Movement science professor looks to change academic motivation

GVL / Robert Mathews
Professor John Kilbourne presenting his

GVL / Robert Mathews Professor John Kilbourne presenting his

Briana Doolan

College is supposed to be a time for students to focus on learning and prepare for the future, but getting the highest grade possible has become the only focus during a student’s academic career.

Grand Valley State University movement science professor John Kilbourne is attempting to take the focus away from the traditional letter grades by rewarding his students in a more creative way.

Kilbourne is swapping out traditional letter grades for badges – a concept he brought to GVSU after reading Jeffery Young’s article “Grades Out, Badges In” in an October edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The “education-badge” system, according to Young and Kilbourne, shifts the student mindset from one that’s driven by letter grades to one that’s driven by genuine learning.

“I see this more just as a balance to (grades), a supplement, something more tangible and personal,” Kilbourne said.

Kilbourne made a badge for each student in his LIB 100 class, and asked them to decorate their badges based on what a liberal arts education meant to each of them individually.

Freshman Ashley Lustre, clinical exercise science major, said the badges are a way to encourage students.

“Everyone can earn a certain letter grade, (this is) a different way to measure effort,” Lustre said. “It makes you want to try.”

Freshman Elizabeth Kayfish, a clinical exercise science major, said she thinks the badges are a nice reward for classroom efforts, but wishes they held more significance; for example, in the job world after graduating.
However, Kayfish and Luster both agreed that despite the rewarding aspects of the new grading system, they both wish the badges held more consequence in terms of general university grade standards.

“There should be a balance between badges and grades, because good grades are still required,” Lustre said.

Kilbourne is calling this his “trial period” because he just started incorporating these badges this week. He said he plans to reward his students for creativity, exceptional teamwork, or even outstanding essays on their next exam.

“It’s another way for rewarding students (and) acknowledging that they’re good students,” Kilbourne said. “A grade is just a letter, they can wear and share and be proud of (the badges). And by wearing their own, they can express their playful creativity.”

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