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The effect of perceived relevance of digital badges on student engagement

Higashi, Ross (2018) The effect of perceived relevance of digital badges on student engagement. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Open digital badge systems have been promoted as potentially impactful interventions in education, but past studies have found learning and motivational effects that vary drastically by learner, and it is unclear what elements matter. This may be due to a failure to account for learners’ subjective evaluations of the badges themselves, which likely moderate the badges’ impact. I propose a theoretical model which unpacks the traditional “black box” view, shifting the focus from effects of digital badges to processes by which badges affect learners. In the initial model, learners’ subjective evaluation of badges determines their engagement with badges, which in turn influences their engagement with program activities. If there is such an effect, I am interested in whether it is a general mechanism across contexts; whether its effects are equitable with respect to age, sex, and race; and whether it may inform the design of better badging systems in the future.

Chapter 1 situates this work in relation to previous digital badge research, and introduces a synthetic badge-facing factor called Perceived Badge Relevance (PBR) that represents the degree to which a learner finds a program’s badges “relevant” to them: whether the learner thinks the badges make sense, thinks they are valuable, and wants to earn them. Chapter 2 uses PBR to test for subjective evaluation of badges effects on learner engagement across 45 summer programs, finding an overall positive relationship between PBR and engagement that does not vary between programs. Shifting to a design-based research mode, Chapter 3 describes the design for a robust badge evidence system, used by the badge system in Chapter 4, which tests for a longitudinal effect of PBR in an online course. This study finds that PBR predicts rank-order shifts in engagement over time, is not “explained away” by long-term interest or demographics, and is neutral with respect to age, sex, and minoritized racial status. Engagement also predicts relative change in PBR, indicating the potential for a positive feedback loop. Chapter 5 synthesizes conclusions across studies, evaluates support for the subjective evaluation of badges hypothesis, and puts forth a continuing research agenda.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Higashi, Rossrmh57@pitt.edurmh570000-0002-2419-7771
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Thesis AdvisorSchunn, Christianschunn@pitt.eduschunn0000-0003-3589-297X
Committee MemberAkiva, Thomastomakiva@pitt.edutomakiva0000-0003-1872-0316
Committee MemberOgan, Amyaeo@cmu.edu0000-0003-2671-6149
Committee MemberPage, Lindsaylpage@pitt.edulpage0000-0001-5932-6791
Date: 24 September 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 July 2018
Approval Date: 24 September 2018
Submission Date: 30 August 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 183
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Learning Sciences and Policy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Digital badges, engagement, perceived relevance
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2018 19:15
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2018 19:15


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