Digital Badges Meeting at the NSF Headquarters Hosted by NYSCI

by Katerina Schenke
This post describes a meeting at the National Science Foundation where sixty leaders in education and research from around the country gathered to discuss digital badges and education.  Three of use presented the initial set of design principles from the Design Principles Documentation Project.
Monday April 1stwe travelled to the NSF headquarters in Arlington, VA. There, Michelle Riconscente and Margaret Honey from the New York Hall of Science hosted a meeting with an impressive list of attendees. STEM educators, members from after school programs, researchers, professors from all different disciplines (computer science, educational psychology, learning sciences) among others met to discuss the current and future research surrounding badges.

Rebecca Itow, Cathy Tran, and I were invited to attend as members of the Badge Design Principles Documentation project and had been asked to serve as official note takers of the meeting. We ended up doing Dan Hickey’s presentation on the project and about digital badges research because Dan instead had to attend to a death in his family.  Our presentation went over well and the audience was very interested in the initial set of design principles emerging across the 30 projects funded by the Gates/MacArthur Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative

Along with discussions about the logistical concerns about the use badges such as how to manage these various systems (Erin Knight from Mozilla), on-the-ground depictions of badge systems (Alejandro Molina from the Providence After School Alliance, Marc Lesser from MOUSE, Inc, and Akili Lee from the DigitalYouth Network, just to name a few), and the potential for badges to optimize student learning (Barry Fishman).  We candidly spoke about some concerns about badging such as “what is the life expectancy of a badge” (Avi Kaplan), and “what are some of the challenges and what are some of the insights as a result of this work?” (Michelle Riconscente).

As someone who is interested in what badges can do for student motivation, a question from Learning Sciences legend Allen Collins really stood out:

“Badges is a low stakes enterprise but at the other end we think about using badges to make decisions like colleges, employers which are kind of high stakes decisions and we kind of know that when you put high stakes on things it distorts the way the system works. It leads to cheating and all of that. So the question is how can the badge community resolve this tension?”

Given that some of the badges efforts are already planning for high-stakes uses, this is a huge question.  Unlike course grades and diplomas, digital badges contain detailed evidence and hyperlinks to more evidence about the issuer and what the individual did to earn the badge.  While this won’t prevent these concerns, it will certainly cause them to unfold differently. Should we resist turning badge systems into high stakes pursuits? Is there a way to design these systems in such a way where badges contain outside value to the learner yet still emphasize the learning process within the badge system?

Comments? Thoughts?


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