A quick preface: Although I’m a huge supporter of badges, the system at large is still very much under development. These thoughts stem from my own understanding and experience with badges, which is changing by the day. Check it out.
So when people think of badges, I tell them about microcredentials. And I tell them about merit badges, like for scouts, and then ask them to wrap microcredentials in the nice little form of a digital badge. Bam. You have it. In case it’s ‘what badges are’ that you’re still asking, check out Doug Belshaw’s elevator pitch below. He’s getting it down :]
But back to badges and educational curriculum. I had a conversation this morning with Daniel Rees Lewis, a Northwestern University researcher and writer on the DML-funded Design for America badge system proposal. I was referred by Anya Shyrokova (a Human Computer Interaction masters student) to Daniel, who asked me to do a review of the criteria he’s developed for his badges. Design for America offers unique opportunities for students to be part of small teams that are supported in the design and implementation of innovative ideas to solve problems in their community. Daniel showed me a draft of the criteria he’s developing for one of the nine badges to be earned by and issued to students in the program.
The badge (or step) description that Daniel shared with me was what I had hoped for. It was immediately clear that the Design for America badge criteria was set up beautifully, largely based on the idea of understanding by design. When the curriculum is this refined, the learning objectives become transparent (although remaining vital to the structure of the system) and focus is placed on the learning process itself. Daniel and I discussed his approach to presenting the badge structure to student participants, a conversation from which I walked away with good confidence in his plan. I’m very excited to learn more about the use of badges in the Design for America project…and will be paying attention to this one.
I was also lucky enough to chat the other day with Peter Rawsthorne, a long-time open educational resource advocate and contributor to Mozilla’s Open Badges project. Peter has been involved in computer software design for more than twenty years, much of that time also being spent developing open educational resources. In addition to chatting about ways to build a community that attracts badge-curious individuals from all walks of life, we discussed the potential benefits of badges in formal and informal learning environments.
In the greater badging world, many of the concerns I’ve heard time and again are those that are concerned about spoofing (faking) badges, defining what a badge is worth to one person or another, and motivation people have to be recognized with them. But my talk with Peter got my brain thinking more about benefits of introducing the idea of badges into a curriculum system, figure the earlier portion of designing instruction. The reflection required to design badges to fit learning goals/objectives is inarguable. You can’t not think about your curriculum more deeply when considering when/if/how you might use badges in a course or training situation.
Considering the tremendous pressure teachers are under to teach to the Common Core or state standards, it’s simply impossible for all teachers to immediately take a stab at changing their own pedagogical practice, let alone attempt to alter the content that is being delivered to students. But when teaching teams, schools, clubs, and other facilitators of learning find themselves in a situation with the resources to reflect on the structure of their content, considering badge use will be an effective method.
Badges force you to look at your curriculum and content, organizing your content into hierarchies of skills that should (ideally) translate into increased workforce preparedness for students. They should be able to DO something after they earn a badge. If you think it’s sad that the arts have been stripped from public education, consider the idea that students who leave the K-12 education systems often walk away with no usable skills. Cool. I can sit on my butt in a seat for the minimum number of school hours, fill in bubbles on a test form, and leave when the bell rings. What happened to making things? Why aren’t schools teaching students to examine current and develop new practices of making?!
I’m not going to stand here and say that badges are the be-all and end-all to problems with education. But what I will say is that badges directly tie into the social and technical skill-based analysis of curriculum. If you can’t explain to someone how what you teach students will lead to a higher-level learning goal, you best look a little harder at your practice. If you had to create a set of badges representing the curriculum you teach, when and for which measureable goals would you issue a badge?
As I’ve learned is true of most technologies, badges are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. In terms of improving education the world around, badges will likely be only a stepping stone; a means to collect, curate, and define the education system that will have meaningful impacts on society. Woah…improving society? Sure. Why not?