Badge(r)s! What about the snake?

Badges. Open badges even. [cue music: Badger, badger, badger, badger…] They’re, like, totes popular right now, you know?

This is not a post about open badges, per se. Nor their application in a learning situation. This is not a discussion of their validity. All sorts of other people are talking about the “why” and the technical aspect of “how”. I want talk about the snake in the grass – the policy implications that need to be considered for any organisation looking to implement (or allow individual teaching facilitators to individually implement) them.

The topic came up recently in discussions with my colleagues and our clients who are keen to use badges in their Higher Education academic courses. As an example, a student is awarded open badges for completing assessments in a paid tertiary-level course. They are awarded extra badges for reaching certain grades, that may not necessarily reflect their achievement across the whole course. These badges are added to their LinkedIn profile, resume and similar. Potential employers can then see that they “achieved” a level of competency in a certain part of that course – is that accurate, fair, appropriate, scalable?

The questions I’m pondering are:

  • If a lecturer adds a badge to the course, is it provided by the lecturer or the institution?
  • If the university is the provider, do they need to review each badge and the criteria for its issuing?
  • How will badges sit alongside formal qualifications in the formal paid tertiary education sector?

I’m going to ponder the last question first. An easy answer could be to say that badges are implemented as motivation for engagement during the course, rather than completion of assessment. In this scenario, the criteria for a badge issue might be to participate in group activities, contribute to discussions, provide assistance/commentary/feedback to peers, even submitting assessment pieces on time. When badges are awarded for assessment/grade achievement is when, in my opinion, the lines can blur if the institution does not have a clear policy on how the badges are awarded.

Erin Knight from the Mozilla Foundation states that they’ve moved past the “what if” to “now what” but it’s not clear if she’s referring to the Open Badges organisation or the eLearning community. One conclusion I’ve come to is that many of our [NetSpot/Blackboard] clients and organisations in the Moodle community are at the very beginning of their exploration with badges, now is an opportune time to think past the “what if” to the “now what” from an implementation point of view. I’ve seen (first-hand and via twitter) many presentations and articles discussing why organisations should use badges and how to incorporate them into an LMS or other software. We should be taking advantage of this momentum to pause, take a step back and think bigger – What does it mean to use badges? What will our strategy for issuing them be? How do we need to configure our systems/processes/policies to meet that?

Thinking back to the first two questions I’m pondering, I found an excellent resource that could help institutions structure their dialogue and decision-making about implementing badges. Carla Cassili, Project Lead at Mozilla Open Badges, shared the Badge System Design Template that encourages a badge issuer to consider first their goals for using badges, their internal resources to support them, then the badge specific information such as criteria and design, much like one would complete to achieve any effective eLearning/technology implementation.

I’m sure there’s plenty more that I haven’t thought of, so let me know in the comments what I’ve missed. Where are you in your badges implementation? What are the sticking points for you?

snake by John C Abell, on Flickr CC-BY NC SA

One thought on “Badge(r)s! What about the snake?

  1. One of the reasons these questions come up is because badges arrive at an individual institution in a crowded policy space: policy for the use of institutional name, policy for use of institutional logo, delegations of authority policies, policies for awarding credentials etc.

    Out of these we have knit together fairly laborious requirements, for example, for setting up Moodle certificates, and the process is certainly laborious enough to stop too many people wanting to certify anything.

    But then up pop badges, and we’re just not sure if badges are like certificates, testamurs, transcripts or … maybe they’re just like grades, or cupcakes, or progress bars, or easter eggs, or that moment when you unlock a level or find diamonds in the mine or …

    What I think will really help the whole sector is some kind of pause to develop a consistent approach, because badges aren’t really like anything. They’re just like themselves. They offer something new, that might genuinely enable us to design new approaches to encouraging learners and helping learners keep track of themselves.

    Lovely post, so helpful.

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