gamification ramification

Our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable.

I had this brilliant idea that, to make it easy on us, I would attach our badges to the success criteria. Students would have a clear idea of how to obtain the badges. And boy oh boy would they be motivated!! Students would be craving that next badge, and they’d know just how to get it.

I was wrong.

The students had no inclination to achieve those badges. They didn’t care. Sure, they appreciated having clear success criteria so they knew what the expectations were. And they did very well in that Human Body unit. But it had nothing to do with the spiffy gamification that had been put in place.

Not only did the students react indifferently, but it went against my grain. I don’t like external reward systems, and I am not sure if badging is an external reward, as I have blogged about previously. So, I went into this whole thing quite tentatively, but willing to take the risk to see if it was good for my students.

What I realized, near the end of the unit, was that giving badges relating to success criteria was like giving grades. Okay, not ideal, but so be it.  The upsetting thing was that I was going to make that public—the students’ badges would show up on our blog page. Yikes! The hard work that my entire class had done in being comfortable with trying our hardest, taking risks and doing our best was about to be thrown out the window with this public display of our grades. A fake sense of competition.

I scrapped it. I didn’t give out one single badge. And the students didn’t ask about it.

So yes, our first stab at gamification made me uncomfortable. A complete failure.


But failure is what we hope for. Failure begets reflection. Reflection begets new approaches and trying again.

And so this is where I am. Trying again.

This time, I’m not going to connect badges to curriculum. Students can earn badges, as many as they choose, by becoming experts at using certain apps. 5 skills—5 badges—make them experts in that app, thereby finishing the quest and earning the Master badge. I’m hoping that the voluntary aspect of this helps create the intrinsic motivation. As a side benefit, I will have student experts at apps that I’m not sure how to use. Could this promote student leadership in the school?

Fingers crossed that this small, contained use of game mechanics will show some success so I can continue to reflect, make changes and try again.


  1. Badges are not magical, I’m glad that you documented your failure so people realize that is not the case. I’m a fan of badges, but they are not an end all be all.

    • I wanted to experience this project by being as transparent and vulnerable as possible. I’m hoping that as I learn, others can benefit from this too. Thanks for the comment :).

  2. What a beautiful failure! I came after our discussion at #gblchat to see what you’d done and perhaps comment, but your postmortem says everything I would have recommended. I’ve found in my use that badges have been most successful in two cases: 1) when they are just visible notifications of what has been achieved in levels (in our class, they all share who they are (avatar) and what level they’re on, so there’s no anonymity, by student action) and 2) when they’re totally dissociated from assessment and serve to honor achievements & actions I think are praise-worthy. I make up badges (and record that I did) on the spot at times. I think some of these may be the best ones I’ve awarded, because they meant the most to the students who received them.

    • I’m so glad that we’ve connected, and thanks for your feedback. As I continue on this journey, I’m sure I’ll call on you for advice! I think I’ll be exploring badge distribution similar to you: based more on non-academics. 🙂

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