January 9, 2014

Badges and buy-in

In November, I presented on digital badges to the University-Wide General Education Committee (UWGEC) that I am an advisory member for on behalf of the library. My colleague and I have finished our multi-semester course pilot where we used digital badges with content in the library's one-credit course for undergrads, and now we are looking to expand to greater campus and also gather faculty feedback. If faculty don't find value in digital badges, we won't get very far.

The reason I chose the UWGEC committee to present to is because all new gen ed courses are required to explain how information literacy (and other critical skills) will be incorporated into their class. There were a few applications that came through where it seemed faculty were unsure of how to either include IL skills in the class or just how to describe how IL skills would be included in the class. We do have a list of the (soon outdated) ACRL standards to help guide instructors, but there are of course issues with the standards, aside from them not really being intuitive to someone who is not a librarian. Additionally, since we don't have a FYE program, incorporating IL skills at the Gen Ed level would reach more students earlier on.

When badges can be embedded into courses, instructors can more actively understand IL concepts and skills that their students will need and map IL to current course design. Faculty were very excited to hear about this possibility of a mix and match digital badge option for including research skills in their courses. This wouldn't require much additional instruction time on their part, and everyone (faculty and the library) would have access to assessment data. Prior to this presentation, it felt badge talk on campus was stalled or even non-existent, but I found some interested instructors to become part of our Pilot Part II, and was also invited to another working group on campus to include digital badges in eportfolios (actually very similar to what UC-Davis has announced).

Some key points to consider that worked for me when presenting on badges to faculty:
  • Focus less on gamification when introducing the concept and more on measuring skills and competency-based education
  • If your campus is like ours and upper course level faculty complain that students are lacking research skills when they reach them, highlight how embedding skills early and through scaffolding throughout students' college years will benefit all in receiving better work and helping students be better prepared
  • Share as much student feedback as you can. If students are enthusiastic, faculty of course want to use methods students will enjoy and be successful at
  • Stress flexibility and cooperation. We are not giving campus mandatory modules that they have to incorporate into every class, it's a mix and match as I mentioned above where badges would be incorporated into classes based on content, skill-level, and need. We want to be strategic and not create more work for ourselves or faculty (or students)
  • Reiterate student anxiety on finding jobs after graduation, and how being able to display and describe specific skills could give them an advantage with future employers while also helping students better understand what they have accomplished

And I'll share some student feedback from our pilot:
“I liked when I did really well on a task when I got a badge for it”
I liked badges because they helped me feel accomplished and as if I was doing something worth while”
It was more fun than just completing a written assignment”
I enjoyed that the badges … were useful in keeping track of my work, but also of what I learned [and] that most of the time they made us really reflect and put our knowledge of the subject to use”
In order for me to complete assignments, I have to break them down into tasks. With the badges this was already set up for me. I found it fit into my learning style perfectly and I loved how I could track what I was doing within each badge”

University of Arizona Libraries: LIBR197R Badges Pilot survey

We will be analyzing our data for these two semesters and then will be starting another pilot for spring if all works as planned and presenting on our findings at ALA Annual 2014 in Vegas. I don't think there is a date or time set yet but the title of our presentation is: But did they learn anything? Using digital badges to create customizable learning experiences for motivation and assessment. Hope you'll join us! It will be an interactive session where audience members will start putting a badging system together for their institutions (and this is through LITA).