Last post I mentioned that the students had left scaffolding behind and launched into coding without solutions nor skeletons provided.  They have loved it!  It started a bit rocky, as they got used to working mentally on their own.  They developed strategies all on their own to support themselves and each other, including better internet searching, working in pairs, and even reading the book (shocking, I know!).  😉  I’ve very rarely had to step in to say “don’t do the work for him, just give him a hint;” they’ve figured that out, nearly, on their own.  They’re even refusing my suggestions now.  The challenge of figuring it out on their own has definitely infected the class.  I’m really enjoying watching the growing work ethic (which I attribute entirely to the challenge of the materials and the ownership of the solution when they achieve it).

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This week I finally got the first round of badges created and awarded.  I’ve been working on fleshing out the story of the realm the students operating in, inspired by a quickie post in Moodle one day:  I posted their next challenge a few weeks ago and reversed the title from “String” to “Gnirts.”  I called it the Cavern of Gnirts.  Then I build the Desert of Cigol (logic).  Just creating these two titles, about programming string-based puzzles and logic-based puzzles, gave a delightfully whimsical feel to the exercise descriptions.  I enhanced this with a paragraph of flavor text about these two portions of the realm.   The student response when they read it was positive and pleased – they liked thinking of these as areas they were conquering.  Gradually, more areas of the realm became defined and named, until I now have an entire world I’m developing within, Gnimmargorp.  (yep, that’s ‘programming’ backward 😉

So, with that defined, I started creating badges.  I built one set that celebrate clearing an entire portion of the realm (eg: Desert of Cigol, City of Esab); a second set celebrates achievements I observe in the class, such as “Helping Hand,” or “First Footsteps;” a third set celebrates leveling up.  I shared the first round of them with the students today, to positive feedback.  For them, one more fun element of the game environment, one that celebrates their successes in a bit more prominent, enjoyable, and longer-lasting way than points on the leaderboard.

I was actually surprised at how strong the positive reaction to the badges was.  So far, any system of rewards (points, emails, badges, having completed an ‘area’) has been latched onto immediately and bantered about within the classroom.  Who has ‘conquered’ what and how quickly and before or after whom, is a constant discussion in this class.  Their competitive nature is really brought out by these tangible elements of evidence of success.  But their cooperative nature is brought out immediately upon one of them encountering a mental obstacle that they ask for assistance with.  It has been exciting to see as they alternate completely unselfconsciously between these modes.

We’re progressing through the early material so quickly, I’ve developed an alternate plan because I’m worried they’ll be getting through about 3 quarters worth of work this semester.  So next semester will bring a few surprises (I’ve let slip a couple hints about that, and anticipation is starting to build).  My anticipation has finally been rewarded:  our Moodle administrator upgraded us to 2.5, which includes new functionality for creating and using Mozilla Open Badges compatible badges as awards within the course.  So students will be awarded badges within the course and be able to display them on their profiles as well as export them to Mozilla-backpack compatible sites elsewhere on the web.  I’m excited about that, though the students aren’t really (not having a thriving community around the badges yet contributes to their disinterest, I think ;-).

Have you used badges in your course yet?  How did they work for your students?