Sunday, June 8, 2008

What's in a name badge

So here's a technique I'd like to try in the fall, especially in my larger courses. Let me first describe the technique then explain why I'm interested in trying it.

The plan is that on the first day of class, I'll distribute name badges to each student and have them write their names on the badges (I'm thinking of semi-permanent name badges rather than simply stickers). I'd collect the badges at the end of each class. When the next class meets, I then randomly place the badges on desks in the classroom, thus gently suggesting where students should sit. I'd plan to do this before each class meeting.

So why go to this trouble?
  1. I'll learn students' names more quickly. Always a problem for me, I confess!
  2. This moves the students around so as to break up chatty groups. We all know how disruptive a few talkative students can be.
  3. This discourages those with, ahem, not-so-learning-conducive behaviors from congregating in the back of the class. We've been discussing these folks lately: the laptop-using, cellphone-abusing crowd.
  4. It mixes up the group work mix. When I ask students to work in groups, this will ensure that they don't always form the same groups.
I can think of some downsides, but does this seem like a good idea?


  1. Anything that can help you learn your students names or get them talking to one another is a good thing to try. The most obvious challenge is going to be compliance. In one class in college I had a professor try a similar thing, only he offered extra credit (a 100 on a quiz grade) if we kept the nametags throughout the semester. It was a fairly small class and worked well for maybe 1/3 of the classes before everyone stopped.

    Good Luck!

  2. It doesn't sound like a bad plan, although you would want to first ensure that students with particular needs were not moved about. Somebody may have a physical reason for proximity to exits or the front of the classroom. Sudden urgent washroom breaks, mobility, hearing/vision problems, for instance. My wife falls into the mobility bit, and while most profs and fellow students take this into account, not all do, and it's a cause for concern at times.

  3. I'm not sure about this. On the one hand, I hate students who talk during my lecture and are disruptive. But do I really want them at the front of the class? On the other hand, they're not children and shouldn't be treated as such. Even if they do comply, although I don't think they will, they're missing out on a valuable lesson: to be responsible for their own learning and education.

    If you really have trouble with names, try a name game at the beginning of the first day of class. Something where they each have to give an adjective that begins with the same letter as their name. Or, as one of my old profs did, get a Polaroid camera and record their pictures and their names.

  4. Thanks to everyone for their feedback. A couple of additional thoughts:

    mikep - Good heads up on the mobility issue. Maybe I should modify the statement on my syllabus about disabilities to account for this concern?

    Compliance might be a problem, but maybe one way to massage this issue is to use this tactic for, say, the first third of the quarter and then sort of hope that its effects persist. I've found that when students behave in uncooperative ways, it's usually because I didn't offer resistance early enough, so maybe this will set the right tone -- in a gentle way.

    And I guess I'm not biting on the 'they're not children' line here. No, I don't want to treat them like grade schoolers. While I can't speak for everyone, many of my students are physical adults, but academic adolescents who need to be provided a structured atmosphere in order to learn. After all, I'm responsible for their education in a sense too!


If you wish to use your name and don't have a blogger profile, please mark Name/URL in the list below. You can of course opt for Anonymous, but please keep in mind that multiple anonymous comments on a post are difficult to follow. Thanks!