Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Open Badges and badge system design. During that time I’ve found myself weighing the idea of the Open Badges Infrastructure against the idea of Open Badges. I’ve come around to this thinking: one is a subset of the other. Open Badges is an umbrella concept about perception, achievement, learning, representation, assessment, and value that has produced the tool that is the OBI. Perhaps the OBI is an epiphenomenon of the conceptual work of Open Badges. OBI is to tool as Open Badges is to process. It’s a bit chicken/egg but as we progress the temporal distinction seems to matter less and less.
OBI the tool is designed to be agnostic, but Open Badges the concept presents opportunities for transmission of deeply held beliefs, strong opinions and decisive values about learning, education, agency, creativity, dynamism, change, and evolution. I’m racing through these important and defining ideas right now because I want to start sharing some initial thoughts about badge system design. But I’m happy to have this discussion in greater detail with you on this blog, on twitter, through emails, during calls, and if we’re lucky, in person. You have helped us and continue to help us build this amazing tool; now let’s talk about what we can do with it as well as what we want to do with it.
Serendipitously today after I had already written the few intro-type paragraphs below, I saw a tweet that lead me to download and read a highly influential systems design paper Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. As I read this inspirational document by Donella Meadows I grew increasingly excited: on my own I had arrived at similar realizations and had used nearly the exact terminology as she had in her paper. Those clues indicate to me that I’m on the right track. To that end, I’m dispensing with the many revisions I usually go through for a blog post and instead dropping in my initial rough draft to share it with you while the ideas are still messy and fresh. I don’t want to overthink them—at least not right now. Let’s begin our conversation now before the ideological badge cement has hardened.
Open Badges offers thousands of possibilities to those who choose to participate. I want to help you see what those amazing opportunities might be. Here’s my humble request: be my reader and my co-author on this journey.
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Badge system design presents a variety of exciting challenges and opportunities. In some ways, it’s similar to designing the perfect society, one in which important things are recognized, feedback is welcomed and used, individuality is respected, people are encouraged to express themselves freely and creatively, expand their potential, attempt difficult but rewarding experiences, interact with and aid others, seek and find opportunities, learn, experience, make, scaffold, share and grow. Perhaps a little thinking is in order, huh?
Humility plays a key role in the design of any system, including badge system design. Your badge system design, no matter how brilliant, most likely will not end global hunger, solve the debt crisis, or fix a broken educational system. However, if created with intelligence, finesse and empathy, it may have the capacity to change someone’s life. Indeed, it may possibly help to alleviate some of those other, larger concerns.
Currently, the entire ecosystem remains an unknown quantity: how many badges will flicker on in the badge system galaxy? What will happen as it knits together? It’s quite possible that your simple designs may take on a far more complex role than you can imagine. So a few suggestions, notes, and recommendations are in order.
History is littered with lessons and examples of great ideas that went bad or never got off the ground. The human equation always introduces an element of chance. While that tendency certainly presents a massive complicating variable, ultimately that’s where the ground might be most fertile. Be fearless, investigate it.
And yet note that it might be best to start with a simple idea and let organic evolutionary properties run their natural course. Because unexpected emergent properties will occur even if you think you’ve planned for everything. Eventually Taleb’s black swan will fly overhead. Perhaps its shadow will pass by, perhaps it will skim the waters for a while and move on, or perhaps it will land and begin swimming in your happy little pre-planned badge ecosystem. Who knows?
Okay. Taking a somewhat more clinical view, some psychological research indicates that resilience contributes greatly to long term happiness. Resilience is important to a robust system. How can you build in resilience? What do we mean by resilience? Your badge system design will play some role in an earner’s sense of self. And so, like the person earning the badges you’re designing, if it’s to have a long and happy life, your badge system must have its own source of resilience. Whether that arises from the community, the planners, or the larger ecosystem does not matter.
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Those are some initial thoughts. Much, much, much more to come.