Badges,learning units and pathways

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesBadges

This morning I was talking to a colleague about badges and the ‘why’ question arose. What is the point of issuing badges and is it worth the effort to go through whatever processes would be necessary to make them meaningful ? My answer, of course, was yes – if the goal is to establish a system that will validate learning from across the spectrum of opportunities (and a lifetime) and if that validation carries weight. Spitting out badges because they are cool and (some) people really like them can be done….but I’m not interested in that. Yes it might make a nice supplement to traditional grades, etc…. but from my perspective the value will come when a badge signifies verified learning – from whatever context (workplace, afterschool program, university, etc.). But let’s unpack that statement some other time.

In further reflection up on my recent discussion with @triches about badges for informal learning I was thinking about competencies and foundations. Core or foundational competencies can suggest learning pathways. Pathways can lead to capstone badges, which in turn could be foundational for the next level  or series of learning pathways. Capstone badges equal ‘units of learning’? ( and I apologize for the wildly varying metaphorical mix – capstone, solar, planets…guess I’m still searching for the right metaphorical ecosystem to use to make talk about badges more broadly comprehensible to my audience).

More on badges – Tuesday morning whiteboard

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the seriesBadges

Yesterday we had a small google hangout to discuss badges and informal learning. It was great to get to know Tim Riches (@triches) a bit and learn from his experiences and thoughts. We rambled some, raised issues and decided we need to do it again, hopefully with a clear thematic focus and a few more people participating.

This morning I was walking to the library to grab a book (Building Web Reputation Systems) and replayed some of our conversation from yesterday. There are a boatload of issues that are still hanging in the air and so I came back to the office and whiteboarded some of my thoughts. It’s a snapshot of my thoughts as of Tuesday morning November 27, 2012.

At some point greater coherence should arise I my articulation will be clearer, but more thought and conversation needs to happen.

Currently reading:

Becoming wikipedian: transformation of participation in a collaborative encyclopedia (ACM digital library)

Finding social roles in wikipedia (ACM digital library)

Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation

Badges, hackerspaces and freedom to learn

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the seriesBadges

Yesterday I gave a small presentation on badges for education. One of the reasons for my current fascination with badges is that they offer a possibility to expand what is viewed as valid and valued learning. Last night, as I was reflecting on the days events, I began to think about how we get from where we are to that place where hybrid learning was valued as equal to time in a chair “formal” learning. Which, of course, leads to the question of how much of what happens in schools is actual learning. This question depends on your view of what learning as actually for. And we know that the current state of primary and secondary school education is very successful at teaching learning for obedience. Others have articulated this more effectively so I’ll leave the point here for now.

But, what if badges carried weight and authority as indicators of learning? And what if this could be integrated into formal educational systems? (Yes, yes, two very but what if’s…but to build the new world we have to dream it first) Imagine a school day for a high school student in that case – she might check in a school (the physical building), attend a calculus class, meet with friends to collaborate on a project for literature class and then head off campus to visit the public library – which is also home to the neighborhood hackerspace – to spend an hour or two in an amateur radio technicians class before connecting online with some students in Chile to teach and learn English and Spanish. During the course of her day she is awarded a badge for her skillful leadership of the collaborative literature project group, reaches a milestone in the radio technicians class and is awarded a mini badge, both of which are added to her academic portfolio. During weekly meetings with her advisor they review her e-portfolio and reflect on the learning that has occurred, plan next steps and identify upcoming challenges. At the end of the term she might receive a B+ in Calculus, an A in her lit collab, an amateur radio technicians badge and an advanced Spanish badge for her work with the English/Spanish co-tutoring project.

And it’s easy enough to transpose elements of this scenario to a multitude of contexts to begin to see the power of surfacing learning and then being able to validate it. The question is, how do we get from where we are now to there? As a colleague just said – look at times when things actually shifted, usually times of crisis. It’s not hard to look around and see crisis emerging. So how do we prepare and lay the groundwork for a systemic change that would lead to more freedom to learn? Are we where we should be to play mid-wife(s) to the emergence of a new way?

Not discussed but needing connection to this post: mentors, apprenticeship, crafts, center for media studies(buffalo), george s. counts – Create a Library “Tech Shop”

Show me your badges – an introduction to badges for education

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the seriesBadges

This is a recording of a short webinar I gave on November 20, 2012 for colleagues with no real knowledge of badges or their use. A small audience (7 or 8 people, I think) but interested and a good opportunity for me to test drive the presentation.Oh, and I managed to not mention gamification during the webinar.

Links to sites and resources I’ve used are available here:


My intial thoughts on badges.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesBadges

I, like many others it seems, have developed an interest in badges as a method for valuing learning that might otherwise go unrecognized (or unvalidated). I was spurred to look at badges as I began structuring a learning program around issues of digital literacy. I wanted something that would recognize learning and accomplishments without having to buy into a formal structured certificate program (such as those offered by Microsoft). There is a rigidity to some of the structured certificate programs, as well as cost (and the added factor of potentially locking a learner into one specific product line when we are discussing learning tech). And while we can issue a certificate there are steps and milestones along the way that merit acknowledgement and  signify significant learning. Badges certainly seem like an appropriate solution here.

Yesterday I sat in on the weekly Mozilla Open Badges community call. It was a good experience and opportunity to connect with folks who are seriously exploring all of the issue around badges. Somewhat unfortunately yesterdays call was focused on higher ed and, though my office sits on campus at an Ivy League institution I am tied to the extension system, I experienced some frustration (self inflicted frustration, no doubt). It might be cool for a university to deliver badges, but until there is a radical change they will always hover in the background with the given grade being primary measure of worth.

Without a doubt, having universities adopt badges and infuse them with the full weight of their reputation and acknowledge them as valid indicators of achievement could lead to radical change in the educational landscape. But I am skeptical because that would open the door to alternative learning pathways achieving equivalent value using a badge based system that was structured to match the validity of those issued by formal educational institutions. Such a process would threaten the economics of  formal education and degree granting institutions.

Opening alternative pathways to equivalent validation seems like a reasonable move. And it could be the impetus to creating a true learning culture.

Just a preliminary thought or two….