Badges debate: Follow-up questions

Many thanks for all of the contributions and engagement during our recent webinar debate on the role of badges in Higher Education.  We always knew that it was going to be difficult in a 60 minute session to cover all of the questions and issues that were likely to arrive which is why we asked for questions to be posted to the Q & A pod.  Some of the questions that were posted were addressed during the debate but for those that weren’t addressed Chrissi and Ale to make a brief response below.  Please feel free to post your own thoughts and responses to the questions to this post using the page comments tool or tweet additional questions and thoughts about badges on the #tlc2015.

Vicki Dale (University of Glasgow):

What level of granularity is the most effective for motivation?

Ale: None. Granularity is not the issue. The serious matter here is the use of short-term extrinsic motivators, such as badges, which have negative effects – as explicitly shown, with the relevant evidence from the literature, during our discussion. 

Granting badges for each activity might be onerous and less meaningful than a single badge for a module or week of a course?

Ale: Granting a badge per week is equally meaningless and just as damaging. Either way, in addition to the above explanation, you’d have the additional disadvantage of badges losing their value even further (assuming such a thing were possible) as a result of issuing large numbers of them – per activity or per week.

Is anyone else ‘branding’ their badges so as to officially affiliate them with their institution, and if so, when is this appropriate e.g. credit-bearing versus non-credit bearing courses?

Ale: Not us (University of Northampton), and not many in HE.

Chrissi: As we engage in much more informal learning opportunities without being assessed for a course etc. I think it is valuable to get confirmation that we are learning something, or that it is recognised what we bring or that we are part of something that is happening. Belonging is an important element of learning that is often overlooked. Badges can play a role in this. How many or how often, this is something that will depend on the purpose of these. As we mentioned briefly they can also be used as self-motivators (check out Albert Bandura’s work linked to this). A badges collection can say loads of different things about the badges owner. Would anybody like to share their collection and reflect on this?

Badges can also be used within formal courses, for formative assessment for example but also for self- and peer evaluation. Why not? They could also become currency that can be exchanges for credits. Why not? At university we use Accreditation of Prior Learning via course or experiential routes. Why would badges and the metadata they hold not be appropriate?

Malcolm Murphy (Durham, UK)

If badges are not valued at the moment then why are so many being issued – given you have to actively click a link to get them? Wouldn’t the system just  become tumblewwed very shortly if no-one wanted them?

Chrissi: Hi Malcolm, I definitely agree with you that the technology is still to complicated. Individuals need to create an additional account to collect these and many don’t want to set-up an additional account as they already have too many. I fully understand this.What needs to happen to simplify the process? What could be happen? Do you have any related ideas you would like to share with us? What we have done with the #LTHEchat for example is placing the blue tweeter badge openly on our site and anybody who participates can collect this and display where they wish. There are no criteria attached to this badge, beyond participation. It requires honesty to take the badge and display it elsewhere. If this is not there and we just display it regardless if we participate or not, then it says more about the person than the badge, I think. My second example is again from the #LTHEchat where we give the Golden Tweeter Award. This is a special award and colleagues who receive this are displayed openly on the site. If anybody takes this award without having received it from the LTHEchat team (and this can happen as anybody could take the code from the site), their details won’t appear on the LTHEchat site as nobody beyond the team has access to this. So the person hasn’t been honest to themselves.We have also introduced badges via the p2pu platform linked to the open course #creativeHE and have found it challenging to understand how the badeging system works there. These examples show an alternative way of receiving badges without creating additional accounts. If anybody has further examples, please share with us here.

We are at an explorative stage and individuals, groups, institutions and organisations experiment with them. This is a good thing! Badges for me, are very much part of the web 2.0 or the social web if you like. With this comes opportunities but also challenges, we need to acknowledge and manage this.

Ale: This discussion was on badges in HE. In that sector, not many are being issued. Some are experimenting with them. That said, I agree: often clicking a link is all you need to do to get them, which speaks volumes about their value (“do this and you’ll get that” – a rewards-based approach). Anyone gets a badge for anything, to quote the badge enthusiasts’ own words. The long-term value of badges, or rather, the complete absence of it, is beyond discussion in HE (and also in other sectors, but that’s the subject of a separate discussion). 

John Maguire (University of Glasgow)

Chrissi, are you using Credly as your main issuing platform. How much evidence are you attaching to each badge?

Chrissi: Hi John, We are using Credly as we have found this an easy to use platform. We can create the badges in there but also award them through this platform and get reports about how many have been awarded and to whom. There will be better systems out there and I am very interested to hear. Regarding evidence, it depends what they are for. It is always clearly stated if they are for participation, recognition or specific achievements and who issues them. Sometimes we do include personal messages. I think we should do this more often. Students say that they value personalised feedback, I think something similar might apply to at least some badge-categories.

Ale: I would add: who believes in that “evidence”?

Brenda UANL Mexico

What do you think about having too many badges? is it still worth it when you have 50+ badges?

Chrissi: Hello Brenda, Does it say more about the person perhaps? Are we talking about an autonomous learner who values opportunities that are presented to them and feels that these little rewards are valuable to them and can be shared easily when needed. They also help individuals boost their confidence and helps them capture their learning journey in a visual way. Often we forget what we achieve along the way, especially if the journey is long and very bumpy. Badges can signalise little milestones that are important to the individual, perhaps more than to anybody else. I find this fascinating that they can work as self-motivators for some.

Ale: Not worth having one, not worth having 50. Dangling badges in front of people as rewards for their efforts (efforts? was it that hard to get the badge? really?) gets us nowhere. This rewards-based Skinnerian approach is damaging to motivation and provides no credible or transferable recognition of any learning whatsoever. It may occasionally work for simple or mindless tasks, only in quantitative terms and only for the short term.

Debbie B

Peer awarded badges for reflective work – is this still extrinsic if learner is doing the reflection anyhow and badge awarded ? I see them as a bonus

Chrissi: Hello Debbie, A very good point. The badge in this case means that somebody has read and reviewed your reflections (linked to a specific activity or course) and thinks that you have met the specific criteria for the badge. As the meta-data is build-in, there is the potential to speed up the feedback process. I do see that it can also lead to depersonalisation. However, there are options to include a personal message linked to the work in the metadata which I think, probably gives the badges additional value for the individual and with whom the badge might be shared.

Ale: I’d suggest that you review the literature on intrinsic motivation. What you describe is a textbook example of a short-term extrinsic motivator, with no value or credibility to those receiving the badge, those “awarding” it, or anyone else. Never a bonus.

Adrian (Freire Institute)

Should we be asking about the value of HE instead and discuss epistemology rather than badges?

Chrissi: Hello Adrian. I think there is room and the need for theory and practice.and link the two. How can we balance the too and explore opportunities to actually start from practice and build theory? What are the advantages? Identifying ways to engage students and educators in learning and development and acknowledge their contributions is really important. It might happen on own but others need a scaffold. There are many ways to do this. One of them could be badges.

Ale: We are free to ask ourselves and the academic community anything we like! There is no case for badges in HE.

Footnote from Chrissi

Hello everybody, it was exciting to debate open badges with you in the context of higher education. Despite the stress that it caused me and endless hours of preparation (and my PhD supervisor won’t be happy as I should be working on my thesis… which is not around badges), I have found it extremely valuable for my own thinking and development and I hope the debate made you think.

I am adding here the presentation I used together with the full notes, which in the end I didn’t really use… but you can see from these how I approached the topic and how I constructed my argument fully linked to my own professional practice and how we have used badges for academic CPD and a variety of related purposes. For me badges are not so much about skills. If you were there or accessed the recording, I didn’t talk about skills at all. Open badges have a wide range of uses. Opening our minds to these will be valuable for all of us. As academic developers it is important to have an open mind and support experimentation. Cutting the wings of our colleagues but also our own before they have fully developed and before they and we collectively can come to our own informed conclusions, is perhaps something to avoid. After all, universities are about curiosity and inquiry and making discoveries. Let’s be the enablers!!!

Thank you Ale, Rod and Calum for making this happen. I am pleased it is over so that I can focus on my PhD again…

Footnote from Ale

Case against badges

This entry was posted in Open badges by Rod Cullen. Bookmark the permalink.

About Rod Cullen

I am a Senior Lecturer in Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Learning Innovation Team at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have gained considerable experience over almost 20 years in design, delivery and evaluation of online learning, teaching and assessment. I am particularly interested in assessment and feedback practice as well as the emerging role of web conferencing technologies to support blended and distance learning.

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