Anyone who has ever met the Boy Scouts knows that badges have been around for year. The military uses them, video games use them, and of course Pokemon uses them too. Badges are a simple, graphical way to show progress. Complete a certain series of challenges: Receive a badge to indicate the progress. Pretty simple.
Of course, with all badges, the badge itself is useless. No one is really excited by a small piece of fabric, or an online picture, it's what that badge represents that makes all the difference. The same will be true for your students: if the badges are too easy to achieve, they'll be pointless. The badges are beyond reach, no one will care either. If the badges are something everyone MUST get, they'll lose a bit of their draw. Badges need to exist on that line between "required" and "optional".
In my first year, badges were optional and existed in an ancillary capacity only. I used 3D GameLab, a great LMS for all this game-related to create my badges, but I know Edmodo and Schoology have similar functions. When students completed all quests within a given unit, they automatically received a badge indicating completion. Keep in mind, not all assignments were really "required" since students only needed a certain number of XP. The badges acted as a small incentive to have students actually finish the "main strand" of quests. Additionally, there were badges that could be earned by completing a combination of bonus assignments. For example, making a Facebook page for a Hobbit character in QUEST 3 and doing a Vine on Earnest in QUEST 10 earned the users a "social media master" badge. These badges allowed students to be deliberate about which assignments they picked, and which ones they looked forward to.
Of course, it wasn't a perfect system. The real problem was that many students simply didn't care about the badges. They wanted the XP, and therefore the grade, but badges didn't really mean much. After all, not many students were engaged in the competitive aspect of the game, most completed all main quests anyway (and therefore everyone had the exact same slew of badges) and students who did bonus assignments, with a handful of exceptions, were far more utilitarian than I had imagined. They only did the bonus tasks as a last minute resort, rather than a pre-planned effort to earn a badge. As a result, badges sort of became a side show. I realize now that this was a missed opportunity.
For next year, I'm changing this. Rather than making the main quest and XP the sole way to earn an "A", students will be required to get one, two, or even three badges to the top grades. Here's how it will work:
In Q1, students in class will complete Units 1, 2, 3. In these units, 300 XP are available, and most of these points and assignments will be done in class. As long as the students complete each assignment at 85%, they'll get full XP, and easily earn the 300XP. However, here's the catch: 300 XP will only give the students an 85% B. In order to get an "A", students will need more.
Every Tuesday this year will be a free day. Here, students can work on their 20% projects, catch up on missing work, OR work on badges. If a students wants an "A" for the quarter, they need at least one badge. If they want a 95%, they need two, and if they want a 100%, they need all three badges. Badges will require students to complete enrichment activities like keep a daily blog throughout the quarter, read a novel on their own, or complete a series of challenges all related to the same topic, like social criticism or medieval culture. Only 12 badges will be given throughout the year, and while none are required, SOME are required if students want an "A". (Students can also improve their grades by performing well on assignments, above the 85% and earning Stars which grant extra XP...but this is much more challenging than simply pursuing the badges). In other words, badges will be something unique to each student, and with only 12 available, students will be compelled to "earn them all".
One final element I'm trying with badges next year is making them exchangeable for new "powers"...a topic I'll discuss more tomorrow.