by Daryl Peel
Blackboard achievements have often been overlooked by learning designers, seen as a bit of a throwaway carrot to encourage students to take part in various activities in Blackboard. Admittedly, we need to be careful when implementing achievements not just here, but in any shape and form. Making sure that we don’t let achievements become an extrinsic motivator, that can eventually become ineffectual, but something intrinsic. There are many studies that show “achievements” can be an effective motivator in higher education and we find that achievements don’t just lead to satisfaction for the completion of an activity but can also be used to guide learners and provide productive feedback.
I’m not going to go into the deep deep hole that is the argument for/against badges, achievements and trophies in this article. But, if you are interested in giving it a go for yourself then this mini-guide should help you get started.
Note: Blackboard Achievements are different from the Open Badges Project.
‘How to’ guide
1. Plan your achievements
It is often a good idea to fully plan your achievements before doing anything else. We often start with asking ourselves a couple of questions about the activities that will feature achievements:
- What type of activities will feature achievements? Will you focus on reading lists, online quizzes, watching videos, etc?
- Are the achievements for a specific group?
- Is it necessary to have achievements for your activity? It is possible to put too many achievements, go with the bare necessities.
We have found it useful to plan using software such as Excel to break a course down into its various sections and activities. This also helps to break down the workload of creating the achievements.
2. Titles and descriptions
Now that you’ve decided on the activities that will have achievements it is often useful to think of interesting titles and descriptions that will go with the blackboard achievements. We found that a single sentence used as a description suits achievements best and can include basic encouragement, well done or a short piece of guidance. For example, if you have given an achievement for a student receiving 100%, you could also give an achievement for a student receiving less than full marks while the description encourages the student to try harder.
One of our favourite parts of using blackboard achievements is the creating of the graphics. One of the best pieces of software to create these is an online program called Canva. This program has a large amount of pre-designed badge (achievement) layouts that can make the process a lot faster. When we made our own badges we found that it helped to group badges for common activities by using common colours or shapes; it also helped to include a very basic image with the maximum of two words to keep designs simple. When you are creating these graphics you have to keep in mind that Blackboard will only accept graphics that are jpg file types and are under 100kb. To get this size of file on canva you can set your dimensions at around 800px by 800px. Sometime though you may have to reduce the file size manually by opening the graphic on your pc, edit and reduce the size. It’s pretty easy but time-consuming.
4. Putting the achievements into Blackboard
When you are putting your achievements into blackboard we saw that it is easier to navigate to the area in blackboard you would like your achievement to be and create the achievement there. We tried to make the process faster by creating achievements in the achievements tab rather than navigating through the course, however, the achievements are then all placed on the front page in one big unorganised mess. By navigating to the to the specific part of the course you would like the achievement to ‘live’ you may find it easier to arrange your achievements in a tidy and logical way.
5. Making students aware
The last thing we have found to be important is the inclusion of some form of advertising for the achievements. This could take the form of a permanent notification on the front page, we also found that it was important to give students clues that guide them to completing tasks to acquire the achievements.
For more information and advice, contact the Digital Learning Team or take a look at the MLE guide to Blackboard Achievements