What Badge Designers Talk About When They Talk About Badges

Sixty badge system designers hit the road last month, traveling to Duke University’s Franklin Humanities Institute for the first face-to-face workshop since February when grantees pitched winning badge system proposals to panels of judges at the California Academy of Sciences.


People representing all 30 Badges for Lifelong Learning grantee teams met over two days for working group and break-out sessions, badge system demos, wiki work, and the ever-popular unconference session led by HASTAC’s Ruby Sinreich. Guest speakers included Connie Yowell and An-Me Chung from the MacArthur Foundation, Robert Torres from the Gates Foundation, Todd Edebohls from Inside Jobs (and formerly Amazon.com), Barnett Berry of the Center for Teaching Quality, and Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges crew, including Chris McAvoy, who shone light on the Open Badges Infracture (OBI), and Erin Knight, who gave the first ever presentation on assessment featuring Duke-UNC basketball smack talk.

We didn’t have Claude the albino alligator and the living roof for ambience, but Duke’s Smith Warehouse gave us all a bright, open, innovative workshop space with just enough old-school warehouse vibe to remind us that our feet are indeed in two worlds. Videos of various sessions from the workshop are posted on our HASTAC channel, and while most of the wiki work is behind a firewall, here are a few of the reported conversation threads:   

  • What makes badges trustworthy? Addressing privacy and safety concerns are the first priority of a badge system - but what determines all the aspects of a digital open badge that make it trustworthy?
  • Ideally, we would have a standard that could be used in the evidence URL for an XML data entity that would specifiy (now and in the future) the badge’s potential relationship to the Common Core standards.
  • How do we meaningfully break down efforts to offer incremental badges and assessments incorporating mentorship?
  • For those of us with large, existing systems in place, how do we scale up to a larger user base?
  • What is the best way to bring an offline experience online?
  • The credentialing possibilities created by badging are endless, yet bringing next steps into focus in terms of the learning, assessment and social media dimensions introduce strategic challenges of coordination, program management, and visioning that will require sustained effort to address.
  • Badges are meant to be free. They are meant to be released as a focal point for both creativity and a semiotic signifier of achievement. However tbadges could become too defined, and the creative portion lost. Badges need to have an open standard even if one group classifies them for their purposes.
  • People across one team may have different ideas of what the purpose of the badges are. It is very important to agree on a list of what defines a "badge."
  • You don't have to have an underlying theme when you start issuing badges, but one should work towards a classification system for the long run, because the efficacy to have a community of agreement around the badges you create will very likely demand it.
  • Be original. Much as we could have done Q and A long forms, we did not. Badge issuers should challenge themselves to be original leaders and agents of change.
  • Tehnically, this is a simple and yet complicated project. As you move forward it feels that the ideas of badges opens avenues continuously.
  • Attention to good instructional design is still fundamental. Plan out your badges and badge structure for a given program before you start to build it out.
  • Include badge earners in the design process of your program.  Understand their motivation, what drives their involvement, and what they hope to get out of the program you are creating. Consider the diversity of your learners; they are likely to be driven by different goals.
  • Assessment is just as important in a badge-based learning system as it is in more traditional learning environments. In order for badges to have value to the earner and to those who would consider using the badge to impute the skills or competencies of an individual, appropriate assessment practices need to back up the process by which the badge was awarded.
  • Craft a badge system that is flexible enough to accommodate a range of learning styles, motivations and pedagogies.
  • Some contexts call for more proscribed badging opportunities, where experts set up gauntlets which learners pass successfully before earning badges. Other systems call for a more grassroots approach, in which learners set their own goals and pursue less well-defined pathways that get them where they want to go as individuals, with badges in hand to show for their efforts. Creating a badge system that can adapt to a variety of contexts and audiences is a worthy challenge.
  • Break up complex requirements into simpler steps and attach a badge to each step (so the badges act like waypoints on the overall path).
  • If possible, have someone on the content side who understands programming and web development participate as an advisor