Education is already Gamified: Dan Hickey on Badges

This is the most insightful and balanced piece that I’ve yet read about badges, including Nora Sabelli’s spot-on comments at the tail end. The insight from Henry Jenkins, that education is already gamified is important and one I hadn’t really considered. It is already about getting “score,” and beating some relatively arbitrary challenges/bosses in order to gain points. A possible benefit of badges is to expose the current flaws, and possibly create a better model. I’d love to see this in CS, to address the kind of “We covered that in a five line example, so you should be able to build this 75 line program!” assumption that the cartoon about CS textbooks was lampooning. We assume that students learn much more than what our assessments say that they’re learning. But Dan and Nora point out that it only gets better if we can measure what we really think is important, and it’s still not obvious that we can.

In particular, I agree with Henry’s argument that education is already “gamified”. So the answer to Mike’s question about what badges promise is really another question: Compared to what? Given the trivial amount of learning supported by many current formal and informal educational contexts, ANY attention to learning outcomes might be an improvement. Introducing digital badges is sure to change most learning ecosystems. On the upside, the incentive value of digital badges is likely to draw attention to dubious credentialing practices and lousy assessments. While stakeholders who have a vested interest in the existing ecosystem are likely to blame the badges, most will agree that such attention is needed and generally helpful.

Certainly some of the changes that follow from digital badges will be bad. In particular, I worry about the fetishistic obsession with test-driven educational reform expanding to badges. I believe the policy researchers who argue that overconfidence in test-driven reform undermined achievement in many schools that were already high-achieving before No Child Left Behind. I worry that the same thing may happen as well-meaning administrators and governing boards insist that high-functioning schools and programs incorporate digital badges.

Deepa Singh
Business Developer
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