Time for a public confession.
One of my favorite parts of my hard copy of the Sunday New York Times each week is the Business section. Ordinarily this has nothing to do with my job. It’s just a brief trip into a fantasy world in which I earn real money; a chance to bump elbows with people who do.
But this week there were three articles about badges.
Exhibit A: Natasha Singer’s “Slipstream” column. This covers the online trend of virtual rewards, referred to as gamification and reminds us that there may be danger in allowing ourselves to be manipulated. There is discussion of the Twitter badge on Samsung’s site, a company called Badgeville that designs game-based sites, and the difference between virtual rewards (badges) and real ones (free airplane trips).
Exhibit B: Randall Stross’s “Digital Domain” column. This covers a medical social networking site that allows patients to ask question and doctors to post and discuss answers to those questions. There are the Paramedic Award, the Good Samaritan Award, the Louis Pasteur Award and many others.
Exhibit C: A review by Nancy Koehn of Strings Attached by Ruth Grant. From the review:
[Grant] says that paying children to elicit certain behavior may have destructive consequences in developing character, potentially nurturing self-interest at the expense of kinder motives. “Where students work in an environment that values only extrinsic rewards for learning,” she writes, “cheating goes up.”
Right. When the rewards are extrinsic (can you say “badges” or “test scores”?), those who buy in become motivated for the reward.
I don’t work for badges. Or grades. Or external evaluations of any kind, really. Of course this meant a lot of B’s and C’s in high school and much teacher and parental hand-wringing about “underachievement”. And it meant quitting the Boy Scouts after my first year because I was uninterested in earning literal badges.
Now I’m supposed to be interested in your virtual badges?
So teachers, let’s be careful about this stuff. Best case scenario in the long term seems to be annoying kids with this stuff. Worst case scenario reduces their interest in what we’re trying to motivate them to do.