Some More Thinking About Badges


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Greg I. Hamilton

I looked back at some thoughts I had about badges a year or so ago, when some teachers I respect a lot were playing around with using them. Interestingly, I am not sure that my thinking has moved a lot on badges.

I certainly have earned some since then, getting a little bit of first-hand experience with them. In fact, this Beyond Letter Grades course offers them and my intent is to collect them all. Still, issuing badges in classes that I teach makes me a bit uncomfortable.

I probably can see more value in them than I could last year, but I am not sure exactly how much.

I want to like them more than I genuinely do.

General Reflection

I simply remain simultaneously fascinated and ambivalent about badges as a concept.

As I mentioned, what I keep struggling with is the actual value of badges. WIthin a particular community, I can see how they would symbolize some genuine achievement in that context. It is outside the issuing context that where I genuinely struggle. If anyone can create a badge, exactly what value do they have to the broader community? The obvious analogy to me is money. How much value does money have if anyone can mint as much as they want.

I like the idea of the granular and more discrete representation of skills and see where the concept has the most utility. I even like the idea of stealth rewards, although that strikes me as too much gamification.

I continue to be fascinated by the connection between gaming and education, even believing there to be some powerful possibilities. Yet, not everything is a game. I wonder if gamifying school simply trivializes the whole effort, but I remain woefully undecided.

At what point does all the gamification just become some grand self-absorbed, fantasy baseball-like scenario for the student? That is certainly not an environment in which I would want to teach. Plus, exactly how discrete or granular do things need to be?

The other thing genuinely question is how badges are truly all that different from task specific grades. I am not sure that I see a real difference just yet. Plus, the same problems still exists for the unengaged student. For them, will badges even matter? I have yet to be completely convinced.

Perhaps, I am too cynical, but badges strike me as having the best of “open” intentions, but unable to completely fulfill the promise. I mean just reading Plotting a Digital Badges Revolution in Orange County presented only a small window into a bewildering number of badge issuers, some of which are known entities and many that are not.

Consequently, issues of authority and validation exist for me. Just because I have achieved a some badges, doesn’t mean much unless someone takes the time to learn about the badges i have earned. There remain a lot of people that will not even click through links on a digital resume, which might help validate it. A good, honest resume and strong, compelling narrative have been pretty useful for a long time. I still wonder how would a badge system be better?

I also worry that human beings can easily be removed from the badge issuing process altogether. It strikes me as too easy to turn badge awards into an automated process of assessment, which almost always lacks nuance and understanding to me.

Reconsidering Badges

All this being said, I still am reticent to summarily dismiss the concept of badges. In fact, thinking about how to construct a couple of simple badges to achieve the badge for this course got me thinking more deeply about the concept again, after a lengthy layoff. So, here is what I conceived.

Created Badges

Image: Blog Badge
Blog Beginner – This badge demonstrates an ability to navigate the registration process for creating a blog, using one of the main stream tools, like Blogger or WordPress.
Image: Embed Badge
Multimedia Embedder – This badge demonstrates the ability to include and manage multimedia additions to blogposts, using embed codes.

Badge Purpose

Both of these are basic actions to begin blogging as a practice. Having just navigated ninth grade students through the process of creating blogs, I was amazed at how different the outcomes were across the classes. Some students, even classes, required little more than the stated goal of create a blog. Use Blogger or WordPress, since they are the most common. They successfully managed the process with enormous independence. Yet others were completely flummoxed, as if by the very concept.

Using badges for these kind of discrete skills could serve like a pre-assessment and differentiation strategy. Those who successfully complete the first badge, prior to a class session for example, can simply move onto the next badge in a sequence. Those that failed to complete the badge are automatically identified as needing additional support. This has the potential to make the whole process of beginning blogging as a regular practice speedier within a given time frame. If a larger sequence was designed for blogging, there could be tiered levels (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) with the higher levels potentially having expirations to endorse added continuity.

Badge Criteria

Blog Beginner

This badge would be issued to the student that successfully creates a blog, using one of the free platforms available, complete with an about page and three distinct posts. It recognizes the completion of the registration and set-up process, creation of an additional page, as well as beginning to create a few posts.

Multimedia Embedder

This badge would be issued to the student that successfully embeds multimedia enhancements in a handful of blog posts. Earning the badge would include examples of embedding a still image, a video, and audio recording, but not necessarily in the same post.

Badge Value

These badges would only be issued on the condition that strong evidence existed in the form of an actual blog, complete with domain, as well as the requisite number of pages and posts. The tasks involved in both badges are pretty straightforward in terms of being able to determine whether the criteria was met. If the blog exists and can be found, it is a quick couple of clicks to verify that the criteria has been met. These are basic badges for the novice just beginning to experiment with blogging.


2 thoughts on “Some More Thinking About Badges

  1. Tyler Shadick

    I enjoyed reading this! I don’t know how I feed about widespread gamification in society. I think you might be interested in Seth Priebatsch’s TED Talk that suggests such a society is coming (although I’m pretty sure he fully embraces it).

    As for badges themselves, I think it’s good to be skeptical. I disagree with automated badges in the sense that they shouldn’t be used in a portfolio. They may be great feedback that could motivate engagement, but I don’t think they should be shared unless they assess or document anything meaningful. I’m also skeptical of individuals assigning badges for subjects they don’t themselves have credibility in.

    I think this issue of badge value can be redeemed through proper curation and attribution of badges. Curation in the sense that you’re only choosing to show relevant badges depending on who’s examining it and for what reason. Attribution allows you to expand upon the metadata of the badge: “I reflected on my experience here:” or “The badge issuer, Bernard Bull, is a Professor of Educational Design & Technology and has…”.

    For an example of how Mozilla Backpack shares badges, here’s my Badges and Badging Systems collection (to my knowledge, I cannot share my entire Mozilla Backpack, only collections from it):

    Lastly, I also heard that Mozilla (who took the lead in developing the framework for open badges) was working on the ability for others to “endorse” a badge that someone else issues. This might also help preserve/enhance the value of badges.

    1. Fred Haas - @akh003 Post author


      Thanks fore reading and such great feedback. The links are great information. I haven’t seen the Seth Priebatsch’s TED Talk, but I have definitely seen Jane McGonigal’s about gaming. I look forward to viewing this new one. Also, thanks for sharing your backpack, it is a good example and brave to share.

      I do think there are possibilities with badges, I just haven’t had that moment where it clicks and I can see exactly how I could make them work. Plus, there is a lot of effort in building the system for students only to see it all go rather pear shaped. However, I do think perhaps co-opting something like Mozilla badges or another established badge system could be a good place to start. I just worry that it is a new-boss-is-same-as-the-old-boss scenario with elite credential issuing agencies.

      Again, thanks for the conversation. I really appreciate it.



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