Blog Post

Give Me A Badge For . . . ???

This morning, a colleague asked me if were to give and receive badges, what would they be.   Interesting.  Here's my list, a little bit random, but let's see what comes out of the blogging hopper this morning:



I would love it if Duke had a system not just of student-evaluations, but of badges that students could peer-design and bestow upon teachers.   Student evaluations are cast mostly as hedges against the worst pedagogial failings  (i.e. did the prof show up to class, grade papers, cover material?); students also grade inflate in their bubble responses.  At present, they are all we have, and more useful than nothing, I suppose, but, in the end, I don't learn very much from them and I'm not sure students get much of anything out of the end-of-year ritual.  Our evaluations are one size-fits-all form with bubbles to fill in, there's space at the bottom for their comments, they turn them in at the department office, several months later teachers get them back and, if we do well, we receive a letter from the dean saying we scored in the top 5% of evaluations.  Not very effective if the goal is more effective teaching and learning.   Now, if we had a badging system, there is much students would learn from the activity of designing badges itself and probably much teachers could learn about what matters to students and how they do by these student-centered criteria and categories.  Maybe profs should also be designing badges for students that covered other qualities too.  In any case, I wish my students, as a project, could spend a week deciding which things they most value in their education, most prize in their teachers, and then award their teachers' points and badges for those things.  That would in itself by a worthy intellectual and collaborative activity.

Here are the badges I would most like to receive:

(1) Inspiring Innovation and Creativity Badge:  The #1 area in which I would most want to have a big shiny gold badge:  "Inspiriing Innovation and Creativity."    What I really prize in my role as a teacher is not my innovation and creativity but being able to create the conditions that inspire my students to be more innovative and creative than they thought they could be.   That, to me, is what wins the shiny platinum badge.  Significantly, there is nothing like that category on any student evaluation form I've ever seen.

(2) The Tim Gunn Make It Work Badge:   I don't know what else the students would come up with but the other category I'm proudest of as a teacher who runs project-driven, collaborative classes is the Tim Gunn Make It Work Badge.  If you don't watch Project Runway (more's the pity!), Tim Gunn is the Parsons Prof who gives mentoring and pedagogical advice, lots of tough love and real love, to the contestants who have to construct impossibly difficult garments in impossibly short amounts of time often in teams with partners who are simply awful.    Like life.   I would love it if my students came up with both of these categories . . . and if they thought I did as good a job at them, I would consider myself a pretty great teacher.  Of course I teach content.  But content always comes with a form and making inspired innovation actually work is a form that lasts a lifetime.   It is a resource one draws on forever, long after one has forgotten dates, facts, or formulas.   And, here again, there is nothing like this category on any student evaluation form I know of. 


What institution would give this teaching badge?

My ideal Teaching Badge system would be hosted by my university, Duke University, but with an open enough format that students in individual classes could create their own badges and add them to the system as well as use pre-existing badges.   Each badge would carry the metadata indicating how the category was selected, who created the badge, and how the points for that badge were determined, with either individual point-givers named or the individual class named.   The badge system would allow that kind of variability.   Since there would be no negative system but, rather, points awarded only where they were thought to be earned and deserved, the metadata should be traceable back to (and verifiable by) the point givers. 



I spend as much time out of the classroom as in it, in a partnership with many others I administer HASTAC Central and the HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competitions. I spend many hours each week working with my HASTAC and DML team and, at the end of each year, I fill out a Human Resources form that has set categories, bubbles to fill in, some boxes for prose.  (In fact, I write long letters every year but that is optional, not part of the actual practice).  These are a little like student evaluations, with inherited categories, most of which don't really fit what we do.    Thinking about the badges I would most like my colleagues to give me, it turns out they are the same ones as I would love my students to value, in themselves and in me.   (1) Inspiring Innovation and Creativity Badge  and (2) The Tim Gunn Make It Work Badge   As with the teaching badge, though, what I want doesn't matter.  It would be a fantastic management exercise to have our whole team think individually and then collectively about the badges they think most characterize the work they do, how they do it, and what they are most proud of.   We have a staff meeting soon.  Maybe we'll try this.  


Okay, I began this exercise in response to a challenge and, in two moves, I've come to realize how much a badge is a collective and individual "Rorschach Test" that allows us to see what we see when we look at ourselves or our organization from an unanticipated new perspective.   I don't think I would have come up with those two seemingly opposite qualities that I prize in teaching and in co-directing a virtual organization if I hadn't been set the challenge to list badges. 


Who Would Give These Management/Supervisor Badges?

For me, the ideal would be for Duke's Human Resources division to offer such badges, again, as with the teaching badges, customizable by one's colleagues and what we call "direct reports."   Because hiring, firing, and the rewards and recognition system are all bound up with HR, though, this system would have to be thought through carefully, since bosses who don't get great glittery badges might retaliate and be punitive.   I don't have a solution to this, but what a great workplace problem to think through together to come up with a better system than the present, where feedback goes from top down and rarely the other direction.  Confidentiality, worker protection, anonymity, and other safeguards would be important in this sytem and, again, important to talk through as a collective.



My list didn't didn't get very far--only two badges--but, from another point of view, it got me to a place I would not have thought to go otherwise.  Isn't that the point?  Isn't that the most important aspect of thinking together about badges, that it forces us not just to apply a pre-existing system of credit or value that we've inherited from a different historical moment . . . but to think in powerful new ways about ourselves, our organization, our values--to think, together, about what counts and how we want it counted. 


What counts in your world?   What counts for you?   If you have ideas, please use the comments function below to list your own badge ideas.



The deadline for the Stage One applications for the Digital Media and Learning Competition in "Badges for Lifelong Learning" has been extended to November 14.  To find out more, go to




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  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 or order on by clicking on the book below.   To find out Cathy Davidson's book tour schedule, visit

  [NYSI cover]





1 comment

Hi Cathy, thanks for sharing your thoughts around this; I think it's important to reveal thought processes and you've certainly done that. :-)

Recently at work we did the Belbin Team Inventory exercise which demonstrates how your self-perceptions match up with those with whom you work on a regular basis. I found the results fascinating as it largely confirmed what I thought about myself. It also, however, threw up a couple of surprises which I've been thinking about and working on.

What has Belbin got to do with badges? Well it got me thinking about what Carla Casilli said at a session on Open Badges at the Mozilla Festival last weekend. She mentioned how when people recommend other people on LinkedIn they usually talk about the 'soft' skills of teamwork, leadership, etc. that aren't usually credentialised by our current grade-based system.

So, I suppose what I would like to see are the types of badges that make visible what is usually only available through word of mouth, badges like:

  • Pot-stirrer (i.e. the type of person you want at the table to mix things up)
  • Conversation-starter
  • Amplifier

Either is down temporarily as I write this or down permanently. If it's the latter, it's a shame as it was a good example of the 'automatic' type of badges identified by Ruth Schmidt and the DYN project that I blogged about here.

As with many things, I think the conversation is at least as important as the end result. :-)