Annotation: Badges for Higher-Ed Assessment

Buell, C. (2013, August 30). Using Badges to Quantify Learning Outcomes at UC Davis. Edcetera. Retrieved October 20, 2013, from

This article examines the use of badges to measure learning outcomes in higher education, especially as developed by UC Davis and Joanna Normoyle, who won an award for the innovation at the Digital Media and Learning Competition. The idea is to quantify and standardize higher-level thinking skills gained throughout the course of a university degree and award a digital badge for the achievement, potentially making them useful to future employers trying to determine the skill-set of a candidate or even simplifying the process of credit transfer between universities looking for equivalent coursework. Badges in such a system also can be useful for helping learners to track their progress and customize an academic program. UC Davis is officially launching their program with students this fall. By extension, I could see this as an easy, practical way for academic libraries to jump in, partner with departments and get involved in assessing and communicating the information literacy of students.

That’s What I Like About You

I did my undergrad at Marquette University, a Catholic Jesuit school located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While I love Marquette, it was ridiculously expensive, especially considering the value and quality of the flagship public university here. Hindsight’s 20/20, right?

In my experience, the cool thing about a Jesuit university, is that while we were required to take an extensive core curriculum, including significant amounts of theology and philosophy, I never felt like their religious views were being crammed down our throats. In fact, it was more like, “Yes, this is what we [as Catholics] believe, but here are ALL of the points of view. You decide.”

Or, in the words of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities:

Jesuit colleges and universities are places of intellectual integrity, critical inquiry, and mutual respect, where open dialogue characterizes an exciting environment of teaching, research and professional development. The Jesuit ideal of giving serious attention to the profound questions about the meaning of life encourages an openness of mind and heart, and seeks to establish campus communities which support the intellectual growth of all of its members while providing them with opportunities for spiritual growth and development.

All in all, I loved the Jesuit approach to education because it honored my liberty of thought. It’s funny, but it is exactly THAT emphasis on liberty of thought that draws me to Library and Information Studies as well.

Consider this, from the ALA on Collection Development:

Librarians have a professional responsibility to be fair, just, and equitable and to give all library users equal protection in guarding against violation of the library patron’s right to read, view, or listen to materials and resources protected by the First Amendment, no matter what the viewpoint of the author, creator, or selector.

Basically, one of the tenants of librarianship in the United States is intellectual freedom. Between that and an emphasis on privacy protection for patrons, the ALA’s view on intellectual development is right up my alley.

With great power, comes great responsibility

I play video games occasionally, but I am definitely not a gamer. I just don’t stay interested in them very long.  I don’t mind trying them sometimes, but most of them are a little too difficult for me. Back in the age of Super Mario Brothers 3, I wasn’t bad, but games are harder now–more buttons.

According to studies sited in Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift (see his endnotes below) boys play video games 13 hours or more a week, while girls play about 5. While most adults I know don’t log those type of hours, I think the ratio is about right.

When I see those numbers, I start to worry a little bit about our kids. 13 hours seems like a lot to me! Man, if I had an extra 13 hours a week…

More and more researchers, like James Gee, are stepping to the plate to say, “Actually, video games are good. We should change schools to be more like video games.” Jane McGonigal goes as far to suggest that we should play MORE video games because we could solve a lot of problems if we used the thinking skills necessary for games in the real world.

I will concede that our education system could stand to learn a thing or two from the success and engagement that video games command. We can and should change our school system to incorporate the principles that have made video games so effective in engaging players in sometimes difficult and complex tasks. “If only kids concentrated on their Algebra homework as much as they do on Halo…” Fine, find a way, right?

The problem that I have with this is that the required change is 100% on the backs of the teachers and the policy-makers. We teachers are the ones who are supposed to make it more fun/engaging/relevant/customized/etc. Riiiiiiiiiight, like Constance Steinkuehler‘s description of the teen-aged boys with their hoodies in her program, even with the most engaging activity, if it smells like school, they’re “out.” Good luck getting any kind of spontaneous interest with quadratic equations, even if it is in a video game. It’s a nice theory, but a tall order to place on schools alone, especially when it’s likely to fail if students don’t buy in.

Constructivists teachers talk a lot about the importance of learners taking ownership of their learning. It’s true. The idea of digital badge systems revolutionizing instruction and assessment is more realistic than gaming doing it. Here’s why–if digital badge systems catch on, this is what they will do to education as we know it:

Students will be able to customize learning goals within the larger curricular framework, integrate continuing peer and faculty feedback about their progress toward achieving those goals, and tailor the way badges and the metadata within them are displayed to the outside world. Students won’t just earn badges—they’ll build them, in an act of continuous learning.

Why does this matter? To start, consider that the…framework was designed with great care and purpose, based on what experts, employers, professors, and students believe is most important for the world we live in today. (from Kevin Carey’s article, “A Future Full of Badges”)

Did you notice that the STUDENT was involved in the designing learning experience? Let me say that again, the STUDENT is a STAKEHOLDER. These pro-gamers can talk all they want about how video games are the answer, but they also neglect consider a few real problematic side-effects of the gaming movement: addiction, disengagement and violence, especially in boys.

An experienced, practicing medical doctor, Leonard Sax, calls the growing epidemic of unmotivated young boys and underachieving young men as “Boys Adrift.” In his book, he identifies seven factors that contribute to this phenomenon, with the second being video games.

Consider the effects of video-game on a young boy:

The defining characteristic of addiction, incidentally, is loss of control: the boy knows that he shouldn’t be spending so much time playing video games, he may not even want to play that much, but he just feels that he can’t help it. (Sax, 74)

Another consideration is what activities are displaced by playing video games. If your son is neglecting his friendships with non-gamer friends to spend more time playing video games, then he’s spending too much time playing video games. If he refuses to sit down to dinner with the family because he’s in the middle of a video game, then he needs some help from you getting his priorities straight. (Sax, 70)

In real life, you can’t just walk away from the havoc you create. In the world of video games, you can. (Sax, 68)

Of course not everyone who plays video games is effected these ways, but it’s a valid concern, given that we have a generation of young men who are outnumbered by girls in universities because more and more of them lack the good grades and motivation to pursue further education. Video games can get in the way.

So are we as libraries responsible for the well-being of the young adults in our communities or does the responsibility lie solely on their parents? Before we get all excited and decide that libraries are the place for gaming and it’s the next big thing for our programs, like Aaron Schmidt’s position on QR Codes in Libraries, we need to step back and think about our objectives and missions when we implement and encourage gaming. Gaming tournaments may be great programs that bring in teen users and provide a great social outlet, with some positive side effects like increased circulation and reading–but I believe we are also responsible for informed decisions. Video games have two sides: a fun, exciting side with potential and a dark underbelly.

I’ll leave you with one last piece that I really enjoyed from Sax’s book. He includes the following letter from a mother at the end of his chapter on video games (p. 75-76).

Dear Dr. Sax,

I read your article in the Washington Post. I’m not an expert, just a Mom. I have my own theory. I think video games are the main culprits in this phenomenon [of unmotivated boys]. I wish I had somehow shielded my son from such games or at least put a strict limit on them. When I see guys in their twenties who are totally unmotivated, mooching on someone else and lack any social skills that will benefit them in the workplace or in life, I’ve noticed a common thread: an obsession with video games.

Video games teach these boys that if you manipulate things a certain way, you will get an easy win. These boys have little interaction with people during the years when such interaction is crucial in developing the skills they need to handle themselves as an adult. They shut themselves off to the real world and get caught up in their fantasy worlds. After a while, they prefer their fantasies to the real world. In the real world, things are not so easy to control. They can’t rule with a joystick. In the real world they have to talk to people. They have to work.

That brings up another point. Laziness. A guy addicted to video games can waste hour after hour after hour without doing anything productive. Playing games is easy. Studying is hard. Taking care of daily chores is hard. Working on a real job is hard.

We parents are to blame for some of this because it started out as a way to entertain our kids. We justified it by saying they were developing their hand/eye coordination. They were home, we knew what they were doing, they were out of our hair and not causing trouble. Now they are in their twenties and we are scratching our heads wondering, “What’s their problem?”

I think if you were to research the growing popularity of video games and compare it to the growing number of young men living at home, you would find a parallel. I know that sounds simplistic, but sometimes the answers to complex questions are as plain as the nose on our face.

Cheryl M.
North Carolina


Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile, and Katherine Buckley, “Study 3: Longitudinal study with elementary school students,” in the authors’ book Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp. 95-119. These authors conducted a study of 430 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from five different elementary schools (four public schools, one private school). The boys played video games, on average, 13.4 hours per week; the girls played on average 5.9 hours per week.

Douglas Gentile, Paul Lynch, Jennifer Ruh Linder, and David Walsh, “The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits on Adolescent Hostility, Aggressive Behaviors, and School Performance,” journal of Adolescence, volume 27, pp. 5-22, 2004. These authors studied 607 eighth- and ninth-graders from four different schools (three public schools, one private school). The boys played video games, on average, thirteen hours per week, while the girls played on average five hours per week.