SCoPE Seminar: Digital Badges Implementation

Peter Rawsthorne  spoke to the SCoPE community about badge system design and implementation in a live webinar last night. See the SCopE site for a recording

Peter is a mine of information  about this subject (see his blog). It seems that digital badges are probably here to stay. Some pretty heavyweight organizations appear to be investing in them –  see Peter’s post An introduction to badge systems design. Some current key questions for those in the digital badges community seem to be around

  • how to come up with a common international standard for badges
  • how to develop the technology to easily design and issue badges

What has been most interesting for me during this seminar, is my own feeling of discomfort with all this discussion about badges. I have been reflecting on why.

First I was reminded in last night’s webinar of Etienne Wenger’s ‘purple in the nose’ story. When meeting a friend to share a glass of wine, he suddenly realized that his wine-tasting friend (who described wine using an unknown language – ‘purple in the nose’), was a member of a community to which Etienne did not belong. Etienne had to decide whether he wanted to belong to that community and learn that language. I have felt the same about this seminar. I feel ‘outside’ this community of digital badge enthusiasts.

Maybe those involved in designing and implementing badges have already been through the questions which remain for me; questions about the credibility of these badges, their value, their integrity, their status, what they represent, who they represent and so on.

A most telling comment for me in the SCoPE discussion forum has been

‘More hack, less yak!”

Our facilitator has clearly been frustrated that the group has been ‘yakking’ about the issues rather than getting on and completing the tasks. As he put it, with good humour, ‘Sheesh…. What a bunch of academics <big smile>’

So I still wonder whether the badge system will promote the ‘completion of tasks’ approach to learning, more than a focus on developing a depth of understanding.

The word that kept going through my head in last night’s webinar was ‘control’.  The discussion of the design and implementation of badge systems made me wonder whether this could ultimately disempower learners rather than empower them. Given that my current research interests are related to emergent learning, I am struggling to see where digital badges would fit with this.

There was a brief discussion at the end of the webinar about the possibility of individual self-directed learners designing their own badges and legitimizing them.  For me this was the most interesting aspect of the discussion. I would have liked more ‘yak’ on this 🙂 .

Finally I wonder whether the earning of badges will be more important to some learners than others and if so, what the reasons for this might be.  I say this because one member of my family is very keen to earn and collect badges, whereas I don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for it.

#digitalbadges: SCoPE seminar on Digital Badges

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 20.13.25

(screenshot from Peter Rawsthorne’s presentation)

Peter Rawsthorne is facilitating a lively two week seminar in the SCoPE community on the concept and implementation of Digital Badges. This is how he describes his intentions for the seminar

During this two-week seminar we will explore digital badges from concept through to implementation. The seminar will focus on the possible pedagogies and technology required for implementing digital badges. We will also take a critical look at the current state of digital badges with discussion of the required and possible futures. If you have a few hours to read and discuss focused topics and participate in two mid-day webinars then please join is this lively learning experience focused on digital badges.

As well as the discussion forums there are two web conferences – the first took place last night. Details of the seminar and conferences can be found here – http://scope.bccampus.ca/mod/forum/view.php?id=9010

The seminar has been designed to be task driven and with the intention of awarding badges on completion, based on a 3 badge system design

  1. Learner badge – person introduces themselves to the group via the discussion forum and contributes to a couple of discussion threads. Mostly, they could be considered lurkers (much can be learned through lurking)
  2. Participant badge – person introduces themselves to the group via the discussion forum and actively contributes to 7 of the 12 primary discussion threads, also participates in one of the two lunch-and-learn sessions.
  3. Contributor badge – does everything the participant does with the addition of contributing;
    • by designing badge images
    • creating a badge system design for another curriculum
    • blogs about their participation in this seminar series
    • other creative endeavours regarding digital badges

The daily tasks that have been posted so far are

Task 1  

  • Identify a merit badge you earned during your lifetim
  • Describe how you displayed the merit badges

Task 2   

  • Identify the digital and internet technologies best suited to create a digital merit badge
  • Describe the technologies that could be used to attach (reference or link) the learning to the digital badge

Task 3  

  • Identify the completion criteria for any badge you have earned (traditional or digital)
  • Describe the hierarchy or network of badges

Task 4

  • Identify a variety of sites that issue badge
  • Describe the skills, knowledge and curriculum the badges represent

Some sites that reference badges that have been mentioned in the forums…

From the synchronous webinar last night Peter Rawsthorne made the point that there are 4-5 billion people on the planet who are not attending school. How will their achievements/accomplishments be recognized? I think the idea is that learning that happens outside traditional settings should be honoured and recognized.

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 20.14.29

(Screenshot from Peter Rawsthorne’s presentation)

At this point I feel a bit skeptical about the whole thing, but it is very early days. Three questions I have at this time are:

  • Will badges promote quality learning or will they simply encourage people to ‘jump through hoops’?

For example – I notice in the discussion forums that there is in fact, very little discussion. The tasks are being completed but there is little discussion about them. Completing tasks does not necessarily lead to quality learning.

  • Will badges be ‘recognised/valued’ by employers – will they need to be?

Verena Roberts in last night’s webinar wrote ‘Do badges need to lead to something, or identify a person’s passion?’ For me, I don’t need a badge to identify a personal passion, but I might need one for my CV, depending on the context and my personal circumstances.

  • Will badges stifle creativity and emergent learning?

There has been discussion about how badges fit together and Gina Bennett (in the webinar) thought that the ‘Scouts’ have the badge thing really figured out.  But for me that model is based on a very ‘linear’ way of thinking about learning, whereas research has shown that even small children (for example when learning mathematics), don’t learn in a linear way – they go backwards, forwards and sideways. Frogmarching children (and adults) through a curriculum has always been a problem for curriculum design and the award of badges based on a linear approach might just reinforce this.