Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Report #3: Badges and Competencies

Badging has been around for a long time (Military, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts) and recently, in our digital world, it has caught on and is making its way into education. I'm even working on a digital badging project for an online course (more about that in a later post). I've received badges like these:

Look! I'm serious about beer tasting.

I don't limit myself to American Lagers.

As you can see, badges are more meaningful than a neat piece of flair - in the example above, you see that my Beer Connoisseur badge carries more information.  In this example, I wish it were a bit more sophisticated (you could see a list of exactly what 5 beers from what countries I tasted to earn the badge). 

This is where I'm going with this post: badges are meaningful representations of something the earner did. It signifies that they completed a competency, an objective. Here lies a strength of badging systems: how can you issue a badge for an objectives that are written like this:  know 5 different beers from 5 different countries. How do you issue a badge for that? It absolutely requires action-oriented objectives.

Let's look at the Boy Scouts as an example. Have you ever looked at badge requirements? They are ridiculously detailed. It's amazing how one little patch carries so much information.

From the Boy Scouts of America official website:
You are expected to meet the requirements as they are stated—no more and no less. You must do exactly what is stated in the requirements. If it says "show or demonstrate," that is what you must do. Just telling about it isn't enough. The same thing holds true for such words as "make," "list," "in the field," and "collect," "identify," and "label."
After I read this, I was interested to look up requirements for badges. Check out the requirements for the American Business badge.

What does this mean for higher education? For now, just imagine that you're an employer. What are you more interested in: a transcript, or a link to your potential hire's badges showing every competency she achieved (one could argue both - the overall picture and the supporting detailed information would be a very powerful tool in my opinion). Imagine that you're a student and you can look at your badges for any given program, see your progress, see your completed competencies, see your weak points and strong points - would this add to the overall learning experience? These are questions we have to ask. One could argue that badges are just a shiny visual representation of what we should already have: clearly written objectives that are measurable. If badges, however,  can provide:

  • help in writing better objectives
  • a sense of progression
  • an easy view to the big picture and how the little pieces fit together
  • motivation
then badging can be defended as a very useful and powerful tool for higher education.