I want to spend a little time gushing over Dr. Alicia Sanchez (@gamesczar) and Kris Rockwell (@krisrockwell). This experience we co-created in Sedona back in February, Up to All of Us, had an incubation at Parsons School of Design, organized by the wonderful Liz Burow (@burlix). One of the main takeaways from that incubator came from Elliot Felix (@elliotfelix) and Mark Raheja (@markraheja): if we were looking to generate a sense of belonging that would span beyond the event — if we were to design the entirety of the “Up to All of Us” experience — we needed a means to encourage engagement that could build up the interactions into something bigger.

"Gold Star" by katherine.a
“Gold Star” by katherine.a

One of the participants, Ellen Mendlow, suggested that we consider a game.As soon as she said that, I knew of only two people who could really help make that happen: Kris and Alicia. We all talked and they listened to me, as they would a client — intently. They asked lots of questions. Some of their questions were “annoying” — they were hard, necessary and revealed uncomfortable holes in what I thought was an easy and simple idea.Alicia came back a week later with the idea of everyone having a report card in which peers would provide “Gold Stars” (literally) to each other based on how a given person inspired, persuaded, helped, encouraged, etc. Additionally, there were spaces for notes that you could write to the intended receiver of your gold star sticker.  I’ll admit that it took me a while to get it. Once I got it, though, it was so very clearly the perfect approach.When this was put into practice at Up to All of Us, it was really special to see how it caught on.  Not everyone was doing it, but those who were took it very seriously.After Up to All of Us, I was neck deep into both the launch of “Tin Can” API at mLearnCon and the planning of Overlap12. I wanted to use Gold Stars for Overlap, and I also really wanted to make something, so I asked Kris if it was okay if I designed Gold Stars, translated into a web app, and we agreed provided that we make it open source. The team at Problem Solutionsdid that and we received some great advice on the formatting of our activity statements into rom David Ells and Megan Bowe at Rustici Software.As everyone left Chicago to make the road trip to western Michigan for Overlap12, goldstars.me was working — and, it was making Tin Can API statements.

In the implementation of Gold Stars for that weekend, not only were you encouraged to give out a star and pick out one of the chosen verbs, but a rationale for awarding the star. This, to me, is where the learning geekiness came into play: choosing a particular verb is interesting, but the rationale behind it spurred on higher-order cognition.

See, each gold star that’s given, on its own merits, is laughably banal. Overall, though, as a data set, depending on the buy-in for the tool (and the access to the internet, connection speed, etc)… it paints a seriously interesting picture in its own right of the dynamics that are made explicit. It isn’t an unbiased picture of what’s really going on in some given context, nor is it a complete picture — but it is a rich picture that connects people and their actions together in ways that can be measured; ways that can be analyzed.

One more little a-ha here: Gold Stars are sometimes given after-the-fact. Maybe it’s when some people reflect on who really made an impact. Maybe they saw that someone gave them a gold star and they feel like they must reciprocate out of some social order. Or maybe some people just save up their time to check things out at a later date. Either way, this clearly works as a summative means of information gathering. What I love seeing is when Gold Stars are given “in the moment,” as a means of formative information gathering.

It’s how people can “like” a conversation happening right in front of you, and how by “liking” that conversation, you’re allowing a lens into what might be so interesting that it should be remembered for later, even if the nature of the conversation is so serendipitous that it’s not easily captured.

Try it out. And, if you think it can/should be improved, let someone know… and/or fork it from GitHub and roll your own.