Blog Post

Why Do (Some) People Laugh When They First Hear About Badges?

As I mentioned some time ago during a Mozilla community conversation, when I first heard about badges in spring of 2011, my first reaction was “This is flaky.” That was just an instant reaction, with no content that I could really express. Recently, I mentioned the idea to a faculty colleague. She laughed heartily, and for quite a while. But, she could not articulate why she was laughing. Then, I read in a January, 2012 piece in the Chronicle by Jeffrey Young (‘Badges’ Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas) in which Cathy 
Davidson is quoted as having at first thought that the idea of badges was “frivolous.”
 
I am guessing that part of reason for this kind of reaction is the association of badges with Cub Scouts, Brownies, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts. But, if that were all there was to it, people could probably recognize and say that. 
 
So, my question is: What accounts for these kinds of reactions? Have you encountered similar reactions when you have introduced friends or colleagues to the idea of badges? Are they able to explain their reactions? Do you have ideas about the sources of these kinds of reactions? 
 
Looking forward to hearing from others about this. (As well as about other kinds of reactions. What do people think and say upon hearing for the first time about badges?)
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19 comments

Should say when I first heard about badges in spring, 2012.

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When I first heard of the Mozilla project, it seemed to me to be a natural extension of the very successful Microsoft and Cisco badge initiatives that grew out of the last century. Most everyone associated with education and the internet recognizes Microsoft certified engineer / administrator badges or Cisco Networking Expert badges. These certifications (and others like them) have carried badges for well more than a decade. They have been at the core of validating knowledge in the IT field. Here's a link to a collection of mostly relevant images http://tinyurl.com/certbadge . So, at least for those in the IT field, the idea of badges to certify learning has been accepted and credible for a long time. -ray

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Thanks for this, Ray.  I've had the same thought.  About half of my talks now are in corporations and hardly anyone blinks there because, yes, Cisco and Microsoft have been badging a long time.   At IBM and many other companies, tens of thousands of employees "badge in" each day (rather than punch a timeclock) and at most medical centers too "badging in" is a necessity and you cannot get anywhere without a badge that certifies who you are.    

 

I think the anti-badging laughter occurs most in educational circles does go back to that deep childhood association, and its parody in popular culture, that I pointed to.     "Badging" by no means is just a childhood word but is used in so many other contexts.

 

In fact, in the Sierra Madre "we don't need no stinkin badges" clip, the outlaws are talking about sheriff's badges, not about scouting.   But If I'm pulled over on the street by a policeman (especially if I happen to be a young black male in America), I certainly don't think it is funny to, at that moment, quote that line.   It gets mis-appropriated by educators to distance themselves from badging in a quite other context.  

 

My verdict?  If Cisco and Microsoft can see why there is utility here in badging for their employees, if every educator I know fully realizes how restrictive and reductive grades and standard testing are, then we need to stop worrying about the word "badges" and think more seriously and deeply about what they can do.   The word isn't the issue, in the end, I'm convinced, but the laughter may be a dismissive reaction that covers our own reluctance (as Sheryl suggests) to give up a system that, in fact, has rewarded most educators who have themselves survived and perhaps even thrived within it .  

 

Hmmmmm . . .  so much food for thought in this exchange.   Thank you all again!

 

 

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From my vantage point of trying to understand the badge phenomenon, this is very interesting.

I wonder if skepticism among educators is more among those in higher education than in PK12. It seems to me that in a lot of the journalistic accounts I have read, there is wide interest among teachers and others working with young people.

One question, Cathy. When you give talks, are you addressing executives or hiring managers? I cannot remember the specifics right now, but I know that in the HR and labor market literatures at which I have looked, there have been instances of possible hiring practices in which executives have expressed interest, and hiring managers have been less than enthusiastic and skeptical.

I have had an additional thought about the laughter provoked by badges. That is that it may, at least in some cases, be prompted by the visual aspect, not (or in addition to) the juvenile aspect. People may be conjuring up images of workers wearing uniforms with myriads of badges on them, and associating that with impressions from advertisements set in (allegedly) Japanese-like factories. Despite these being digital badges, I think the association of badges with something visual is inescapable.

Finally, our varying speculations about this remind me that we are venturing hypotheses, and that we would need some systematic, ethnographic interviews to delve into the matter more deeply, and with broader populations.

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Hi Michael,

My experience has been similar to yours. As the leader and initiator of digital badging in my urban K-12 school district, I have found large support for badging (and surprisingly not one reference to the movie by K-12 educators thus far). We rolled out our program to all 54,000 students in our district this past spring and look forward to an even stronger launch this fall as we go open-source with our badge-issuing platform. Most of the questions and such related to badging have centered on the philosophical, related to learning and motivation theory, as well as the technical, regarding how best to protect student privacy while capitalizing on this innovative practice. We have been able to address the technical issues by creating a password-protected badge issuing platform that integrates seamlessly with our Student Information System (SIS). Students ages 13+ are able to go into their account to publish badges to their Mozilla backpack, if desired. The philosophical conversation will continue as to how best to implement badges, what to award badges for, etc. I enjoy the rich conversation through HASTAC to stay current on the theoretical and practical perspectives of digital badging.

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Michael, your insight about the visual aspects of badges is really interesting. At our September Badges Workshop last year, all of the grantees sent us images of their badges. Not wanting to toss them away, I hung them up in my office to help me visualize their badge systems. There is something about the colorful "sticker" or "logo" look that makes them seem cartoon-like, and standing on their own, you aren't likely to recognize the very rigorous systems thinking behind them. And of course, in print version, you don't see the meta data that makes them transformative. 

I agree that someone needs to do systematic, ethnographic interviews among diverse populations to see what it is about badges that trigger such strong responses. And conversely, on the flip side of badge laughter, there can also be badge euphoria, which varies depending on audience and context, too. 

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Hi Michael,

Let me take another whack at responding because my first version of a post in response to your question was too quick and offensive in a way I meant to deconstruct, not support.  This is an edit, after thinking about it all day and having a little more time to treat laughter with the seriousness it deserves.  (I guess I'm not the first person to run into trouble trying to explain comedy.  Everyone knows that's lots harder than explaining tragedy--long tradition, back to, say, Aristotle, since comedy inevitably entails consensus which entails making the status quo visible and that's always complicated.  But let me give it another try . . . ) 

Badges do bother a lot of people. And some find badges laughable (that painful, un-funny word).  Because they are familiar, they come with baggage, whether from law enforcement or (to get to your question about laughing) comedic traditions satirizing kids who overachieve.   We who are part of this initiative do spend a lot of time justifying or explaining the term "badges." But I am convinced a lot of that humor isn't very funny and is often  about larger popular culture iconography than about badges themselves.   This isn't my area of expertise, but let me see if I can do a better job this time of addressing the issue because "what's funny" (especially dismissively so) is always a serious matter.

Here is my take about this (having had this conversation now dozens of times in the last two years).  I believe the word "badges" conjures up those childhood inequalities and stereotypes (the ones we tell ourselves we've gotten past).  When they hear badges, people immediately go to the iconic and often parodied (over)achieving Scouts, boy or girl, who loaded their sash with badges.  That badge-earning overachiever is a variation on another oft-parodied childhood (over)achiever:  the grade grinder.  

But definitely we are talking about icons wth a long history in popular culture, and it is instructive to think about why they become objects of parody.   Similar or parallel stereotypes in popular culture might be the egghead, the nerd, the geek, the 'goody two shoes,' or the bullied 'sissy' kid whose masculinity doesn't measure up to some presumed "right" standard.  I find all of those images offensive.   And even trying to write this response, I see how easy it is to fall into the trap, how long it takes to sensitively unwind assumptions embedded in popular culture stereotypes.   Why do we laugh at A+ nerdy students or Eagle Scouts--but not at the football captain who dedicates every bit as much time to his area of excellence?  Power, status, and definitely nascent ideas of "femininity" and "masculinity": parodies and jokes regulate behavior.  The flip side is "mean girls" and "bullies," kids who do the regulating in the meanest way.  Perhaps adults laugh self-consciously about badges because they conjure up far too many painful scenes of childhood judgment--who is cool, who is not, and beyond.

Scholars of stereotyping have written about all of these things in much greater depth, and, since there isn't time here to go into those histories (they touch on class, on gender, on race, on sexuality, on culture--you name it!--and often perniciously), it is perhaps dangerous to even try to do it quickly.   Suffice to say that, like all cultural jokes, there are a lot of assumptions that need to be dug through on the way to figuring out why something is funny, who thinks it is funny,who tells the joke, and who gets to laugh at whom.

One point I think about a lot:  Popular culture does not do well by good kids--that makes me more skeptical of the popular culture than of the good kids, though.  As I am reminded by excellent partnerships with the Scouts, most kids earn badges not just to earn badges, but because the represent their hard work.  And what I love about scouting badges, is they offer kids a huge array of areas in which to excel, not just at end-of-grade A, B, C, or None of the Above exclusionary testing.  In fact, digital badges seek to take that diversity of skills and help codify them in a way as "official" and "recognizable" by others as badges have been for Scouts for a very long time.

But it is hard getting past a negative stereotype.  Even in an age where nerds rule, well, I don't have to finish that sentence if you have ever seen a "nerds rule" movie . . .     

And  I wish I had a dollar for everytime someone sent me the "We don't want no stinkin badges" clip . . . I swear someone posts it every single time I or anyone else mentions badges.   

That said, once people listen to what we have to say about alternative credentialing systems or "badges," they often become interested. 

And I do not know anyone who, when they have to think about it, believes "grades" or "SAT scores" or even "resumes" to be particularly sound, complex, subtle, or comprehensive ways to judge and evaluate human achievement.  

To  put "badges" in perspective I often remind people that  "grades" were once regarded as suspect too.   When I lecture on the urgent need for assessment reform, I often tell the story of the American Meatpackers Association adopting--and ultimately rejecting--grades as simplistic, even after Mt Holyoke first introduced them to academe.  Educators adopted A, B, C, and D instead of lengthy comments on papers but the meatpackers thought that system was too narrow and rigid for something as complicated as "sirloin" or "chuck" and continued to keep the "metadata" of the quality inspection as part of their grading system.   I talk about that in the "How We Measure" chapter of Now You See It, what I blogged about earlier in the "Badges Now" post that, I believe, evoked your post. Correct?).  

Many people have told me they love the idea but cannot bear the association of "badges" with something so simplistic.   Yet, like grades, badges work because they reduce a complexity to a clear symbol.   It is efficiency and standardization, as I said in my "Badges Now" blog, that are what make it so hard to displace standardized testing as the gold standard.   What may seem laughable is actually what makes the elegance transferable and may ultimately give us a far more flexible, customizable system that is hardly perfect but, in the imperfect world we all live in, might be a better and improved method of assessing and credentialing. 

Maybe that's the key:  if it is so simple that you can dismiss it, it is also simple enough to grasp.

The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have had that part correct from the beginning.    But simplicity is deceptive.  And very hard to achieve, as anyone who has ever tried to "brand" anything realizes soon enough. 

And in this case simplicity carries complexity with it.    Badges--and especially digital badges which carry their metadata with them--- are also a quite complex instrument that afford many possibility while also being quickly reducible and recognizable.  Anyone who doesn't believe me can look at the very sophisticated, open, and candid summaries offered by this year's Badges for Lifelong Learning grantees, including from Scouts and other long-time badging organizations who are taking digital badges to a new level for their organization.

 When we think about branding, ease and recognition are two very difficult factors to achieve.  Perhaps "laughable" is another way of saying "accessible."    I'm not sure.   I find it frustrating when people just laugh at badges without listening first.   But maybe that familiarity--although it starts, as the saying goes, by "breeding contempt," is actually a first step towards recognition of something real and deep here.  The badging concept seems like it just might, in the end, be a real winner. Just like the avenging nerd or good girl of all those parodic movies who grows up to be CEO.   Right?  Isn't that where the laughter ends in popular culture?

On the other hand:  the single best antidote I know to the laughing (or the stinkin' badges clip) is the seriousness with which our grantees have offered their self-evaluations as a help to others:  http://hastac.org/digital-badges  

This is the most remarkable tool I've seen in any competition of just about any kind, where the grantees themselves help others by reflecting critically on the lessons they have learned from two years of working out the kinks, details, and mechanics of badging systems, from a technological level to an institutional level to the level of public acceptance and adoption.   This is profoundly important. 

I don't have to tell you about any of this---I'm thinking outloud over a two-day period about all the complexity your post seriously evoked about laughability.   Laughter is not easy to unpack--in fact, we package complex feelings as laughter because we don't really know how to talk about those complex feelings.  Sorry it took me a few times to try to sort this out and I'm sure I still don't have it right but I do know it's complicated.   Again, laughter always is.   What do you think?  I'd love to hear more about what's behind your question and your thoughts on the matter.

 

Best

 

Cathy

 

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Cathy wonders what motivated my question about badges evoking laughter.

It was not her "Badges Now" post. Rather, it was the experience of being in a conversation with a colleague about her reactions to a presentation by Joanna Normoyle concerning the U.C.-Davis badge project connected with the Sustained Agriculture and Food Systems program. Another colleague was present, and asked what we were talking about. When we told her, she just laughed and laughed, but couldn't (or, at least, didn't) explain. Then, the other day I was rereading Jeffrey Young's piece, in which he described Cathy as, herself, thinking badges were frivolous when she first heard about them. (Cathy: When did you first hear about badges? Do you recall why you first thought they were "frivolous"?)

At any rate, I have been reading extensively in what sociologists call "Neo-institutional theory," and particularly about how innovative practices or organizations strive for legitimacy, and do or not diffuse, and in what patterns, according to what dynamics. I realized that people's initial reactions to badges can tell us something about what legitimacy challenges badges face, and, possibly, about what framing of badges might prove successful.

I interpret the substitution of "micro-credential" for badge as a tactic to advance the legitimacy of badges, and I think that Frank Catalano, at ProExam Services has said that explicitly, in either one of PES's research briefs, in his just published piece for ICE.

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I want to thank those who have referred to the origins of the “stinking badge” quote. I’d encountered it only in article titles about badges, e.g.,  Kevin Carey, “We Do, In Fact, Need Some (Non-Stinking) Badges,” at the Quick & The Ed, Education Sector, and Dave, "Badges... We Don't Need No Stinking Badges" by Dave, “The Awakinging of a Mind” blog. Clearly, I need to watch more movies.
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Perhaps those who scoff at badges do so because they have a horse in the race, so to speak.  If you have aced your way through elementary, middle, and high school, then undergraduate and graduate school, to reach the pinnacle of academic success -- you have excelled within the exact system that badge systems seems designed to challenge. What makes the current credentialing system valuable, particularly for those at the top, is the scarcity of credentials, so a system that proposes to make credentials abundant might seem too incongruent or too disturbing to take seriously. 

I've also found that most people don't think too deeply about the systems of assessments and credentialing mechanisms they have participated in, and whether those systems accurately verify skills, knowledge, intelligence, and mastery. When your reputation and identity is so wedded to high achievement within a given system, perhaps you have to be motivated by something other than your own experience to see value in an alternate system.  

At the Clinton Global Initiative America summit in Chicago last month, I noticed that people understood and appreciated badges almost instinctively, and I suspect it's because people who attend CGI are actively tasked with resolving inequity of one kind or another. Their job is to tinker with the status quo, whether it's helping vets get jobs, or increasing STEM learning in America, or placing highly skilled workers in advanced manufacturing jobs. They seem to intuitively grasp that a lack of credentials does not mean a lack of knowledge. They also seem to grasp that an abundance of credentials does not dilute the quality of having credentials.

Maybe this is a way to think about the badge laughter -- does the person I'm talking to about badges have an investment in credentials as a scarce resource? 

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After reading this discussion, I would like to add my response. I think the line about "stinkin' badges" was funny for several reasons, but to me, it hits home with the American idea that someone, for the right reason, can be above the law and the authority that bestows it. In a real sense, that is what we, as badge makers, are trying to do to, challenging the status quo.. We are giving the idea of credentialing a new paradigm or at least a new direction, perhaps in the spirit of building upon the intentions of how badges have been used in scouting. In my own approach to how we are building our badge system, and I cannot speak for my team, but I understand badges to hold meta data, to symbolize the learning material and topics and the user response that enables them to "earn" the badge. While it is similar to grades, it is really more complex. Our system is pass/fail. One's work is measured against a rubric and the mentor can provide comments. Some activities can result in a self-awarded badge. Essentially, the work done to earn the badge is personal. The awarding of the badge is the place where the earner and the mentor meet, but as all continue to grow and learn, that place will shift; and it is impossible to anticipate all of the nuances that affect evaluation. It is my hope, that badges empower the learner to self-evaluate because in the end only the individual can truly know what they learned.

There is something very funny about thwarting the rules and denying that we need a credential because, regardless of cultural constraints or rules and guidelines, each person does know how to best follow their own learning path and find the work that best suits them. This famous line has been quoted and reworked for nearly 100 years; I concur with Portlandia's rendition - "Badges? We do need some stinkin' badges." (Portlandia: Season 2, Episode 5, Cops Redesign; 3 Feb. 2012)

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The laughter evoked by badges might stem from the fact that, for most people (and particularly for baby boomers raised on scouting, Westerns and police dramas), badges are a concern of childhood and at first it sounds funny for adults to have serious discussions about badges.

Imagine for a second that a revolutionary new stress reduction regime was developed.  It was simple to do and highly effective.  Imagine also that this useful new regime was called "pacifiers."  A perfectly legitimate, logical name.  But I can guarantee you just about anyone who, for the first time, overheard adults engaged in a serious discussion of which pacifier to use would break into laughter.

The same might be true for the term badges.

 

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For those who do not know the hilarious "We Don't Need No Stinkin Badges" clip we're referring to here, from the classic movie Western/suspense drama Treasure of the Sierra Madre, check this out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqomZQMZQCQ       

 

And to all of you for this really deep and profound exchange about change, my thanks.  I'm writing a book about unintended consequences--how we tend to presume they will always be negative and how that negativity is also about our own fear that we will be able to deal elegantly with the new when it comes along.  This conversation resonates with me deeply.  Thank you.    The sound of words (badges or pacifiers), their history, and all that we embed in youthful aspirations are really something to contemplate.   I'm off to see fireworks (speaking of childhood passions) but will be thinking of you amid the sparklers.   My deep thanks for such deep thoughts---and happy holidays everyone!

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Great point here to focus on, as it addresses some of the frontline challenges when we introduce digital badges.

A few comments in no particular order:

While the line is from Sierra Madre, I think most referencing it now know it from the parody with Mel Brook's Blazing Saddles.

I think the pacifier metaphor is good, but I wouldn't want to discount Cathy's points above which speak to WHY something we think effective for youth would be deemed ill-advised for adults. There is tremendous young people's oppression associated with the context within which badges and gold stars and such were used, an experience many would prefer not to remember. So while I like the pacifier metaphor - asking why would we want to use such a simple tool - I think the discomfort comes from the context within which badges were used. In others words, to some it is as if we said, "Hey, remember when you had to ask permission before going to the bathroom, you couldn't talk or write notes to people around you, and you received constant feedback/criticism on everything you did? Well, have we got something for you!"

Meanwhile, we have two primary audiences when speaking about badges - adults and youth. I usually hear from adults - the flip side of the discomfort issue - concern youth will even care. One one side youth KNOW digital badges - they are in all of their games. While adults often go "oh, I get it" when we talk about alternative assessment, for youth many get it once we talk about digital badges in games and using them for learning. So today's youth's early association is quite different that those for adults.

That said, youth still harbor similar concerns I hear from adults. I introduced our new Museum science badges to a group of four dozen high school youth yesterday. They raised concerns about privacy, being unaware of what they are learning in informal settings, the potential negative pressure of badges within a learning community on those who choose to participate less, and more. They got it. As more youth like them use effective badging systems, and adults who get it use them to make informed discerning opinions about them, they will be the ones introduce badging systems, not us. I am confident their experiences will erase the initial discomforts of others still lingering from their youth.

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Thanks, Barry.  Everyone sends me to Sierra Madre---I hadn't seen this hilarious sequence from Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks at his allusional, referential, fiercely intelligently hilarious best.  Here it is for anyone who does not know this badging sequence:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcokL59jeqU

 

Yes, I think you are correct about these issues, Barry.   Thanks for contributing this experience. 

 

And, Michelle, i really like the way you flip the anti-authoritarian "stinkin badges" by saying, yes, badges have the potential for peer-to-peer legitimacy that goes far beyond ordinary badge "authority."  Another great insight.

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Barry's comment has prompted me to respond again. Catchy was asking about how people respond to the idea of badges. Over the last year as I discuss the project, no one has ever laughed or referenced "stinkin' badges" (except a fellow badge team person). I think it is because when I talk about it, I do so in the context of games. Badge achievements connected with games is normal and readily understood. My inspiration has been James Gee's model of an affinity space. Within that context, what we are creating on the website, providing topical info and user challenges, acknowledged through the badge, is the basis of a playful learning space. This approach arose from work we at OSU did with funding from the NEH to make a game prototype, which I hope we will be able to incorporate into the badge system.


In future iterations of the website, we will add interactive experiences and several mini games, even a larger game. Furthermore, the work of HASTAC and of the awardees is paving the way for this to be highly valued and respected in education. This is indeed an exciting time!

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That's interesting, Michelle.  Some of the most negative commentary we've had on badging has come from those who are game designers and critics of gamification.   They have been opposed to extending badges to education, worrying it will lead to even greater commercialization of the "education industry."  I share that fear of commercialization, in fact, but think it is naive to think the current system is exempt.  I'm hoping badging might also address this matter but, of course, one can never fully control any of these things.   Thank you again for your wise comments. 

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I agree with you. Mostly, I'm talking to various educators, friends, colleagues. Maybe they are unfamiliar, but interested, or are just talking my word for it. In my option, Gamification has good points and bad points and depends on how it is applied. Surely, we don't want education to turn into some state of hyper point gathering.

see Jesse Schell' talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/jesse_schell_when_games_invade_real_life.html

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Hi all,

What a fantastic thread, and one that I'm really glad is going on as various badge-related projects progress. I think many of us here see some of the advantages of badges as "alternative assessment and knowledge fostering systems" that others might not initially. But the concerns that I've heard about badging systems from colleagues in my own work go beyond the kneejerk laughter others have mentioned and speak to the "serious matters" to which Cathy alluded.

I'll preface this response by saying that my work deals exclusively with K–12 education in formal and informal settings, so that's the lens I'm using when reading this thread and thinking about the broader systems in which badges will have to operate. I'm in the area of educational technology research and development and the conceptual frameworks that tend to guide the work at my organization (the Center for Children and Technology) are strongly influenced by the developmental-interaction approach fostered at Bank Street College of Education, as well as by sociological perspectives on structures and dynamics that influence the systems in which youth and adults learn and develop. For me, those influences tend to manifest in an applied research focus on the needs and developmental trajectories of individual learners, the affordances of specific tools and technologies in supporting them, and the needs of the educators responsible for the practices that promote development. With those lenses mind, I'd like to focus on what I perceive to be several assumptions and generalizations that have the possibility of becoming counterproductive when promoting badges as alternative credentialing systems:

1. Badges are not a monolithic phenomenon, nor are youth: Though it probably doesn't need to be said, one badge is not as good as another, nor do all badges and badging systems carry equal merit or value, as the skeptical game designers Cathy mentioned suggests. And though it might still be relatively early in the conceptual life of digital badging, this community will soon need to begin discussing exemplars of successful models, as well as ones that failed. Rather than focusing on the surface-level "badge," those discussions should quickly move to the achievements the badges represent and the underlying systems (or theories of change) that made the achievements possible. I'm somewhat skeptical of using gaming badges as an example of "youth getting it," as those badges often (not always) are rewarded for activities that occur as a matter of course, rather than as the focus of activity. That has a very behaviorist feel, suggesting that we might be interested in using badges as a means of rewarding "good learning behavior." At the same time, I'm also skeptical of using Boy Scout badges as a strong exemplar. I was a Boy Scout (albeit not for very long) and not all of my badges represented "significant achievements" on my part. Sometimes I received a badge for "trying" rather than "mastering." Now, that might be an example of a Scout Master gaming the system or of a good motivational technique depending on your perspective, but it still suggests that we need to look very carefully at what we mean by "good badging systems," just as we need to look at what we mean by "good learning games," "good courses," and "good teachers." What—in specific detail—makes them good, for whom, and under what circumstances? In my field, many of those conversations are likely to lead to mention of "portfolios," "inquiry-based learning," "apprenticeships," and "effective teaching."

Similarly, we need to unpack "youth." Barry suggested that "youth KNOW badges." But which youth? I've spoken with a fair number of youth who don't play digital games, or who do play games and don't see the connection between badges and learning, or who think that the idea of badges might even "cheapen" learning. Those voices, in my experience, have cut across SES. Of course, this is all anecodatal and I agree with Michael and Sheryl in calling for rigorous ethnographic work into the various meanings of badges as a means of developing stronger badging systems and stronger organizing structures for connecting badges to multiple areas of learners' lives.

2. Caveat emptor: In looking over the history of educational technologies and "paradigm shifting" pedagogies, it's relatively easy to see why educators might be reluctant to buy into badges. School systems and educators are regularly reviled and assailed by those demanding the "the need for change." Technologies are often presented as panaceas for ills that frequently have little to do with schooling. Additionally, proposed technological solutions are frequently based on little to no research about how and under what conditions the technologies will effect change. Even where tools might be aligned to some theory of learning, educators are often provided with inadequate training in using them, not to mention (as Cathy has) high-stakes testing and evaluation systems that do little to encourage risk-taking. Again, what's needed—for "buyers" and "sellers"—are examples. What are the badge systems that lead to success or mastery for youth and why do they work? If Microsoft and Cisco accept badges—why? From whom? What kind of learning do the badges represent, and to what end? Will the badges also apply for editors, janitors, journalists, and all other professions? Is that the same model badging system we choose to apply to K–12 education, or higher education? Why or why not?

3. Badges ARE credentials, which will make them commodities: I very much appreciate Sheryl's point about wondering who might be invested in the scarcity of credentials, but I also have a hard time envisioning scenarios in which most people in any given endeavor that entails the exhange of money (or whatever the medium of exchange) for labor won't be at least moderately invested in that idea. This line in particular struck me: "They seem to intuitively grasp that a lack of credentials does not mean a lack of knowledge. They also seem to grasp that an abundance of credentials does not dilute the quality of having credentials." An "abundance of credentials" is not automatically a good thing, nor is it clear that it does not dilute the quality of having credentials. An "abundance of highly-regarded credentials in any given field" might be a better thing, but eventually people in that scenario (should it replace the current one) will also become "wedded to high achievement" in that system, which, to my way of thinking, suggests the perpetuation of inequalities via power dynamics. But one goal (among others) of the current digital badging initiative to which I hold strongly is the idea of making credentials transparent: to the extent that any given "badge consumer" can access the information needed to determine a badge's content and criterion validity, the better off a given community is with respect to having a basis for determining the quality of the credential. But again, we need examples.

All of this suggests to me that we need sustained financial and philosophical commitments to research and evaluation, not only to individual badging projects, but to the relationships among various badge-providing and badge-consuming entities. So that badges do not become a fad (or worse, a failed attempt to do an end run around large systems that are slow to change), our community should continue to probe the naysayers' concerns so that we can address them adequately and push to establish criteria for distinguishing the good from the bad and the ugly.

Cheers and thanks again for the great thread.

 

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