Badges: what comes between & before


“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.

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

5 thoughts on “Badges: what comes between & before

  1. Pingback: Badges: what comes between & before | Open ...

  2. Pete Janzow

    Carla – I’d be curious to learn more about your definition of tokens. Are they designed to be connected with enabling learning objectives/outcomes or do you have something else in mind? The idea of stacking sub-badge-level achievements is a familiar one, and part of many mastery-based learning designs. Is this what tokens would accomplish?

  3. Pingback: Badges | Annotary

  4. suehellman

    I think what fills the empty space is selection and planning of how to which one(s) to do next, the work and the learning, the receiving of formative feedback and engaging in improvement, the self-tracking towards the goal, and the reflection when all the criteria have been met. If you think about fractions on a number line, no matter how small 2 fractions are, there is always space between them. Between 2 badges there is space; between 2 tokens there will still be space. There’s no end point to betweenness.

    For badges to have value they need to embody a level of challenge that when complete is fosters a sense of accomplishment in the recipient. Otherwise we are into the behaviour mod-type of a token economy (do something right and you get a payoff), and all we’re trying to do is shape behaviour. Then the tokens are no different from points and the badges they add up to are just uber-tokens. Helping the learners work out their pathway of stepping stones get across the space between badges is what personalization, flexible learning, and using badges as a way to become more self-directed is all about.

  5. Pingback: A Cure Against OBesity: The One Pixel #OpenBadges , #OpenPassport and #xAPI |

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