#openbadges and Motivation

MotivationThis semester I am taking Dr. Cary Roseth’s Current Issues in Motivation and Learning course. I have also been following the Digital Media and Learning Open Badges competition.  As I’ve been reading and thinking about different motivational theories, I can’t help but wonder about the ways that those theories might explain how the Badges for Learning idea might work in practice.  So I’ve decided that I will be putting these ideas to work in my final paper for my motivation course.  My plan is to take the motivational theories we’ve been reading about and use them to make predictions about how badges for learning might impact student motivation and possibly achievement (when appropriate for the theory).  My  paper is due in about a month, but as I develop these predictions, I plan to both blog about them in this space as well as post my final paper here (don’t worry, it’s supposed to only be 10 pages).

I do want to address one issue, however, before I begin. In the initial launch of the Badges for Learning competition and even in subsequent writings, blog comments, and twitter conversations around the web, I’ve noticed that there is a real tension as folks try to imagine how to implement Badges for Learning. It seems to me that the at the core of badges is to develop an alternative assessment structure for not only open courses online, but perhaps even more traditional, face-to-face classrooms. I keep seeing the argument repeated that badges are a way to highlight the self-directed learning that is occurring all over the web. Despite these intentions, the idea of badges as a potential motivator creeps into the conversation. While this may not be the primary intention of badges, I think that the idea of badges a motivator is tangled up in the conceptions of badges.  At first this horrified me: I worried that we were moving reward stickers and gold stars online, and I wasn’t impressed with how well those worked in the face-to-face classrooms. But as I realized how ignorant I am of explanations of what and how people are motivated, I thought it was worth keeping an open mind about.

The first action-research study I ever carried out as a classroom teacher  (back in 2002) looked at motivation and standardized testing. My questions centered on whether or not students’ own personal preferences for different types of assessments might impact their achievement.  My findings were pretty inconclusive, and as I’ve dug into the relationship between motivation and assessment, I’ve found that there has been very little research in this area overall. The impact of standardized tests versus performance evaluations or other non-standardized assessment practices on student motivation is still unknown.  Seeing the stress of my own students before the ACT or hearing stories from my friends about their second graders crying under their desks during testing weeks makes me wonder about it more.  This is all to say that I’m really curious about this issue: what if a student is highly motivated in school and the negative impact of standardized testing is short-circuiting that motivation? I think that most teachers can quickly think of examples of students for whom this is true. They are motivated, they love school, and their achievement on the big test is always low. It just doesn’t reflect what they know and what they can do. For these reasons, I’m all for some sort of alternative assessment structure.

So as I develop my ideas, I welcome comments and criticisms as I go.  The plan is to post a theory and prediction about badges every few days. Wish me luck!