Shakespeare Badges: How and Why?

Third post in a series on the design & delivery of my intro-Shakespeare course this term. 

I’ve written speculatively about implementing a badge system into my intro-Shakespeare course, English 205 this coming term. Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

With the start of term right around the corner, Team 205 (my research assistants Theresa and Braydon and I) are working hard to answer two questions:

  1. how will the system work, and
  2. what incentive will students have to use it?

Let’s tackle each question separately.

How?

On the course blog my research assistants and I adding a WordPress plugin called BadgeOS that lets students earn badges for completing different activities: like publishing a close reading of a passage, or writing a review of a play, or completing extra quizzes. A few principles are guiding us, here:

  • A responsive system, not a rigid one. It needs to capture the full range of anticipated and unanticipated activities a student might undertake to signal her engagement with the material. So while we’re listing as many activities as we can think of, we won’t capture everything; there has to be a vetting system for students to earn points for the activities we hadn’t anticipated.
  • A system aligned with our learning outcomes. There are seven of these: Methods, Language, Performances, Questions, Forms, Origins, and Evidence. An earlier post in this series addressed why they’re important to course design. Our ten badges fit into these seven categories, sitting alongside assignments.

Why?

That brings me to the value proposition, if you’ll forgive the expression. If I’m a student, why am I concerning myself with badges? They need to have a value either within the economy of the course (not just grades or bonus marks, but prestige and recognition) or outside of it (like a co-curricular record: something you can transport to other courses, to a portfolio or transcript).

I’m not reinventing the curriculum with these badges – not yet, anyway – so I’ve come to the decision that the value has to be internal to the course, and that means that badges have to translate into grades. They’ll be the system I use to calculate students’ participation grades in this course.

This was actually a pretty natural decision, because the badges capture so much of the surrounding activity that signals student engagement – a word that’s far more capacious than ‘participation,’ and a better indicator of the learning that happens in real and digital spaces.

I’ll give more details on this system in future posts to this series – as soon as my team can release them.

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