty motivational. You can see who is receiving a badge and that pushes you to want to do your best so that you can receive one too. We are motivating and encouraging one another which creates an open and safe environment in the classroom.”
While on the one hand students were enjoying the feedback and community that was being cultivated through mutual badge-exchange, they were also anxious about the responsibility they had as badge-issuers, and in learning how to earn badges from each other. This feedback exercise was step one in opening up a dialog and building trust. Step two was “the talk.”
OUR new Badges Policy
We talked about it. It was hard; I tried my best to focus on just listening first, letting their voices emerge. Soon it became apparent that there were several shared ideas about how we could change the policy to eliminate anxieties and build a greater sense of trust.
One, the badges needed to be extra credit, not 20% of a their grade.
Two, there should also be a policy that everyone comments on each others’ blog posts at least once a week (badges are not enough).
Three, as instructor, I should create a set of “standard” badges with clear criteria that students know about in advance. They can still create new badges, but a standard set are helpful to know about and aim for.
The vote was a unanimous “yes” to the changes. Now we, as a class own this badges policy. There was a sense of relief and some smiles after the vote – we had re-built it together. Through the process of tinkering, trying-out, critiquing, questioning, analyzing, and sharing, we built a system we felt good about and could trust. As this is an ongoing process, I’ll follow up with a final report and reflection on how badges worked out in the class towards the end of the semester.