I’m joining the ranks of those increasingly interested in emerging work around digital badging as an incentivization, engagement, assessment, and credentialing tool in online and f2f instruction. This (along with MOOCs, the lumbering giant that apparently never needs a nap) was a topic of considerable interest at LITA’s Top Technology Trends panel, which I had the pleasure of participating in this year.
For those totally new to badges, an EDUCAUSE 7 Things publication gives the fundamentals, not to mention ye olde Wikipedia. Mozilla is heavy in the game, as is the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC, who recently recommended a series of best design principles for badge creation. Also, Bohyun Kim, Nicole Pagowsky, and assorted awesome others gave a library gamification session at ALA Annual.
My take is that badges are an excellent means to engage and assess learners using a game-oriented way, creating and communicating clear criteria to be metand tasks to be mastered in order to progress towards milestones one would actually want to achieve. Developing a series of opt-in as well as requisite badges in a formal (or informal) instruction context gives learners agency to determine their own interests and level of engagement: a far cry from a one-size-fits-all assignment + here’s your B- type of approach. Not that all badges are born digital or even need to exist digitally, mind you: they are as simple as gold stars, card punches, and any other way you can imagine to recognizing participation and encourage more of it: teachers and trainers in libraryland (and everywhere else, for that matter) will recognize the power and importance of such things.
A tweet from a #ala2013ttt audience member @katieum summarizes this well: “As a librarian & #girlscout leader, I’m fascinated by digital badging. Going to be fun see that develop.” I can think of no better underlying metaphor for what badges represent: a recognizable and desirable mark of achievement shared among a community of practice as evidence of merit, skill, and/or accomplishment. The shot to the right is from a simple “repeat offender” incentive card system for staff training I created at Claremont: easy and effective – attend seven times, earn a modest gift card.
what makes a badge?
From my perspective the key competencies needed to create a viable badging system are content expertise, assessment acumen, insight into learner motivation, design skill, technical savvy, and (last but not least) a decent sense of humor.
I recently created a series of eight simple badges for the new ACRL Immersion Teaching with Technology program (hereafter TwT), currently in its first active iteration and going gangbusters as far as I’m concerned. I can say without a doubt that creating these badges has brought much-needed levity into an otherwise grueling course design process, and has engaged a new perspective on how to reward and recognize work within a digital learning context.
More on the TwT badges below, but I wanted to mention right out that the best use of digital badging I have seen in libraryland (like, to a jealousy-inducing degree) comes from Andrew Battista, who developed a wonderful course called Curation Culture that used digital badges heavily throughout. I cannot really express how impressed I am with Andrew’s forward-thinking work in this area: he has a forthcoming chapter in (text title tba from McFarland Press) on badging and I can pretty much guarantee an engaging read when it’s available. This quote from Andrew sums up his approach to creating badges in the Curation Culture course:
[I developed] these badges via the WordPress/BuddyPress platform. BuddyPress has a secondary plug-in called Achievements, which allows you to create and award badges. What I like about it is that once someone is granted an account on the blog, Buddypress automatically creates a kind of digital portfolio. To make the badges, I had a couple of photoshop-savvy colleagues help me generate some basic swatches and then start coming up with badge concepts. Once we got rolling, it was fairly easy to make multiple badges. I think in the end, we generated something like 50-60 of them. Then, once you upload them to Buddypress, you can stipulate under which conditions a badge is awarded. The blog admin(s) can either award badges manually by assigning them to specific users, or they can be awarded automatically (I think a good badge system must have both, to motivate participation). For instance, on my site, users automatically get a badge for uploading a profile pic, writing a blog post, etc.). You can also keep some achievements hidden, which I think is a good element (here, I basically just took cues from Foursquare; it’s always fun to earn a badge you didn’t know existed!). I assigned a point value to each badge so the leaderboard/competition factor would work. This was somewhat arbitrary, but in general I tried to keep in consideration factors like how easy/hard I thought it would be for students to earn a badge, how much creativity was required, how important a certain platform or literacy was to our class, etc.).
– via email exchange, Mar 16 2013
myob & twt
I made the TwT badges using the lowest barrier to entry (technically speaking) open badge creation platform I have been able to find, badg.us (plus Adobe Illustrator for the graphics). In Immersion TwT participants have already received their First Day Survivor badge, a Cohort Awesomeness badge for amazing group cohesion the our f2f workshop, a few have been deemed Generally Awesome, and those who engage in good faith will be awarded a badge related to each Module as they move through the course, plus a graduation badge. All can be integrated into Mozilla’s Badge Backpack, which is a place to store and share the badges one accumulates from different courses and contexts. Badg.us allows nominations, generates badge redemption codes, and allows for easy badge editing and activity tracking. What is does not offer is easy/seamless integration into more advanced aspects of badge implementation within formal course sites and learning management settings, such as the leaderboards that are key to demonstrating achievement and inserting a game learning element of competition.
One drawback to implementing a badging systems in resource poor or lo-fi contexts is the technical competency needed to create an auto-populating leaderboard and badge tracking/awarding system using a course platform and Mozilla’s Open Badge framework. Curation Culture used the WordPress plugin, for example – my TwT collaborator Tiffini Travis and I have found a few examples badge leaderboards in Canvas (the LMS we’re using for TwT), but with no ready plug-in available our own leaderboard would be a significant manual management task.
I’m starting to see the potential for learner-developed badges, where the possibilities are somewhat limitless and quite exciting: for example, in our f2f TwT workshop day that begins the five-week online portion of the #immtwt2013 course, several participants asked if they could create their own badge for the program: a brilliant request that I’m not building into the course as an open option. Very interested to see the results: our first cohort is impressive, so I have no doubt that those that come through will be awesome.
the bitter end
In this age of rubrics, dashboards, and evidence-based-everything, it is our obligation as educators to breathe as much life into the (inevitable and important) evaluation process as humanly possible – as much for our own sake as that of our learners.
The significance of digital badging and its relation to the core disruption offered by MOOCs can perhaps be easily overlooked. In a formal credentialing system as tightly controlled (e.g., accreditation) as higher education, any legitimate means of awarding evidence of competencies earned external to this system (for example, a badge in basic coding granted upon completing a massive enrollment or Khan Academy course is a significant departure from traditional practice. If digital badges developed using Mozilla’s Open Badge Framework feature rigorous and reasonable criteria, there may indeed emerge a craft accomplishment system in which formal affiliation with an institution is not necessary for recognized skills. And address the soemething-for-nothing fears held by many where badging for real skills is concerned.