Rationale for Implementation

The CETL is always striving to provide the best service and professional development opportunities for Texas Wesleyan University’s faculty and often its staff. With the intention of promoting an active, relevant, and well attended repertoire of workshops, lectures, activities, and initiatives the CETL is in constant investigation of innovative practices in teaching, learning, and professional development. One of the practices that have sparked the interest of our staff and that has recently gained a lot of attention in the teaching and learning literature is the practice of “Gamification.”

Kapp (2012) states that:

On its surface, gamification is simply the use of game mechanics to make learning and instruction more fun. It seems “fake” artificial or like a shortcut. It’s not. Underneath the surface is the idea of engagement, story, autonomy, and meaning. Games give experiences meaning, they provide a set of boundaries within a “safe” environment to explore, think, and “try things out.” Games provide motivation to succeed and reduce the sting of failure. You can always hit the reset button or strive to be in the championship game again next year – only this time you will win.

Games are the ideal learning environment with their build-in permission to fail, encouragement of out-of-box thinking, and sense of control. The addition of game elements on top of traditional learning environment is a way of leveraging the power of engagement and imagination. (Preface xxi-xxii)

He continues to highlight:

Don’t think of gamification as only the use of badges, rewards, and points; instead, think of the engaging elements of why people play games – it’s not just for the points – its for the sense of engagement, immediate feedback, feeling of accomplishment, and success for striving against a challenge and overcoming it.” (Preface xxii)

Another guiding principle for the implementation of gamification for professional development is found in Rehak & Hickey’s Digital Badge Design Principles for Recognizing Learning where nine principles for recognizing learning with digital badges where listed as part of the Digital Media and Learning Competition 4. Rehak & Hickey (2013) list them as follow:

1. Use badges to map learning trajectories.  Most of the projects used badges to organize curriculum and learning experiences by either determining levels of badges or offering meta-badges. Alternatively, some projects allow for a more learner-directed process that encourages students to create their own trajectory.

2. Align badges to standards.  Many of the projects used national or international standards to increase the external value of the badge. Alignment to standards is presumed to improve transparency of the credential and help to facilitate better communication of earner knowledge and skills. Some of these standards were more formal such as, the Common Core State Standards, while others were the less formal such as “21st Century Skills.” Sometimes the alignment was very formal but other times it was very informal.  Highlighting the relationship between recognition and assessment, the formality of this alignment was usually defined by the formality of the assessment practices involved.

3.  Have experts issue badges.  Having experts issue badges increases the credibility of the badge and likely influences the usefulness of the credential outside of the issuing community.  At some level, some expert is associated with issuing badges.  But the nature and role of this expert varied quite a bit, as did that way that the expert was him or herself credentialed.  Sometimes the expert held an external credential, while other times the expert was credentialed by the community; some projects include both.

4. Seek external backing. External backing is presumed to increase the usefulness of the badge as name recognition is a driving force in getting schools or employers to recognize the badge. In the projects that sought external backing, this seemed different than just using badges as a means of external communication. Whether or not the badge is actually externally endorsed, existing formal relationships can increase its external value. (For those wishing to have formal credit granted for a badge, this is the first step.) Partnerships increase communication of the learning recognized in the badge and thus increase the importance/usefulness of the badge for earners. In some cases, a badge is formally endorsed and carries the insignia of the endorsing institution.

5.  Recognize diverse learning.  Credentialing a broad spectrum of experiences helps to legitimize these areas and recognizes knowledge and skills which would otherwise only be implicitly noticed or not at recognized. While this principle could be uncovered in nearly all of the projects at some level, we highlighted several projects that embraced it explicitly. These projects recognized skills and learning outside of what is traditionally recognized in formal learning environments, giving badges for both “hard” and “soft” skills.

6.  Use badges as a means of external communication of knowledge and/or skills.   As with the previous principle, most projects did this at some level.  But some projects really made a concerted effort to increase communication of the learning or accomplishment that the badges represent.

7. Make badges permanent.  While many projects did not explicitly discuss whether or not their badges would expire or require upgrading, a few made strong cases for learners being able to have permanent credentials that will always exist to recognize that specific skill, knowledge, or experience.

8.  Recognize educator learning as well.  Some of the projects awarded badges specifically to educators.  This is a different principle that relates to the several projects where additional badges were included alongside student badges.  These were sometimes that same as the badges for students and other times they were specific to the educators.  Generally speaking, these badges were used to recognize the educators’ participation in the broader learning ecosystem.

9.  Award formal academic credit for badges.  In a few projects, badges were used as a supplement to a formal grade for in-school experiences. Currently, only a couple of projects have successfully created partnerships that allow a badge to directly result in formal academic credit. This of course greatly increases the value of the badge for badge earners.


CETL and Gamification – Pilot

With the concept of gamification in mind, the CETL decided to start a pilot program to explore the use of gamification for professional development at Texas Wesleyan University. The pilot will start at the Fall of 2013 and we will informally assess if the implementation of the system of badges and points positively affects engagement and motivation from faculty and staff at the university to participate in professional development activities. Points will be assigned for each activity/initiative that faculty and staff participate through the CETL. Badges will be assigned each time a certain amount of points is achieved for each activity. Badges will represent different areas of focus and to achieve each of the badges a unique number of points will be required. Points will be quantified and updated weekly in the points leaderboard. At the end of each semester, CETL professional development awards will be given to those who finished first in the leaderboard, departments who had the most faculty/staff participation, as well as other awards. At the end of each year, points will reset. Badges earned though the CETL will be showcased in the CETL Blog as well as the Badges Awarded.


Plans for the Future

The CETL’s efforts to implement a gamification environment is to promote engagement and satisfaction with professional development at Texas Wesleyan University. Having the nine principles for recognizing learning with digital badges in mind, specially items 6-8, we intend to expand this project to external platforms of recognition such as the Mozilla Open Badges program. If increased engagement and participation is fostered by the implementation of this system, it is the CETL’s intention to become an official badge issuer through Mozilla Open Badges so that badges earned through the CETL can be showcased in an open Mozilla Backpack. With the integration between Blackboard and Open Badges as well as other platforms (such as WordPress.com), badges earned through CETL professional development will be showcased with a broader, more established, informal learning platform.


References and Suggested Readings

Kapp, K. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Rehak, A., & Hickey, D. (2013). “Digital Badge Design Principles for Recognizing Learning.” Hastac.org. Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory. Hastac.org, 20 May, 2013. Web. 6 Aug, 2013.


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About the CETL

The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Texas Wesleyan University (CETL) promotes a student-centered university by providing resources and professional growth opportunities to faculty on enhancing instructional practice, integrating technology, and promoting essential student skills.

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