Gas station without pumps

2012 November 10

Don’t show me your badge

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:15
Tags: ,

In his New York Times article, Show Me Your Badge , Kevin Carey says

They [digital badges] are also being used to improve education itself, by borrowing techniques from video games that keep users playing, until they advance to the next level.

Anyone who has ever seen a teenager glued to a screen for hours playing World of Warcraft can attest to the powerful lure of digital rewards.

Here he makes what is becoming a classic mistake: confusing the points with the game.  People don’t play video games in order to get badges—they play because they find it fun. “Gamification” of education has got to be making learning fun, not slapping a point-and-badge system onto a series of boring video lectures.

Education has already been deeply damaged by the confusion of markers of learning, that is, points, grades, and test scores, with actual learning (see Just scoring points, or any of the dozens of major cheating scandals in the news over the last few years). Pretending that digital badges are going to revolutionize education in a positive way is just silly.

Kevin Carey believes that industry is eagerly awaiting a certification system that provides digital badges for individual skills, like “one for teaching robots to move and another for manipulating robot motion sensors—ultimately leading to a final badge certifying their overall robot programming skills”.  Quite frankly, I’m dubious that anyone is waiting for that.  A company trying to hire a robotics engineer is going to want to know what the person can do, but not at that fine-grain a level.  They’ll want to know more about what major projects they’ve worked on, and what role they played on the development team, not what score they got on a one-day homework exercise.

There will undoubtedly be certifications other than college degrees—there have been for years—and some of these new certifications will undoubtedly take the form of digital badges, but I don’t see the digital badge movement as becoming any sort of replacement for college education.



  1. […] lot of academic bloggers are commenting on the recent hype about digital badges (as I did yesterday), but some of them seem to have gone on into bashing many fields of academic research as […]

    Pingback by Barlow bashing data « Gas station without pumps — 2012 November 11 @ 10:44 | Reply

  2. I think there might be a role for “badges” to play on acquiring skills in fairly easy tasks that need repetition (i.e. for practice). People do play video games for fun, but the point scoring/winning is part of the fun, the “reward” system. Few people would play video games, I think, if there was no scorekeeping system (though I’m not up on the video game world, the few “cooperative” games seem to be played by girls, and as an alternative to other play, not video games).

    But, those tasks are low level (say, memorizing rules, or multiplication tables, note reading). I find it difficult to imagine a badge system that would capture the learning required, say to program a variety of robots, or to diagnose disease.

    Comment by zb — 2012 November 12 @ 10:29 | Reply

    • Most of the Minecraft addicts I’ve met are into the building of things, not points. I don’t even know if there are points in Minecraft, not having heard players mention them.

      For many players, the rewards of “leveling up” are getting to do new things in the game, not the level number itself.

      I think that people who think that video games are fun because of the scoring systems are deluding themselves.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 November 12 @ 16:53 | Reply

  3. Interesting tidbit about minecraft (and modern video games). My video game experience comes from the tetris era (with a smattering of early Mario brothers), so I am not familiar with the complexity of the newer games.

    However, there is ample psychological literature on the value of scores on performance. We may be talking past each other in terms of “fun” (I’m not sure I’m saying that the score is a reward in the sense of activating reward systems in the brain/body, but I think I am. Even so, not sure how that phenomenon would translate into your sense of the word “fun”).

    A quick google search reveals this blog post on scoring systems:

    Fascinating, ’cause I hadn’t considered video game scores as another venue for thinking/studying performance metrics and their effect on behavior (like grading, and teacher performance evaluations, and performance-based compensation). Obvious, really, but just not something I’d thought about.

    Comment by zb — 2012 November 13 @ 07:03 | Reply

  4. If you have outgrown some video games and you no longer play with them, sell them to a game retailer. Many retailers who sell games will buy back used video games that are still in good condition. Selling back games that you no longer play with will make you some money and clean up your game collection at the same time.

    Comment by form and purpose — 2012 November 16 @ 04:00 | Reply

    • I’m afraid that the comment I’m replying to may be spam, as it seems to be related only by keywords, not by content in a meaningful way. The web site of the commenter seems to be a placeholder web site, with no meaningful content, so I’m not sure what the point of the spam is. So is this pointless spam, or just a commenter who has not mastered the art of relevant comments?

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 November 16 @ 07:35 | Reply

  5. […] with “Gas Stations without Pumps” in his take on the NYTimes article cited below.  Does anyone have any evidence […]

    Pingback by Motivating learning: Is it ever about the badges? « Computing Education Blog — 2012 November 21 @ 05:42 | Reply

  6. The line of argument advanced in the Times article seems to be based on some assumptions that are not clearly articulated. For example, what exactly makes a credential “information age”? Is visual design of the certificate by Pixar a sufficient condition? And what about “digital rewards” — does that include numbers that are displayed on screens while excluding numbers displayed on paper?

    What I worry about more, though, is that the article (and many other arguments in favour of badges and points) doesn’t seem to consider the readily available counter-examples. It seems that if badges and points were going to improve education, they would have done it already. Education already has points. And it has badges too — we call them “credits.” Neither have made people who hate math (for example) suddenly like it. For those who do enjoy math, test scores and credits on your transcript can be a useful way of tracking performance — but not of motivating it. Liking something causes you want to do the things that earn points. Earning points doesn’t cause you to like it.

    Enjoyment and good game design seem to me to be prerequisites for the badges and scores to have any effect. After all, lots of games are marketing flops despite their points and levels. I look forward to hearing about using principles of good game design and human-interface design to improve education, but so far all the arguments I’ve heard in favour of gamification suffer from a basic confusion between cause and correlation.

    Comment by Mylène — 2012 November 22 @ 07:05 | Reply

    • If you are interested in discussion of “serious games” and applying game design to education, you might want to read The Becker Blog, as Katrin Becker has given the matter some serious thought and her recent posts have a number of pointers to academic literature on the topic.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2012 November 23 @ 07:46 | Reply

      • Thanks for the tip — at a glance, it looks excellent. I will definitely keep an eye on this.

        Comment by Mylene DiPenta — 2012 November 23 @ 11:42 | Reply

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