Bringing Bots and Badges to my Classes

My course evaluations weren’t strong enough last semester in my online class Children’s Literature and Literacy. I needed to make adjustments. I knew what went wrong. Mainly we had no community. Students saw class as a checklist of submitting assignments.

Most of this was my fault. I did not provide the level of feedback I know learners need to thrive in online classes. I promised myself to offer greater individualized and formative feedback rather than just my video based summative assessment of student works.

I also looked to technological solutions. This brought in the badges and bots.


Robot flickr photo by Rog01 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license


My first step involved creating pathways using badges. I have only started with one (so hard to call them pathways) but I wanted to see what happened. EDU 307 is  Writing Intensive course. This means student must meet word counts and revision requirements.

I wanted to take it a step further and focus on what it means to write within the discipline of education as a public scholar.

I created a badge using, my favorite badging platform, and then made a pathway where students had to earn specific badges. Much like a trivial pursuit board game piece students do not finish until they have all the pieces of the pie.

New Blogger

Providing Attribution

Using Blog Affordances

Ideas and Content

Community Commenter

Finding Voice

Revising for Content

Blog Customizer

Writing Conventions


I love My only main gripe has to do with issuing badges. Participants can not apply for badges you have manually issue the badges and enter the evidence yourself. Since I am teaching in Slack this semester I decided to learn how to build a bot to help me with this problem.

I headed over to the  Bot Makers slack group. Stefan, a founder and moderator of the group turned me on to a service called RunDexter. The syntax for building bots is easy and their customer service was amazing. A few hours, multiple tries, and with help from Brendan I had launched my bot.


What I Need to Change

I have eight badges. I tried to include buttons which link to a description of each blog post but Slack doesn’t like more than 2-3 buttons. It starts to look ugly. I need to add triggers instead of buttons to learn more about the badges. This will mean predicting what students will type when I asked what badge they want to learn about. I am sure over time I will be able to recognize common patterns (like students putting “me” instead of their name when asking to apply for a badge. This will take some work.

I haven’t gotten my database API connected to badge correctly. I am using Air Table and for some reason just can’t integrate correctly. Not a huge issue as Slack has a record and Rundexter has logs but it would be nice to be able to bulk issue badges with a csv sheet rather than individually.

I also need to add the badge criteria when teachers apply for the badges. Very few have clicked on learn more about the badge and they often apply without examining the criteria.

Benefits of Teaching with Badges

Right away I noticed I messed up. Students should not have earned the “new blogger” badge without first publishing a post and correctly sharing a url (learning the difference between the WordPress dashboard, a blogs domain, and a post url takes time). Yet I awarded a few and I wanted a low hanging badge to kick off the pathway so I will continue to accept a blog domain.

Being able to recognize the mismatch between assessment, evidence and criteria is a skill I want my teachers to have. Making an explicit connection to criteria and evidence is essential knowledge for instruction. The badge application makes this apparent for students.

Future teachers in my EDU 307 class also get exposure to a modern assessment system that will help to reshape education in their careers. The Writing intensive program could easily evolve to be more competency based rather than simply relying on word counts and revision.

Benefits of Teaching with Bots

Time. Teachers never have enough. Bots can help. Many, like Audrey Watters,  have critiqued or questions the role of automation in assessment but I welcome bots. So many assessment tasks take too much time that do not allow us to customize our feedback to students.

Community. I have made my struggles to create learning communities in my online classes pretty well known. I never begrudge students for taking the path of least resistance. For many of our students it is how they survived K12 education. Yet I think automation can help to reinforce the kinds of values I want in my class. Chatbots reflect the bias of their programmers. I want to embrace this bias and see if I can help to shape a community of learners.

In other words, bring on the bots and badges.

Also published on Medium.

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Greg McVerry

Greg McVerry is a teacher, researcher and scholar at Southern Connecticut State University.

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