by Andi Rehak and Daniel Hickey
In more formal educational contexts, this practice is usually called "credentialing." We are using a more general term of “recognizing” to emphasize that many of the practices for recognizing learning with badges are more informal. For example, while a Girl Scout badge is technically a credential, few would call it that. The different DML projects recognize various types of learning. The way that learning is recognized and who recognizes it also varies. These differences then have consequences for assessing, motivating, and studying learning.
Our Process for Identifying these Principles
This resulted in the preliminary set of design principles listed below, starting with the ones that were most widely represented. These principles are not set in stone. The principles and (eventually) sub-principles will continue to evolve as we work with them, identify resources that are relevant to each, share them with projects, and begin sharing them more generally. We seek your questions and suggestions. Please post comments directly on the blog.
2. Align badges to standards. Many of the projects used national or international standards to increase the external value of the badge. Alignment to standards is presumed to improve transparency of the credential and help to facilitate better communication of earner knowledge and skills. Some of these standards were more formal such as, the Common Core State Standards, while others were the less formal such as "21st Century Skills." Sometimes the alignment was very formal but other times it was very informal. Highlighting the relationship between recognition and assessment, the formality of this alignment was usually defined by the formality of the assessment practices involved.
3. Have experts issue badges. Having experts issue badges increases the credibility of the badge and likely influences the usefulness of the credential outside of the issuing community. At some level, some expert is associated with issuing badges. But the nature and role of this expert varied quite a bit, as did that way that the expert was him or herself credentialed. Sometimes the expert held an external credential, while other times the expert was credentialed by the community; some projects include both.
6. Use badges as a means of external communication of knowledge and/or skills. As with the previous principle, most projects did this at some level. But some projects really made a concerted effort to increase communication of the learning or accomplishment that the badges represent.
8. Recognize educator learning as well. Some of the projects awarded badges specifically to educators. This is a different principle that relates to the several projects where additional badges were included alongside student badges. These were sometimes that same as the badges for students and other times they were specific to the educators. Generally speaking, these badges were used to recognize the educators’ participation in the broader learning ecosystem.
9. Award formal academic credit for badges. In a few projects, badges were used as a supplement to a formal grade for in-school experiences. Currently, only a couple of projects have successfully created partnerships that allow a badge to directly result in formal academic credit. This of course greatly increases the value of the badge for badge earners.
A Design Implication
We conclude by introducing a dilemma we faced in this process. This dilemma was embodied in the distinction between (a) integrating badges into an existing curriculum and (b) creating a badge system and a curriculum at the same time. For a while we treated this as a design principle for recognizing learning. But we came to see it more as a “design implication.” This difference seems to have great impact for the design of the badging practices (and likely for the learning ecosystem that results). But this distinction was largely a result of the context in which badges were being introduced, rather than a deliberate choice. As such it did not seem like this qualified as an actual design principle. When badges are being added to a pre-existing curriculum, the curriculum will constrain the way learning is recognized. For example, if an existing curriculum is not aligned to standards, it is very difficult to align a badge to standards. Alternatively, when the curriculum is being developed alongside badges, the options for both may seem limitless and overwhelming. A pre-existing curriculum can importantly help to structure design decisions. There are specific advantages for either approach.