Not everyone likes every kind of badge. Take me, for example. Some badging systems strike me as just visual emblems and substitutes for the kind of static, top-down, hierarchical form of "grading" that I've spent the last several years critiquing.* Since that's the case, if I'm going to use badges next time I teach, I'm not going to use a system that replaces the one I already have rejected. The whole point about badging, for me personally, is that it offers the possibility of a system that is not fixed, not predetermined. A badging experiment offers any institution or network that sees a need for some kind of internal evaluation of its members the opportunity to, collectively, driven by its membership, evaluate what it wants to count and how. Redesigning its internal systems of evaluation offers an institution--whether a business, a school, a class, a network, a community organization or something else-- an opportunity for collective, institutional introspection, for a conversation about values, merit, metrics, and the purpose of assessment for that organization and its members.
Typically, we simply inherit values and gradually, often without thinking about it, change those over time, as circumstances change, but we rarely stand back and really evaluate what we are value, why, and how, and why it matters that we give credit when it is due. The activity of inventing a badging system means thinking through credentials and credit in a new way that, in and of itself (even if one decides not to adopt such a system), affords us a rare opportunity, as a collective, to think together about what we think counts and how we count what everyone contributes to the learning experience.
Here's why I think institutional, collective self-reflection can be useful and important:
(1) When you use an inherited system for measuring quality, someone else has already pre-determined what categories "count" as quality. In school, that might be grades for reading, writing, math, social studies, etc. In HR departments, that might be timeliness, hard work, lack of mistakes, collaborative abilities, not missing work. What counts in your organization? What about the ability to galvanize a group with inspired thinking? What about the ability to play well with others or organize others? What about the ability to implement someone else's ideas, to take a vision and turn into concrete action? What about the ability to speak up and critique a project so it gets better? What about the ability to finish a project and deliver a perfect product on time?
(2) Badges don't operate on a scale, not A B C D or "most merit" and "least merit." They simply and clearly reward what one has achieved. If someone felt a need to have "demerits" or "de-badges" one coud, I suppose, but, for me, one brilliance of badging is it records contribution, participation, achievement, and excellence but doesn't have to count against you those things where you do not excel. If I am hiring you or selecting you for graduate school, I want to know your accomplishments, skills, talents. I don't really care that you can't carry a tune if I want to work with you on web design. I don't really care that you failed French if I want to work with you on a multimedia performance. Others might want demerits. I love the idea that people can count what they think counts about them in their adult life. I wish our schools did more of that! And, for general education, it's even better than pass fail. If you succeed by the metrics of the teacher, you get the badge. If you don't, you learn but no failure recorded, no badge given. Win win, in my book.
(3) Badges give the details. The badge is the visual emblem but, in the Mozilla backpack system, you own your own badges and they can be a portfolio of all you did to achieve your badge. Nice.
(4) Back to the main one for me: without an inherited system of accreditation, members of the system can take the time to assess what they think is important, what they think counts, and how they think things should count. I value badging systems that, like Top Coders, are peer driven, peer given. I don't know any collective that wouldn't profit by self-evaluation of its core principles, its core methods for appreciating contribution.
Okay, that's a start. I personally don't know if this will work. That is why I am so excited by the experiment. I can't wait to see what creative systems people come up with. I would love to see kids given the opportunity to think about what they think counts. In the schools I visited, every kid knew the abilities and intelligence and skills of the other kids. They also knew what their teachers thought of those skills. And they knew what the "school system" (whatever that means) thought or didn't think about what counted as skills. The variations in those things are the ground between "school" and "learning." The same is true of every workplace--physical or virtual--that I know about. People know who contributes, who pulls their weight, who goes the extra distance, and who you want on your team--and also knows the disparities between those qualities and they way those qualities are assessed by an inherited, top-down hierarchical predetermined system.
And that, to my mind, is the interesting place where an open, experimental conversation on badges as an alternative form of evaluation might take place. If organizations, institutions, classrooms, networks, schools, companies, informal learning systems, and others take the challenge seriously, which is to say experimentally, I think we will all learn a lot that we can apply to our own process of evaluating our own institutional lives.
NB: THE DEADLINE FOR STAGE 1 APPLICATIONS FOR THE DML BADGES FOR LIFELONG LEARNING COMPETITION IS NOV 14, 2011.
[*Background, in case you haven't followed my previous discussions on "crowdsource grading" and are interested in this topic: Since my classes now are partly about content and partly about context, everything we do together is the subject of the course. That includes grading. I started crowdsourcing grading because a group of my very best A+ students (and I hardly ever give A+ grades) wrote on signed course evaluations that they had loved the first version of "This Is Your Brain on the Internet" but were puzzled that a course so visionary in content and form used such a 20th century form of grading. They challenged me to come up with a better method for the interactive, peer-driven Internet age. With my next version of this course, we came up with the contract + peer evaluation method I've dubbed "crowdsourcing grading." I talk about this at length in the "How We Measure" chapter of Now You See It and in this blog: http://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/how-crowdsource-grading and in this one: http://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/how-crowdsource-grading-report-ca... (and others too).]
NOW YOU SEE IT
Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and the forthcoming Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). NOTE: The views expressed in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of any institution or organization. For more information, visit www.nowyouseeit.net or order on Amazon.com by clicking on the book below. To find out Cathy Davidson's book tour schedule, visit www.nowyouseeit.net/appearances