Tag Archives: badge pathways

Badges: what comes between & before

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“Dryland” ©2011 Dennis Kleine, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

As I’ve been thinking through the concept of badges and how folks might interact with them from a systems standpoint, I keep coming returning to the idea of the void. The empty space around a badge. Not just what comes between the earning of one badge to the next but also what comes before earning a badge.

As we’ve seen badge systems being developed, we’ve repeatedly heard questions similar to these: What [conceptual] size should I make my badges? How foundational should their criteria be? Should I create levels for our badges? What about developing meta-badges, don’t they begin to recreate the existing system, replicate existing power structures?

These questions reveal a fascinating and somewhat unexplored area of badges: what, if anything, exists between a badge and no badge? And to torture a zen metaphor: what is the sound of an unearned badge?

Some folks have taken a page from games and begun using points in their badge systems. This presents an interesting discussion point. And while I’ll share my thoughts on this below, I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions on it as well.

I’d like to suggest that we consider something other than points. And here’s why: points seem to me to move badges in the direction of counting, accruing, and quantification. Counting up or down until you’ve achieved a certain number of points. There’s something about points that seems to whisper, “This is a reward system, nothing else.” They seem gamification-ized and not in a way that promotes investigation, interest, or enjoyment.

Because it’s the Mozilla view—and mine, too—that badges act as recognition of activities, learning, achievements, affiliations, etc., the concept of badges as a reward seems antithetical. So I’d like to suggest that we consider a concept that I first heard about back during the third and final pitch phase of the 2012 DML Competition, Badges for Lifelong Learning. The suggested solution that I reference here comes from The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt. Their discussion of tokens as things between badges and nothing struck a chord within me and continues to do so.

The issuing of tokens is tremendously appealing to me for a variety of reasons:

  1. Tokens can allow for the creation of rigorous, deep and complex badges;
  2. Tokens can be used to acknowledge incremental progress toward a goal;
  3. Tokens can highlight and encourage traversing multiple pathways to meaningful, socially valuable badges;
  4. Tokens can streamline the signal to noise ratio by de-cluttering the system;
  5. With tokens you can build in functional pathways that allow for repeated attempts (read failure);
  6. They can function as stand-ins for badge levels, thereby simplifying badge systems;
  7. Tokens can reinforce badge systems goals by communicating in an internal and highly contextual fashion while permitting badges to act as truly interoperable, social currency.

Now that’s not to say that we’re going to be introducing tokens into the ecosystem anytime soon, but it is to say that I’m floating this idea to see if it resonates. And if so, let’s work together to figure out what our next steps might be.


Much more soon.

P.S.
Yes, the pathways posts are coming along as are the additional CSOL posts!

Badge Camp + Open Badges badges

pattern

“Pattern” ©2004 Zach Chandler, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Open Badges team has been sprinting on one thing or another for months now. At this point, it may be more apt to call what we’ve been doing a badge marathon rather than a series of badge sprints. And so, it’s high time for some much needed reflection and introspection. Perhaps some navel-gazing is in order. So, yeah, we’re about to participate in a team badge camp. Did I mention that it’s in Maine? Vacationland? Niiiice.

We probably all have ideas about summer camp: some summer-long sleep-away camps, some day camps, some great experiences, some we’d like to forget. Just like the term badges, the word camp carries a lot of baggage with it, too. (It’s a noun, it’s a verb, it’s an adjective: what can’t it do?) But we digress, let’s talk agenda.

A time for reflection—and swimming
Our badge camp will be the first ever for us as a team: a week long experience packed full of sun, water, food, drink, exercise and, wait for it… badges. Well, really badge thinking. But hey, this is camp and so in addition to the prerequisite navel-gazing, we’ll also be doing some arts and crafts, too. Yes! Arts and crafts! Who doesn’t love that? And that means we’ll be making badges. Markers. Felt. Glue. Bedazzling.

I want to wear it
We’ll be constructing both virtual badges and real, physical badges. Sure, this approach is a bit beyond where we started with badges—as digital representations of experiences, affiliations, learning. But over the last year and a half, our badge exploits and our community’s badge exploits have taught us a thing or two about physical objects. The power of the physical object cannot be overestimated. There’s something about being able to physically interact with an object—to touch it, to subconsciously weigh it, to roll it around in your hands—that turns it into not just a thing but a talisman.

Badges as talismen
So as we’re combing the beach for treasures, we’ll create a few talismen of our own. These badges we create may not translate beyond next week, but the act of creating them should prove informative and will help us consider what makes a badge special and where its power might lie. Our primitive badge making will be transporting us into the world of issuers and earners, soaking us in what it means to actively participate in badge system design.

Open Badges badges
Yes, there’s method behind this felt + marker + bedazzling craft-y madness. Recently our team created a questionnaire for the Open Badges team to complete. Its primary purpose? To unearth all of the hidden, unspoken, barely-floating-at-conscious-level thoughts about badges. What each member of the team thinks of them, what they’d like to see be created and issued, if there is a single badge that might represent them precisely, what excites them about badges and what makes them sad about badges. We’re diving into the unconscious world of our own hopes and dreams for badges. Our goal? To develop a way to acknowledge/recognize/appreciate/reward our badge tribe. In short, we want to make badges for and about Open Badges.

Patterns + pathways
While we’re frolicking in sun and sand, we’ll be sorting through the responses to our badge questionnaire, looking for patterns. Those patterns will reveal some potential next steps—some possible pathways for recognition. But like the sand on the beach, new patterns will arise with each successive wave.  So, even after badge camp we’ll keep at it—investigating our values and our community’s values, responding to what’s most meaningful, delving into what constitutes and enhances group participation, enlarging our own understandings of badge systems—so we can create useful, compelling Open Badges badges for all.

Of course, I’ll keep you apprised of what we learn and what’s next. Right now, I wish you glad summer tidings.

Much more soon.

P.S.
Yes, the pathways posts are still in progress as are the additional CSOL posts! Hang in there with me. :)

Chicago Summer of Learning: thoughts on badge design

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 10.27.37 PMIn my initial post about the Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL) badge system, I quickly sketched out the rough outline of it. In this post we’ll talk through the components of CSOL badge design and the rationale that led to our decisions about them. First, a quick two sentence recap of what CSOL is and what it seeks to accomplish. The Chicago Summer of Learning is the first citywide implementation of an open badge system. It includes in-school badge-issuing programs as well as out-of-school and governmental badge-issuing programs—all of them focused on combatting the summer learning drop off.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts and as I noted during this week’s Open Badges Community call, there are a number of considerations associated with design and badge design in particular. While it can be argued that content defines a good deal of the social value of a badge, visual appearance also plays a significant role.* Visual processing accounts for half of the human brain’s operational capacity so it follows that how something looks can alter how it’s perceived. With that in mind, as I imagined the visual badge system that would arise from a panoply of organizations issuing disparate badges, my years of experience in design consulting told me that a strong shape with a required set of elements would bring conceptual cohesion, reduce visual confusion, and provide a much needed sense of family, a unifying principle if you will, to the group.

A template to the rescue
With these desires in mind, we created a badge design template that was hexagonal in shape with a banner draped across it that included 2 blue stripes and 4 red stars.

badgetemplate

The banner design referenced the iconic elements found on the City of Chicago’s flag. This template served a variety of purposes:

  1. it identified each of these badges as Chicago Summer of Learning badges;
  2. it created a cohesive and easily understood family of badges despite being assembled from very different organizations;
  3. it provided the city with an easy way to find, reference, and display badges as a full set not only during the experience but afterwards as well;
  4. it branded the badges as Chicago specific; and
  5. it provided a way for issuing organizations to indicate to the public and to future funders that they had participated in the groundbreaking experience of CSOL.

Our goal with the template was to provide a Chicago flavor to the badges and indicate a family feel while allowing enough room for organizations to customize badges to suit their needs. So, how did this fly? This template arrived in a way that may have seemed like an edict to some and yet it was perceived as a gift by others. Nevertheless, with the imposition of such a strong requirement to participate in the system—and it was an absolute requirement for all entry level badges—there were additional issues for the team to work through together. Some organizations already had pre-existing badges that didn’t fit the new template; some organizations had no access to designers; and some organizations had no strong design style or branding to implement.

A badge design tool for all
Since one of our goals for the template was to ease folks’ fear of design in general—particularly those who were organizationally or financially challenged—we also developed a badge design tool. The beauty of this tool, Badge Studio, developed by Atul Varma & Jess Klein, was its adaptability. If an organization had little to no design expertise, using it one could pull together a respectable looking badge that had all of the required elements. On the other hand if an organization had experienced design staff or access to professional designers, the template could be manipulated quite easily to accommodate unusual visual elements or objects that extended beyond the hexagonal shape.

For the organizations who already had existing badges, we suggested resizing them and dropping them into the hexagonal portion of the template—or we provided them with an Illustrator template. Since all of the organizations with pre-existing badges had design staff or access to professional designers, this option worked out quite well.

Issues of branding
Since Mozilla was tasked with addressing the first two badge levels of the CSOL experience, entry level badges and city level STEAM badges, we focused solely on a family appearance. To that end, we did not develop standards for color use or typography—two important mainstays of a branding system. However, we did provide some recommendations regarding type use. That suggestion was to avoid using type unless it remained readable & legible at highly reduced sizes. We also suggested avoiding type as the sole indicator of different badge levels, e.g., beginner, intermediate, advanced.

Indeed, we shared with the badge issuing organizations that badge design is akin to logotype or mark design in that it has similar constraints. Badges need to read at both small sizes (50 x 50 pixels) and larger sizes (600 x 600 pixels). Happily, most organizations succeeded in making their own branding work comfortably with the new badge template wrapper.

As for the city level STEAM badges, they hewed to the hexagonal structure and incorporated the word Chicago in them. Using her previously designed entry level badge template as a starting point, Mozilla’s Jess Klein designed three sets of beautiful S-T-E-A-M badges. After a comprehensive review and discussion, the larger team selected the style that hearkened back to the Chicago Summer of Learning identity program.

CSOL city-level STEAM badges

See the lovely results above for yourself. Each badge visually references the subject area that it represents; take a moment or two to admire the layered meaning embedded in each one of these badges. They’re wonderful examples of badge designs that function as well as a group as they do independently.

As to the top level badges of the CSOL experience—the city-wide challenge learning experiences badged by Hive Chicago and the Digital Youth Network—they function in a somewhat separate aesthetic because the use of the badge design template was not a requirement for their development. Subsequently, the shapes and colors of the challenge badges issued by these organizations may appear significantly different than the entry level or city-level badges. They do not all retain the Chicago flag banner and they may be shapes other than hexagonal.

Retraining the focus
After all of this discussion of the visual design of the badges, it’s important to consider why this badge system came into being. The learning is what’s important here: the badges act as various representations of that learning. We are really pleased to see the beautiful, mixed bouquet of badges that resulted from working with a simple standard template combined with the challenge badge accents. This summer provides a test bed for not only open badges but also summer programs and the nascent tie between in school and out of school learning. We could not be more excited.

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As always, I welcome your thoughts. In the next few blog posts we’ll cover the badge system hierarchy including the type of badge system CSOL represents, thoughts on assessment, team requirements, plus an examination of additional tools built for this endeavor.

So yes, much more soon.
carla [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

notes & references
*It’s worth noting that while I strongly suggest that design play a role from the beginning of the process, obsessive concerns about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the visual appearance of a badge can stunt or entirely inhibit development. Still, content + design = a whole that is unmatched by its individual parts.

During the July 10, 2013 Open Badges community call, I paraphrased a quote by Massimo Vignelli (1998), designer of the iconic NYC subway map and wayfinding, that I found in an intriguing book of interviews, Design Dialogues. You can find that quote below.

There are two kinds of graphic designers: One is rooted in history and semiotics and problem-solving. The other is more rooted in the liberal arts—painting, figurative arts, advertising, trends and fashion. These are really two different avenues. The first kind is more interested in looking to the nature of the problem and organizing information. That’s our kind of graphic design. To me, graphic design is the organization of information. The other kind is interested in the look and wants to change things all the time. It wants to be up-to-date, beautiful, trendy.
(M. Vignelli, 1998)

Chicago Summer of Learning 2013: thoughts on developing a citywide badge system

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 10.27.37 PMFor the last few months we, the Mozilla Open Badges team, have been working together with a number of other groups and the City of Chicago to launch an amazing and exciting learning campaign: the Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL). Here’s the Mozilla Blog post introducing CSOL and Erin Knight’s comprehensive discussion of it. CSOL represents the first intrepid step by a city to implement an open badge ecosystem across an entire city. That bears repeating. The third most populous city in the United States issuing open badges.

Thanks to our partners
CSOL was—and is—an incredibly exciting project with many different aspects and we were extremely pleased and honored to work on it with various fantastic people from the following organizations: the City of Chicago; the MacArthur Foundation, Digital Youth Network; Hive Chicago; Ci3 at the University of Chicago and The Creativity Labs at Indiana University.

A badge system design of this size and of this effort provides immense fodder for discussion, so this first post will be a brief recap painted with broad brushstrokes of some of our experience thus far. And suffice it to say that we have learned a lot—and we still have much to learn. Over the next two weeks I’ll follow up this post with additional posts that delve into more exacting detail on the system, its development and the rationale behind it.

But first a peek into the larger world that contains this badge system. Our design process included and addressed: issuing organizations, funding organizations, legal conditions, multiple audience needs, political considerations, academic concerns, standards alignment, distribution requirements, access capabilities, motivational discussions, socioeconomic problems, visual representation issues, employment possibilities, and varying levels of technical expertise. Certainly, not every badge system needs to or should address this many dependencies but it’s to be expected that as the size of the badge system increases, so does its propensity to surface increasing numbers of issues.

Learning: the primary motivation
Summer learning drop off is a problem that has plagued schools & students for years. The Chicago Summer of Learning was aimed squarely at this issue. Working closely with numerous issuing organizations (~100), we developed methodologies to ensure that the many disparate badges worked together as a system—both from a content standpoint as well as a visual standpoint.

The city chose STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) as the badge system framework. This relatively strict taxonomy helped to guide the architecture of the system by providing useful parameters for the smaller, more operationally challenged organizations new to badges while also presenting potential touch points for the larger, more established organizations offering comprehensive learning opportunities.

Beginning at the beginning
With such a large initiative, a significant amount of recruiting for participation preceded some of the badge system design. As previously noted, each participating organization had its own motivations and goals for their programs and subsequently for their badges as well. This made perfect sense since the composition of the system was both intentionally diverse and also serendipitously alike. Seeking to maintain this essentially organic badge ecosystem, we did not require any specific criteria in the creation of the badges. Instead we encouraged organizations to consider their basic values in relationship to STEAM and then badge along those lines.

To get everyone onto the same conceptual page, we, in conjunction with our partners, held several in-person sessions to talk through open badges: what they were, why the city was initiating the program, how they worked, what was expected of them, etc. After these face to face facilitated sessions Mozilla created a personalized google spreadsheet for each organization to fill in with their specific badge content (more on this in an upcoming post).

Even in very large badge systems individual badges deserve close reading and attention and that is precisely what we provided. Poring over each spreadsheet cell by cell, we reviewed each badge, asking questions, clarifying content and requesting revisions where we felt some alteration might improve the final badge. We followed up by email with every organization to ensure that all of the badges met organizational requirements as well as the content and metadata requirements for open badges. While the idea of badges was new to many of the participating organizations, every organization enthusiastically jumped into badge content creation.

Different lenses
Each entry level badge represents one or more of the STEAM categories and focuses on learning of some sort, so perhaps the most obvious lens we used on them was learning. A final tally of the issuing organizations revealed the following three categories for learning:

  • in-school teaching and learning organizations (formal)
  • out of school teaching and learning organizations (informal)
  • the City of Chicago organizations (governmental)

Badge pathways
Another lens onto this system comes from the hierarchy of badge progressions or badge pathways. We considered a number of possible badge levels and requirements before settling on a relatively straightforward progression. We arrived at a simple structure due to some significant aspects of the program: 1) the time in between school year end and school year beginning is surprisingly brief; 2) the number of opportunities to be had was wonderfully rich and we wanted participants to be able to experience as much of it as they were able to; and, 3) the technical considerations of linking a range of different systems proved quite complex in our limited timeframe. All of these factors—plus others—contributed to our decision to implement a streamlined badge system hierarchy.

The suggested path was as follows: earn a required number of entry level badges in any STEAM category from any organization, and when the required level is reached those badges in turn level up the earner to one of the City of Chicago awarded S-T-E-A-M badges; the earning of that city level badge in turn unlocks a series of STEAM-related citywide challenges & associated badges that can also be earned. Viewed through that lens, the system looks as follows:

Entry level badges

  • organizations offering entry level badges through face to face participation
  • organizations offering badges through self-paced activities
  • Ci3 offering The Source game badges

City level badges

  • the City of Chicago offering Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math city-level badges

Challenge badges

  • organizations offering citywide challenge badges

The system can be expanded outward from this framework. There were additional suggested badge pathway opportunities as well but this represents the germinal structure.

Still more to come
As noted above, this was a fantastic opportunity for the Mozilla Open Badges team to test out some of our hypotheses about badge design, badge system design, and technical considerations. CSOL provided us with wonderful circumstances ripe for creativity. We were honored to work side by side with individuals profoundly committed to improving the possibilities for the youth of Chicago through open badges, and we’re excited to see new learning pathways being forged by Chicago youth.

Along the way we conceptualized, designed and created a number of new tools that we’ll continue to refine: some for assessment, some for badge creation, and some for badge issuing. We found it tremendously educational and informative to work directly with organizations brand new to badging, and we were deeply moved when those same organizations were impressed with their own conceptual development and badge thinking. It’s been an amazing ride and it’s not over yet.

Many, many thanks to the Open Badges team who brought this dream to life. Together we salute the youth of Chicago and all of the people who help them on their journeys.

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Much more soon.

related reference:
Earlier I happened across this interesting research on summer learning drop off by Rand Education, it seems worth including here.

Badge pathways: part 2, the “quel”

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In the badge pathways paraquel post we discussed the importance of the whole system and how your badges can coalesce into something greater than its parts. But let’s talk about what the parts of the system are. The parts of the system can include badges, goals, earners, organizations, stakeholders, and time. Why is it important to discuss these when we’re talking about badge pathways? Because your badge pathways will come about through pushes and pulls in the system; through different desires and needs manifesting themselves through the medium of badges.

Chains of importance, cowpaths & desire paths
In a recent conversation on the Webmaker google group, Christian Briggs shared some of his thinking about badge pathways. He mentioned a process of discovery he and a team had worked out that addressed chains of importance for all folks. This aligns with much of our earlier thinking and writing here.

At a meeting about the future of badges earlier this year, I floated the idea of badge pathways as essentially cowpaths. I mentioned this in reference to the idea of “paving the cowpaths”; seeing where the traffic goes and then paving where the paths are worn. As you can imagine, if you’re not familiar with this phrase and its related concept, it can take some getting used to. Rafi Santo kindly jumped in to offer the much more preferable desire paths. But regardless of the language used, what’s valuable and important here is where someone wants to go versus where they’re told to go.

Descriptive pathways vs. prescriptive pathways
Let’s take a minute to understand the difference between descriptive approaches and prescriptive approaches. Descriptive pathways approaches seek to acknowledge the ways that people willfully choose to earn badges. This technique may feel more natural to the badge earner since they’re defining their own paths. In this manner, the badge earner makes use of personal agency. Prescriptive approaches seek to declare one standard or recommended badge earning path over another. It can feel more limiting and formal. The badge earner is compelled to follow the proposed pathway or drop out of the pathway. Each approach has its own pluses and minuses.

The three-fold path
Several potential uses of these two approaches exist. For example, people may choose to (or be compelled to) move through a badge system in these three ways:

  1. Command path: suggested or recommended badge arcs.
  2. Contract path: desired or pledged badge groupings.
  3. Badge desire path: independently followed or pursued badge passages.

The importance of the distinctions between these paths cannot be overemphasized. Why? Because to the earner, each of these avenues will feel very different.

badgeflows

Part of the beauty of open badges in general is their extreme flexibility. This flexibility extends all the way from their creation to their earning, from their earning to their consumption. The system is designed to accommodate flexibility and alternative uses. This means that all badge creators/issuers are developing badge systems that will express emergence—one way or another. And one of the ways that emergence will come about is in the ways that people will choose to progress through your badges. So let’s return to the three different pathways.

Command pathways
The command approach is the most prescriptive: it relies on a formal, structured and recommended path. Most likely, this badge pathway will be linear—a straight line from one learning experience to another. This is not unlike what occurs in many school courses.

Contract pathways
The contract path encourages the earner to think about and select a potential learning arc. In the strictest sense, it, too, is prescriptive. But because its prescriptiveness is set forth by the earner herself, the potentially dictatorial nature does not carry the same paternalistic qualities.

Desire pathways
The badge desire path carries with it the greatest capacity for knowledge and system emergence. When there is no prescribed pathway, people can find the way that makes sense to them; can choose to follow other people’s paths or can strike out in very different directions.

The learning trail
All badge earners leave behind a trail. That badge trail may prove to represent merely a series of required steps; that path may illustrate a series of revealing, personally inspired choices, or that path may appear to be erratic and nonsensical, indicating nothing. But rarely is that last example the case. All of these directions may make perfect sense to the badge earner. But perhaps the one that makes the most sense to her is her own constructed narrative: the path that she develops a story about, even if her story can only be understood in retrospect. Sense-making often occurs after an experience: that doesn’t render the process any less meaningful, even if that process has seemed peculiarly arbitrary and idiosyncratic. They’re sending you messages about finding meaning and building personal value in the midst of communication chaos. And do not underestimate the immense power of self-reflection and self-assessment. Indeed, the badge earning iconoclast asks the badge system—and the people designing it—to not only acknowledge their atypical badge pathway approaches but also to appreciate their unique ability to see what might be rather than what is. They’re your badge system’s true north.

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More soon.
carla [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

Badge pathways: part 1, the paraquel

badgepathwaysA few weeks ago I posted this image and stated that I would be following up with several posts about badge pathways. In particular, how they fit into our work at Mozilla along several different lines: the web literacy standard, webmaker, and open badges. Straightforward, yes?

Badge system design, white papers & badge pathways
Sort of. This is the paraquel (!) post coming before the quel itself. I have an inkling that there’s a prequel yet to be created because quite some time ago I started a post about how these tasks all come together from a conjunctive / disjunctive approach. In fact, all sorts of -quels are in the offing, the main event being a white paper about Badge System Design. While I have written quite a few blog posts about badge system design before, a solid white paper along with some example cases will help to more fully explain our direction of thought travel.

So, let’s take a minute to talk about what step comes both after badge system design and very much in the middle of it: badge pathways. Like many complex, long-form thoughts, it’s hard to say exactly when this idea began to ease itself into the (badge system design) picture.

The threequel
But first, a look down the road to where the next few posts will be heading. This first post will address how we got to thinking about badge pathways from a badge system design perspective. The following second post will address how we’re working with them and where they might be effective. And the third and final post will consider how badge pathways might link together vast systems to more accurately represent the individual learner and how that might be represented.

Finding networks
About two weeks ago at Dan Hickey’s digital badges design principles workshop, just prior to the DML conference in Chicago, I had the opportunity to speak to many of the impressive DML winners. Dan’s work along with his grad students’ work digs into some really interesting areas arising from grantees’ experiences. The DML grantees have created some amazing badges and badge systems and hearing them describe their work as the day progressed was particularly enjoyable, especially when they discovered unanticipated commonalities with each other.

During that gathering, Dan asked me to speak to the assembled group about the importance of badge system visualization, an absolutely sound and worthy discussion point. I started off with the best of intentions about responding to his extremely rational request but soon enough found myself diving into a soliloquy about badge pathways. It was a heady few moments. One in which I may have even asserted something along these lines, “Badge pathways are more important than badges themselves.”

What?! To the attending audience this statement may have seemed completely strange and unexpected. Yet with a bit of pruning, that statement is true. Badge pathways are just as important as badges themselves. And, with a bit of hindsight, I now realize that a visualization like the one above begins to illustrate exactly how relevant that comment was, so I was answering the question Dan asked, but I was speaking about it in a new way.

What’s a badge pathway?
A quick sidebar to clarify what we mean by badge pathways. Let’s start with what they’re not. Badge pathways are not necessarily predefined, nor are they limited to one educational category or issuing organization or type of learning, nor do they necessarily have an end point.

And now let’s address what they are. Badge pathways can be and most likely will be entirely emergent. This, friends, is from whence all their magic derives. Badge pathways provide people with opportunities to make decisions based in personal agency, to define steps that may seem more like hops, and to think about ways to do things that aren’t sequential or even seemingly rational. They allow earners to link unexpected badges (read concepts, learning, achievements, etc.) together in exciting and unanticipated ways. They allow folks to connect the outlying dots that constitute lifelong learning. And while predefined badge pathways can provide easy and simple directions and pointers along a certain direction, the self-defined or peer-defined or team-defined pathway can resonate in ways that may prove far more meaningful to an individual than those that are suggested by experts. Badge pathways can act as a form of distributed intelligence. In that way, badge pathways are inextricably linked to badge system design.

Order from chaos
What we have repeatedly spoken about—that your badge system design must be flexible, that there are multiple ways to learn things, that badges are outcomes of learning—is still all true. But as you work through your badge system, as it evolves past the first 10 or so badges, you’ll find that prescriptive and descriptive approaches begin to come seriously into play. In other words, the angle with which your badge system is viewed can easily shift from a prescribed series of steps to a free for all wherein earners pick and choose their own way and the pathways you think you’ve created are not the paths that people are following. Here’s an opportunity to embrace the chaos of your system. Chaos that given enough time will reveal order. Order that will have evolved from actual usage.

The most stunning thing living systems and social systems can do is to change themselves utterly by creating whole new structures and behaviors.… The ability to self-organize is the strongest form of resilience. … Self-organization is basically the combination of an evolutionary raw material—a highly variable stock of information from which to select possible patterns—and a means for experimentations, for selcting and testing new patterns. … The source of variety is human creativity… (Meadows, 1999, pp 14-15)

A recommendation
When you are deep into designing your badge system, pause. Look outward: consider the bigger picture that your earner will see. Imagine the thrill of being a learning explorer charting new territory with badges as your guideposts! Now with that new perspective, rough out some potential badge pathways that do not solely include your badges—that include far flung and seemingly unrelated badges. Begin to imagine a future where your badges mingle with and build on a variety of other badges; where new constellations of learning pathways evolve into being from earners devising their own paths, guided by light from distant badge galaxies.

More soon.

references:
Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: places to intervene in a system. World91(7), 21. POINT. Retrieved from http://www.sustainer.org/pubs/Leverage_Points.pdf 

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