I was introduced to open badges via a tweet by Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milton high School and author or Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. He mentioned the work of Laura Fleming in providing a badge infrastructure to support staff PL. Inspired by that example I began developing and issuing digital badges to staff at Don College to credential their PL. Realizing the usefulness of badges I am now also issuing them to students in my classes.
What are Digital badges? On a simple level digital badges, also called micro-credentials, are icons linked to metadata describing the criteria needed to earn the badge, the issuer of the badge and supportive evidence. Once earned, badges can be stored online and shared via email and social media like Facebook and Linkedin. The dominant standard is now Mozilla Open Badges. This infographic from Mozilla gives an overview.
One of the things I have discovered as I work with badges is that they are not all the same. The badges issued to staff are qualitatively different to those offered to students. Many of the badges incorporated into learning management tools are different again. This is problematic, because if badges representing robust credentials are put beside ‘well done’ badges issued to grade school students, the integrity of the whole system is put into question. To overcome this a standard taxonomy for badges needs to be established to differentiate between types of badges within the open standard. The question is how should this taxonomy be defined?
Badges could be classified according to subject area or content. Cities of Learning have moved towards this with their classification of badges against STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and maths). While this works well in the context of that program it has limitations. Many valid badges could not be categorized in this way, and STEAM is not in my opinion a balanced definition, in the sense that it really comes down to STEM + everything else, implying a bias towards science and technology related content.
A natural progression from that idea is to categorize badges according to context. For example professional learning badges, high school badges, community badges etc. This shows some promise, but in my opinion the contexts themselves are not easy to categorize. With increasing use, badges will be incorporated into an increasing and changing range of contexts. In addition qualitatively different badges might be used in the same context. As such a context based taxonomy would not be stable and well defined.
To establish an effective taxonomy we need to look at the badges themselves. The first distinction I can see is that some badges are based on specific competency and others are not. The open badges standard requires that badges should contain criteria and evidences, which means that the badges are issued in recognition of a level of competency or a skill. The fact is, though, that there are good reasons for issuing badges which don’t recognize a specific measurable competency. Badges can be issued to young students as an encouragement for good work, rather like the ink stamps we used to have in grade school. People also like to issue badges to friends and colleagues for sundry social reasons. (A colleague at a recent PL meeting issued me a badge for “trying my best”.) So within our taxonomy we need to recognize two genera; competency based and non-competency-based badges.
Within the non-competency badges we have two species;
- Encouragement badges are awarded like good work stamps to encourage (mainly) young learners.
- Social badges are used like friendship cards, or for fun.
Competency based badges divide into three species:
- Achievement badges are issued to credential demonstration of a specific skill or achievement. An achievement badge might be issued for running 100m in 10 seconds, for being elected class captain etc. The achievement is defined in the badge and evidences attached.
- Skill badges are issued to credential expertise in an area. They include a series of criteria that need to be met. For example they might be issued to staff who demonstrate effective integration of an ICT package into their teaching. Skill badges differ from achievement badges in that they have more complex criteria and do not apply to a single achievement or event.
- Mission badges are used where a person (usually a student) has embarked on a series of activities with the aim of achieving a badge. These missions are often cross curricular and involve the development of a skill followed by a culminating achievement. Mission badges occupy the area between skill and achievement badges. Not surprisingly a mission badge might be issued as the culmination of a group of related skill and achievement badges.
So there we have what I believe is a workable taxonomy, which classifies badges according to their qualities. It avoids confusion about the nature of a badge and quarantines the more robust and meaningful badge credentials from the weaker ones. In this way it preserves the integrity of the badge philosophy.
I welcome your thoughts as I am sure that there is room to refine and further develop a taxonomy for digital badges.