By Dan Hickey
In previous posts at HASTAC and Remediating Assessment I argued that we need to look beyond the intended purposes of digital badges and consider the actual functions of badges. This builds on what Jim Greeno has convinced me what happens when situative views of knowing and learning are applied to assessment. A later post elaborated on the summative, formative, and transformative functions of digital badges. That later post also promised a subsequent post on what we might call transcendent functions. I had written some about it in the original version but it was too long and I really could not wrap my head around it at the time. The upshot was something like this:
Digital badges promise to allow some and force others to transcend existing paradigms of recognizing, assessing, motivating, and studying learning.
Beyond this prediction I could not really add very much beyond referencing Cathy Davidson’s suggestion that the 2012 competition might be the “tipping point” for the DML community.
But in the last couple of week, Cathy Davidson, Bill Penuel, Michael Olneck and others have initiated a really great discussion of this issue on one of our project blog posts at HASTAC on studying learning with digital badges. These exchanges convinced me to return the notion of transcendent functions in light of the work over the subsequent year. Cathy’s closing question on her initial comment really helped move my thinking forward:
Is it possible that the chief importance of badges will be to push wholesale reform of existing credentialing systems? Or is the present system too much rooted in an antiquated view of disciplines, competencies, expertise, authority, credentialing, ability/disability, hierarchy and data to be as useful as badging potentially is for new ways of defining the talents needed in the world we live in now?
I think the answer to Cathy’s first question is a definitive yes. But I think that badges will go by the wayside if they don’t reform existing credentialing systems. I am new to credentialing systems and don’t really know the paradigmatic research literature. But Andi Rehak is digging into that literature around the principles for recognizing learning that she uncovered in the first year of the Design Principles Documentation Project. We are thrilled that Michael Olneck and others have been helping point to the relevant research literature. If you look at the detailed Q&A for the 30 badges projects HASTC just posted, there are many examples of recognition practices that transcend existing paradigms for credentialing learning. In particular look at the answers to the questions near the bottom about impact of badge systems on organizations, learners, and badge ecosystems. And that brings us to a major issue we all face…
Connecting Badges to Paradigmatic Research
We are all struggling to map the badge design principles that we are uncovering to the existing research literature. Sheryl Grant and Kristan Shawgo were the first ones to face this challenge when they put together their excellent Annotated Research Bibliography on digital badges. Since there is no “paradigmatic research” on digital badges, they had to make a lot of decisions about what to include and then had to work hard to connect that research to digital badges in their annotations.
My team and I are struggling with this same issue. Organizing practices into four categories of design principles has addressed some challenges and raised new ones. There are bodies paradigmatic research on recognizing, assessing, motivating, and studying learning. But the principles that emerged when we analyzed the enacted practices across the 30 DML 2013 badges awardees simply don’t fit cleanly into any of the established paradigms in each of the four areas. This is why Andi, Rebecca Itow, and Kat Schenke and Cathy Tran decided to not include the relevant research when the drafted their posts on principle for recognizing, assessing, and motivating learning with digital badges. I tried to bring in must some of the potentially relevant research on the principles for studying learning and it took me weeks to draft my post. But as you can see in the conversation, others are helping make connections with additional outside research.
A Specific Example with Motivation Paradigms
In order to help move along one of the other strands, let me elaborate a bit on this point with motivation principles that Kat Schenke and Cathy Tran uncovered. I should start by acknowledging that I believe that conventional motivational paradigms based on variants of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation are too narrow to capture some of the most important social forms of learning that happens in schools and elsewhere. Until now the running debates over “motivation in context” involving Sanna Jarvela, Richard Walker, Julianne Turner, and others have been mostly academic (here is a somewhat outdated summary).
But now it seems that the prevailing individually-oriented paradigms of motivation really do need to be transcended if we want to coherently appreciate, study, and enhance the motivational potential of digital badges. On one hand, the older behaviorist paradigm should be adequate for some of the drill and practice applications of badges. On the other hand, much of the skepticism towards badges (e.g.,Mitch Resnick) comes from concerns about those model of learning (and by extension, those use of badges) that follows from constructivist and constructionist paradigms of motivation. Mitch and people like Alfie Kohn are right. An introduction of a behaviorist badge system into Scratch on the many other constructionist innovations at the Media Lab would be devastating. To paraphrase Kohn, the lovely stuff that happens would be undermined by “grubbing for badges.”
But as we see in the thirty badge project Q&As at HASTAC and hundreds of project elsewhere, digital badges are going to be used and many of the projects are explicitly using them to motivate engagement and learning. What they really need are research-based guidelines for maximizing the positive motivational consequences and minimizing the negative consequences. For example, one of the core cognitivist motivation paradigms that Kat and Cathy are looking at is Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory. Nearly every Ed Psych textbook summarizes the very practical guidelines from that SDT theory offer about the way teachers assess learning and assign grades. (Here is a nice summary). It seems that a little bit of effort on our part connecting that literature to the specific practice and general principles for motivating learning with badges should be should be helpful. In the short term this should help projects understand and shape their badging practices. In the longer term this should help these efforts contribute to that larger body of research that embraces the SDT paradigm.
But many of the practices and principles for motivating learning with digital badges do not fit with either the behaviorist paradigm or the many variants of the cognitivist paradigm. I don’t think that there are enough innovators and researchers exploring newer sociocultural and situative views of motivation to call it a “paradigm.” But this research certainly seems to show that new paradigms are needed to think about motivation to learn when the learning is “stretched across” networks of socially defined knowledge. In particular, badges help reveal the limitations of aggregative approaches to social motivation such as Bandura’s notion of collective efficacy . Keeping within his 40-year old paradigm of self-efficacy, Bandura argues that there is no “collective group mind.” Rather, efficacy of the group is nothing more than the aggregated self-efficacy of the individual members.
This is certainly not what I see when I look at the motivational affordances of existing crowd-sources reputation management systems and many of the badge systems that involve peer judgments. Quite to the contrary, I see motivation to learn being constructed alongside the knowledge that gets constructed in those networks as people interact with and influence each other. Just because we can’t fully appreciate these factors using existing motivation paradigms does not make them go away.
Returning back to my earlier point, this is an example of how digital badges might allow some and force others to transcend existing paradigms of things like motivation. Whether this occurs and we actually encounter a “paradigm shift” among larger numbers of motivation researchers remains to be seen.