VVP Wrap-Up on Badges

Last week, our first group of GK Youth leaders earned badges that we’ve been developing over the past few months.  It was exciting to come out of the development phase and actually see our youth beta test GK’s BadgeStack page.  These youth were part of a 2-week intensive summer program called the Virtual Video Project (VVP), where they made a short machinima film about global health effects due to climate change.


From the beginning stages of program development, badges were useful for us to organize all of the skills that we wanted youth to gain from the program.  In addition to identifying overarching programmatic goals, badges helped us drill down the hard skills, soft skills, and knowledge we wanted to focus on.  Badges also helped us narrow down the number of skills into an amount that was realistic for our program.  We started with over 10 badges, but after combining some skills that were similar and taking out others, we narrowed it down to 4.
On Day 1 of the program, we introduced youth to badges.  We drew on familiar examples of badges from the Boy and Girl Scouts and games.  All our youth had played some type of game where they were able to receive badges (or something like badges), so the concept was not new to them.  We then showed them all of the badges they could earn in VVP, or our “badge constellation”.  However, we knew we would have to remind them of it throughout the week because the badges made more sense the further along they got in the program.
Afterwards, we showed them GK’s BadgeStack page, went through the main features, and had them sign up for accounts.  They were quick to understand the site because of their familiarity with other social networking sites, so they soon uploaded their photos, updated their statuses, and friended each other.  Kiva was our first student to earn a Community Badge for accepting three friend requests and Shareece was our first student to earn a content or Achievement Badge for being a Virtual World Effects Master.
We publicly acknowledged these “firsts” to the whole group and everyone gave Kiva and Shareece a round of applause.  I noticed that on the days we did this, other youth would log onto BadgeStack more than on other days, either because of competitiveness and recognition, or because it was a reminder to earn them.
As we started receiving badge submissions, some were accepted so badges were rewarded to students, while others were deferred.  Submissions were deferred if youth didn’t follow the instructions or if their submissions weren’t complete (i.e. they missed a question or their answer wasn’t detailed enough).  If we noticed that many youth were getting deferred for the same badge, we were forced to look at the language of our rubric to make sure it was clear enough.
While we are still learning to use the system, we found that it had a positive impact on the program.  Youth were able to know the skills they were learning from the beginning and therefore have clear expectations about the program.  They also had to do more to show what they learned, which gave them time to both reflect on their learning and synthesize how to describe it to others.  For staff, it was helpful receiving their badge submissions to see where their were still gaps in students’ learning or which skills needed to be reinforced/clarified.  
While some youth were more excited about badges than others, which was expected, all of them were able to earn at least 1 badge throughout the program.
A few tips on youth badging: 
- Draw on what youth already know about badges and badging systems from the real world or from games.
- Remind students often about the badges 
- Begin with low-hanging fruit or badges that are easier to earn 
- Build in times to log onto the site and earn badges if the technology is accessible
- Make the language as clear as possible so youth know what they need to submit to earn the badge
- Publicly acknowledge those who earn badges, without making others feel excluded