Collect them all!

Greg van Brug: badges (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I’ve been wanting to add badges to my course for a couple of years now, but somehow this always got relegated to those optional activities I’d maybe introduce next year. To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical for quite a while if university students would even want to be awarded badges; I guess I thought they might consider them too frivolous. I think I even had a vision of students chatting about the course over coffee, “Did you get one of those badges? Like she seriously thinks we’d care about something like that?!” I’m guessing I may have been too optimistic in thinking student chats over coffee ever involve the course. 😛

Some time ago I came across this post by Maria Theologidou and decided I would definitely try to introduce badges, then last year I saw them used to good effect in the project I was involved in at work. I thought I’d write up a brief post on which badges I eventually settled on this semester and how I planned to have them awarded, as this turned out to be a little more complicated than I’d initially assumed. At this point I still have no feedback one way or another on how the students feel about them, so this remains something to investigate in more detail towards the end of the semester.

I think it could be quite easy to get carried away with the visual appeal of badges and you suddenly find yourself creating a whole raft of them, thinking you’ll find a way to work them into the course. For experimental purposes I thought three would be more than enough, so that’s how many I actually ended up with, although there’s one more I’m toying with and think I’ll probably add.

  1. The extra mile badge – this is for students who’ve taken part in an optional discussion, which requires them to do some extra reading as well. The discussion is quite early on in the course, so the idea is for the badge to provide some extra encouragement. I award this one manually, although now I think about it, I could specify in the settings that it gets awarded on completion of that activity, since everyone who took part in the discussion got the badge. In case you’re wondering, that’s five students out of this semester’s group of thirteen, which, on reflection, is a number I’m pretty pleased with in an optional activity.
  2. The halfway there badge – this is for students who’ve completed all the compulsory activities in the first half of the course more or less on time. We’re actually halfway through the course now and I’m planning to award these in the next couple of days. Initially, I specified in the settings that this badge would be awarded on completion of a bunch of activities by a certain date (more than one date), but this turned out rather less straightforward than I envisioned it. It looks really easy; all you need to do is tick the activities and set the dates, but some activities require the students to mark the completion themselves – if they don’t, the system doesn’t recognize they completed it – and, more importantly, it suddenly hit me it might not be completely fair to extend the same treatment to a student who was a day late with one or two activities and one who only logged on to the course twice in two months. Neither would get the badge if the criteria were set up this way, so I got rid of the dates in the settings. I’m still going to be requiring that the activities be completed but will be relatively flexible regarding the dates and will be awarding the badge manually so I can check if the students have completed those activities they don’t automatically get ticks on. Ultimately, I’d like the badges to be motivating and the criteria probably shouldn’t be too restrictive.
  3. The exam candidate badge – this is for students who’ve completed everything they needed to in order to qualify for the exam. I haven’t designed this one yet, but I still have time as I won’t be needing it before January. At this juncture I think I’ll set up the award criteria in the same way as for badge no. 2.
  4. The online star badge – this is the one I’m not sure about yet, including the name. I thought it could be for those students who’ve done excellent work throughout the semester, maybe demonstrated great patterns of online interaction or put in consistent effort with their learning journal, or something like that. I’m still trying to decide. I’ll definitely be awarding that one manually and I don’t think dates will figure in any important sense.

I’m sure there are lots of options available for designing badges but I’ve used Canva for these, mostly because I’m familiar with it by now. I should probably add that I had to find a workaround for the fact that you can’t download an image with a transparent background in the free version of Canva, which is a problem because you’re downloading a square image and the badges are round. I used LunaPic to switch to a transparent background and then added them to Moodle.

If you teach online, have you used badges? Have you won any for taking part in a course yourself? How motivating do you think they are/could be? Thanks for reading!

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It isn’t what you read. It’s how you read.

The story goes something like this. Imagine a 9-year-old who remembers a little later than is strictly convenient that they need to read a book for class. Your first port of call is the local library, but all the copies have been checked out. You ask around if anyone has a copy and find out that there’s an ebook available. The child needs to read the book as soon as possible. What do you do?

This story, which I recently heard, made me think about my preferred mode of reading and those of the people around me. I’d always assumed our views were similar or at the very least would not generate controversy, but then a new thought popped into my head: I actually had no idea if this was true. I was especially interested in whether adults felt any differently about their preferred mode of reading and that which they recommended to (their) children, and why this might be the case.

I asked the questions below on Facebook and received several very interesting, detailed and thoughtful responses. As the post is private, I didn’t embed it here, nor am I going to discuss the responses, but I am curious to hear what you think and was hoping some thoughts would be shared in the comment section here as well.

In addition to the original questions, I wanted to add a few more:

  • What would you do in the story in the opening paragraph if you were the parent or if the 9-year-old was a family member or the child of a (close) friend? (I am interested in whether it might be easier to be supportive of format variety in principle as opposed to when you have a particular child in mind).
  • What do you think are country-specific differences, if any?
  • What impact, if any, do you believe parents’ preferences in terms of book format might have on their children at some point down the line?

I should add that when I asked the questions I didn’t have language learning in mind, but reading (for pleasure), but another question might be if you prefer a particular format for language learning and why.

There’s something about H5P

Jessica Wilson: pick up a moo memory game! (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is going to be a brief post on something I’m trying out for the first time in my online course. Back when I started designing it, I used to get so excited about all the different apps and activity types I was experimenting with but the novelty gradually wore off and now it’s been a couple of semesters (I think) since I’ve actually tried out something new. Partly this was because I’d figured out how a lot of the online tools I needed worked – for instance, if you’ve invested some time in getting the hang of a particular screencasting tool and you’re reasonably happy with it, you’re likely to stick with it. Or I am, anyway. The other reason was that the course had been pretty thoroughly thought through in terms of the weekly workload and what the purpose of each activity is, so there wasn’t really any pressing need to add to it. I did say last year that the course could use a facelift, but that refers primarily to the visuals.

A couple of months ago, I first heard that some of the people I was working with were very enthusiastic about something called H5P. It took me a while to work out what the name actually was, before I saw it written down (though this may have been due to the way it’s pronounced in Croatian). Their website says, among other things:

H5P makes it easy to create, share and reuse HTML5 content and applications… H5P enables existing CMSs and LMSs to create richer content. With H5P, authors may create and edit interactive videos, presentations, games, advertisements and more.

I had the opportunity to see an online course which made use of interactive videos and a neat little content type called memory game, which works like the children’s picture pairing activity. A definite advantage for those of us who use Moodle is that H5P is already offered as an activity type, so all you need to do is choose to add it, like you would a forum, say, and set it up.

Some months passed and I kept hearing good things about H5P, then a couple of weeks ago I needed to try it out at work and felt the kind of excitement – the “students are gonna love this” kind – familiar from when I was still working on putting the course together.

It was convenient that there’s a unit where I always felt a little like something was missing – an activity I do when covering this topic in class, but in the online version I’d relied on the students doing the necessary reading on their own, outside the course, which I wasn’t entirely happy with. It felt like a loose end. So I used the H5P drag & drop content type to recreate the in-class activity (the students need to match category titles to groups of linking words).

I first needed to create the background image, which I did in Canva. I chose different color backgrounds for the boxes representing each category – I picked three colors for nine boxes as the idea was simply to make the boxes easily distinguishable, not blind anyone – and added the groups of words to each box, making sure the font was sans serif and thus easier to read. I was worried initially that the whole thing might look too crowded, but it looked fine. I saved it offline.

Then I added it as the background image to the drag & drop activity. I wanted it to appear as a page in a book, so I chose the “available but not shown on course page” option in the settings. The reason I wanted it in the book was so the students would come across it in the order I wanted them to, and it might be confusing if it appeared in two places (as it would have if I hadn’t chosen the option in the previous sentence). I don’t know if this – I want them to do things in a certain order – makes me appear a bit of a control freak. I think maybe people have this idea that you can do things in any order you want online; maybe it’s because of MOOCs where everything is available all the time. I figure my course is no different than a face-to-face class, where I plan the lesson and the order in which we do things.

Finally, I defined the drop zones on the background image – the boxes in different colors – and added the text boxes (draggable elements) with the category titles. Because the background image already had quite a bit of text, I didn’t want there to be potential for confusion between the groups of linking words and the category titles, so after a bit of experimenting I settled on red letters for the titles (the rest of the text is black). It probably isn’t the most elegant of solutions, but graphic design is really not not really my thing.

And that was that. It’s a bit more fiddly if you have many drop zones but not complicated. This is in a unit that the students can’t access yet, so it’ll be a few days before they see it. I hope it proves helpful.

Have you used any of the H5P content types, especially for language learning? I’m planning to see if I can add some interactivity to the couple of videos I have in later units, but there are lots of other content types that seem worth looking into.