Badge system design: investigating assumptions

Last week during the Open Badges community call, we introduced a new repeating discussion area: badge system design. (We’re considering expanding badge system design into a standing call of its own and so we’re testing the depth of interest within the existing community call.) The first few questions I posed to our call tribe were, “What assumptions are there about badges? What have you been running into in your discussions? Where do your assumptions lie?”

Karen Jeffreys of ForAllSystems was kind enough to share her thoughts with the group and this, in turn, acted as a catalyst for additional thoughts within the group. After her initial verbal response, during which I took notes, a number of others began a flurry of writing in the etherpad. Folks also began to verbally pour out their thoughts on this subject. Success! We had hit upon a previously untapped area that was worthy of exploration and conversation. It seems that there are a number of assumptions that everyone is working with as they progress through the discussion, creation and sharing of badges.

While the group wrote and spoke about a number of different areas—and we ran out of time on the call—their responses tended to fall into these categories.

  • Languages/terminology/semantics assumptions
  • Usage/sharing assumptions
  • Perceptions of badge types
  • Process assumptions
  • Technical assumptions
  • Educational assumptions
  • Risk/assessment assumptions

Languages/terminology/semantics assumptions
Let’s expand upon these assumptions a bit further, starting with the first bullet point. The languages/terminology/semantics area is fairly large and covers a variety of assumptions. In particular, our community members noted varying interpretations of the word “badge,” the use of metaphors or other descriptors for that word, such as “micro-credentials.” This is definitely an area we have heard before and one that we will continue to investigate.

Usage/sharing assumptions
The occurrence of usage assumptions appears to be on the rise as more people become aware of badges. This may be due in part to folks assuming that all badges represent learning, when badges can be used to indicate affiliation, as well as achievements that are not related directly to “learning.” Badge usage represents an area for further study as it relates to the life cycle of a badge: issuing, earning, sharing, consuming. With regards to the sharing assumption, we have been assuming that once badges are earned that there would be a ready marketplace for them, not only from a personal representation perspective, but also from a community appreciation of them. But there may also be reasons why people choose not to share their badges: deeper investigation into different demographical behavior patterns for sharing / not sharing is warranted.

Perceptions of badge types
Perceptions of badge types is linked to usage assumptions as well as audience assumptions. Since by their nature badges are so protean, they can be used to represent a huge variety of different concepts, things, ideas. Mozilla has been building badge systems based on three types of badges: participation, skill, and achievement, but there are many other ways to slice the badge type pie. Contextual understanding of the conceptual framework of a badge system is necessary to fully comprehend not only its goals but its success at achieving those goals.

Process assumptions
The process assumptions seem to stem from different interpretations of how a badge might be used—and how a badge system might be implemented. There are many types of badge systems, therefore they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. As we share our badge work with the world, it’s important to realize that how we think that our badges will be used or perceived may not match up with the ways that they are perceived. Issuers may have assumptions about how they fit into their process and yet, hiring organizations may have an entirely different set of assumptions about how best to use badges. To that end, research and reflexivity should be built into the process.

Technical assumptions
From Mozilla’s technical perspective, open badges can be relatively easy to implement. However, from an outsider’s perspective, or a non-technical perspective, they can seem like a wonderful solution that can only be viewed behind a glass window. Differing levels of technical expertise can make the creation of an open badge system seem complex. There are differing perceptions of the technical chops necessary to implement badges effectively. While badge creation and issuing platforms are easing the process every day, there are new concerns being raised about vetting, consumption methodologies, and open source requirements surfacing. We must remain vigilant about assumptions about technical implementation and ease of use.

Educational assumptions + Risk/assessment assumptions
Badges have been received into the educational world with open arms. Consequently, a variety of assumptions about usage within that environment and possible best practices have arisen, too. Assumptions are rampant about varying pedagogies, the dilution of educational efforts, the devaluation of formal credentials and the meaning and value of different types of assessment. Education is a cultural touchstone and masses of perceptions exist about how and what are the best ways to teach or to learn. What does it mean to introduce another form of assessment within the educational world? How will it be used and by whom? Badges help to expose many of our pre-existing tacit assumptions in this realm. Accordingly, it’s vital that we work to unpack the thinking associated with badge use within this existing, extremely complex system.

Conclusion
Badges open many doors to many solutions, but those doorways need to be investigated and understood as having their own meanings as well. The only conclusion to be reached here other than understanding that badges are dynamic, vital things that can be interpreted in many very different ways, is that it is useful to understand the contexts in which we are creating, sharing, disseminating and conversing about badges.

Thanks to the community for sharing their thoughts on assumptions. I invite you to share yours as well. More soon.

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7 thoughts on “Badge system design: investigating assumptions

  1. Pingback: Badge system design: investigating assumptions ...

  2. Daniel Hickey (@dthickey)

    I am sorry I missed this call but glad you did it and put together such a concise summary. Under Usage/Sharing I am happy to see that you use quote around “learning to set it apart from other usages such as affiliation. Doing so revealed your assumption that affiliation is not a form of learning; Others might assume that learning that someone is affiliated with something or someone is simply a specific type of learning.

    And I really appreciate your comments about the technical assumptions. While I am pretty knowledgeable about badges in general, I am not a programmer at al. So I continue to find it quite challenging to deal with technology, for example, when trying to get the badges gadget for Google sites working.

    Finally the comment about assessment arevery insightful and highly quotable. I particularly like this: :”What does it mean to introduce another form of assessment within the educational world? How will it be used and by whom? Badges help to expose many of our pre-existing tacit assumptions in this realm.” This gets at the heart of the argument that badges unpack the transformative potential of assessment, and should ultimately allow us to transcend many current constraints regarding accreditation, accountability, and research

    Reply
    1. carlacasilli Post author

      Hey Dan,
      Thanks for your comments. I am particularly grateful for your note about my own assumptions regarding affiliation as possibly separate from learning. You and I have had a chance to discuss this a bit before, where you shared a similar thought. So, I appreciate you once again reminding me that there are alternative ways to think about learning. In this case learning as operating within a larger framework that could be said to encompass virtually all interactions.
      Cheers,
      C.

      Reply
  3. tamritzlearning

    Thank you for this post. I did not have an opportunity to be on yesterday’s call, but I am grateful for this concise and thought-provoking summary.

    I am interested in the notion of sharing–who shares, who decides not to share? And for students bound by COPPA, what do we do with students who are in middle school when they turn 13? Is the backpack a portfolio that they “turn on” as they exit their 8th grade year? Where are the folks in the digital portfolio world and how are they viewing this? Is digital portfolio design including badges in their future systems design and technology infrastructure? What will these digital portfolios mean for students as they enter high schools and beyond?

    Looking forward to the conversations unfolding into the future. Thank you for all your deep thinking and for the transparent sharing.

    Reply
  4. Les Orchard

    I feel like much of my interest in badges has very little to do with learning, so I never really have much to contribute in those discussions.

    I’m more interested in badges as representations of gratitude (eg. awards & recognition); memorabilia (eg. “I was there”); and shared cultural context in a community (eg. memes & stickers on laptops).

    I guess all of those things can fall into participation, skill, and achievement buckets. But, in general, I see badges as little nuggets of intersecting significance between issuer and bearer. The issuer expresses significance by creating & issuing a badge. The bearer confirms it by pursuing, accepting, & displaying the badge. That includes learning, but also embraces a lot of other endeavors & scenarios.

    Reply
    1. Serge Ravet

      I fully support your point of view, Les. I very much like your understanding of badges as “little nuggets of intersecting significance between issuer and bearer.” This is as close as it can be to the true nature of badges, as I see them.

      While OB origins are strongly related to learning, what OBs are really about is ‘trust’ (what you describe is a ‘trust network’, isn’t it?). I believe that looking at badges from the sole point of learning could lead us to a dead end. Why? Because over 90% of so called ‘learning technologies’ are ‘impoverished technologies’ — take a ‘regular’ technology, remove 98% of it’s full potential, add 0.01% of ‘learning’ (in fact ‘teaching’) and call it ‘learning technology’ (think Drupal vs Mahara). Moreover while Google is not a ‘learning technology’, I learn more with Google than with all the Moodle of the world… Learning, trust, need general purpose technologies.

      While OB has the potential to become a general purpose technology, I would hate to see it reduced to a(n) (empoverished) ‘learning technology.’

      Reply
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