Thinking about Badges?

According to the Mozilla Open Badges project “A ‘badge’ is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest.”   I’ve been discussing their role in education and personal and professional development with a few colleagues for a couple of months. Whilst I am still undecided whether or not I really like the idea of them I saw a blog post from Scott Wilson this morning, and wrapped up in a wider discussion about open learning he made the following point:

“In an open education marketplace, it still makes sense for individuals to group together to reduce duplication and costs, and to add value by capitalising on their strengths. … As such groups become more successful, they exert market power, such as promoting the market value of their offerings through things like tokens of status for achievement, backed by the reputation of the provider.” (my emphasis)

He goes on to make the point that as they become widely used you end up where we are now, with a standardised, formal system.

There are other issues with badges; one of the compelling things for me about Open Education is the potential for random occurrences, serendipity and diversity. Badges may enforce structure, channelling learning opportunities and development routes. In addition someone needs to ‘award’ a badge, this implies a hierarchy, someone is in charge of defining how to get a badge, and the more badges you get the higher (implied) up the hierarchy you are.

There has been a lot of work done around encouraging deep learning, shying away from strategic or surface learning, where the approach is just enough. Many universities recognise that students do need to be able to articulate their skill sets, not just through the award of a degree certificate. To this end we have seen the growth in portfolios and e-portfolios , giving students the ability to demonstrate and articulate their skills, not just with tick box approach, but by clearly and carefully evidencing their work.

A badge system may lead to a ‘learning light’ approach where the gamification aspects loses the focus of learning. Rather than deep, we are offering yet another way of ‘students’ making strategic learning decisions, i.e. I only need to do this in order to get the badge.

For a more thorough discussion about badges I really recommend the Henry Jenkins piece: How to earn your skeptic “badge”

Oh and thanks for reading this, you now qualify for the following badge!

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  1. You make a number of persuasive points here Lawrie and I suspect you’re right on the money with “gamification aspects loses the focus of learning.” But surely this should only be the case and lead to ‘learning light’ if the learning opportunities are so designed and make no provision for deeper learning? If the badge is the goal for the learner then yes, perhaps that learning opportunity might have been better prepared. Which may then of course take us on to your points on hierarchies … 😉

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