Supporters of the use of badges usually frame their position on the basis of two primary principles: motivation and recognition of learning. The motivation argument has a number of strands, such as incentives or ‘hooks’ (Ford et al., 2015), personalisation of learning and assessment, including empowering people to decide what they want to be assessed on (Gamrat et al., 2014), rewarding achievement (e.g., DeakinConnect, 2014) and creating ‘healthy competition’ within a cohort (Glover & Latif, 2013). Recognition of learning via micro-credentials is said to enable badge holders to evidence the skills they have learned (Ford et al., 2015), share and ‘brag about’ their progress (Gamrat et al., 2014).
In the literature, badges fall into the category of short-term extrinsic motivators. Like other rewards (or punishments) they operate on the basis of ‘do this and you’ll get that’, a pop-behaviouristic approach ultimately aimed not at empowering, but at exercising control (see, for example, Kohn, 2000). According to Kohn and the hundreds of research studies referenced in his work, extrinsic motivators such as a gold star, a bribe or a badge, have a detrimental effect on performance, productivity and engagement. The negative impact of extrinsic motivators, including badges as a form of reward, is beyond discussion. If motivation is core to the argument, proponents of badges really need to think again.
In terms of recognition of learning, the major challenge that badge enthusiasts face is credibility and rigour, or rather, lack of them – by a whole range of stakeholders, including peers and employers. The claim that badges are ‘evidence-based’ and ‘verified’ is, at best, very weak. They can be awarded by pretty much ‘anyone’, to represent ‘any’ skills or achievements (see Github, 2015, among many others). Some students have strongly negative emotions towards badges, including ‘dying internally’ at the sight of them (Haaranen et al., 2014). Badges are childish and ‘gimmicky’: badge holders want the badge to ‘look like it was hard work’ (Mewburn et al., 2014). As they’re ‘stackable’, ‘collectable’, and achieving them does not seem to pose any major hurdles, their relative relevance is easily diluted ‘by allowing too many to be issued’ (Glover & Latif, 2013). Attempting to compare badges to formal higher education qualifications indicates a lack of objectivity and understanding.
In summary, I invite colleagues to use research evidence, not belief or enthusiasm, to make their decisions. The evidence is clear. There can be no role for badges in higher education.
DeakinConnect (2014) Credit. Available from http://www.deakinconnect.com/local-theme/mooc/pages/credit.html [accessed on 6 October 2015].
Ford, E., Izumi, B, Lottes, J. & Richardson, D. (2015). Badge it! A collaborative learning outcomes based approach to integrating information literacy badges within disciplinary curriculum. Reference Services Review, 43(1), 31-44.
Gamrat, C., Zimmerman, H. T., Dudek, J., & Peck, K. (2014).Personalized workplace learning: An exploratory study on digital badging within a teacher professional development program. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(6), 1136–1148.
Github Inc. (2015) Open Badges FAQ. Available from https://github.com/mozilla/openbadges-backpack/wiki/Open-Badges-FAQs#who-can-issue-badges [accessed on 6 October 2015].
Glover, I., & Latif, F. (2013). Investigating perceptions and potential of open badges in formal higher education. In World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (Vol. 2013, No. 1, pp. 1398-1402). Retrieved from: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/7173/1/Glover_-_Investigating_perceptions_and_potential_of_open_badges_in_formal_higher_education_-_proceeding_112141.pdf
Haaranen, L., Ihantola, P., Hakulinen, L. & Korhonen, A. (2014). How (not) to Introduce Badges to Online Exercises. In Proceedings of the 45th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (pp. 33-38). ACM.
Kohn, A. (2000). Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes, Houghton Mifflin Company. New York.
Mewburn, I., Freund, K., & Rutherford, E. (2014). Badge trouble: piloting open badges at the Australian National University. In B. Hegarty, J. McDonald, & S.-K. Loke (Eds.), Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology. Proceedings Ascilite Dunedin 2014 (pp. 643-648).