In one of my most widely shared articles I wrote about the benefits of using badges in the classroom. After field testing badges for several semesters I thought it was time to add some reflections and address some problems with badges.
For the most part I still believe that there are benefits to using badges but I also think some of the claims made on behalf of badges and gamification are overly optimistic. Badges are certainly not a magic bullet for address problems in education.
The main problems I see in my classroom and in my online classes is a lack of motivation and a lack of curiosity and passion for learning. As far as I can see badges do little to address these problems. In fact, badges cannot do very much for these problems because they are symptoms of a lack of intrinsic motivation and badges only offer extrinsic motivation. I'm not sure you can create intrinsic motivation by appealing to extrinsic motivators however well-crafted.
From what I have read about motivation it is important to create an environment where students have autonomy and can derive meaning from what they are learning. Badges can supply these in limited form but they are not sufficient to create engaged students who value learning.
I suspect that a large part of the problem is that once students get to my classroom they have been so alienated by 12 years of classroom training that it will take much more than a single class in a single semester to allow them to break free of the schooling mentality.
Unschoolers who arrive at the method after some years in school usually find that they need at least a month of decompression for every year they are in school to effectively transition. For most of the students I see that means a full year; what some call a gap year. In fact, a quick Google search of the term "gap year" shows quite a lot of websites dedicated to this idea. It is a growing movement!
Of course, it is not a new movement or a new idea. But, I think it's one well worth adding to our current educational conversation especially for students who have spent 12 years in conventional schooling and are planning on going to college. Most colleges require a different mentality and approach to learning and to fully understand this and benefit from the college experience you really do need to free yourself from the conventional schooling mindset which revolves around outcomes, standardized curriculum, and testing, testing, and more testing.
I will continue to tinker with what I do in the classroom including using badges as a form of assignment. There are a few students every semester who see the value in what is being offered in the college classroom and who do benefit from some of the features of gamification. The question will be how to expand that number.