Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Recent Digital Badges Literature and the Digital Archive

By James Willis 

Two recent contributions to the growing scholarly literature on digital badges strengthen the case for rethinking educational micro-credentialing. The proliferation of digital badges across numerous divergent and interconnected ecosystems certainly warrants scholarly attention. In particular, these papers highlight the importance of digitally-stable, educational artifacts.

Gamrat, Zimmerman, Dudek, and Peck (2014) worked with the National Aeronautics and
C. Gamrat
Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) to “develop design principles and research findings about how digital badges can support transformative pedagogical practice in work environments” (p. 3). Their work in professional development highlights 36 teachers’ customized learning experiences within a scope of 63 “activities related to skills and content knowledge for science teachers focused on weather and climate science, engineering, and the solar system” (p. 5). The available micro-credentials
were subdivided into lower stakes stamps (133 stamps were issued) and higher-stakes badges (21 badges were issued), with the latter requiring direct application of the learned material with their workplaces. Their findings include the importance of allowing learners “to articulate their workplace goals at the start,” with “flexible goal setting” during the experience (p. 10), field-specific materials and learning experiences with “varied forms of assessment,” and archived materials for refreshing at a later time. These findings appear to pivot on the final component: access to the guidance of subject matter experts who can provide guidance and assessment.

Ahn, Pellicone, and Butler (2014) address the multi-faceted complexities behind “open” badges with a framework to consider badges, “motivation, pedagogy, and credential” and
J. Ahn
openness, “production, access and appropriation” (p. 1). The authors provide an excellent assessment on how badges carry “the potential to signal finer-grained skills, knowledge or dispositions” (p. 3); they rightly point to how badges help transcend the formality of a degree which, though issued by an institution, remains somewhat vague about skill sets. Their discussion of openness is equally valuable to communicate the benefits of internet connectivity “to encourage sharing, reuse and remix…artefacts in a systematic way” (p. 4). The analytical strength of this paper rests, however, in the discussion of how the emerging world of open badges brings forth “tensions” and “opportunities.” This paradox is especially helpful: “The ability for individuals to interpret and re-appropriate different badges for their own use may widen and diversify the recognition of learning across multiple settings. However, the same openness of interpretation may work to inhibit the usefulness of a badge as a credential” (p. 6).

Both articles address the concept of digital artifacts generated by badging assessments. For Gamrat, Zimmerman, Dudek, and Peck (2014), the value of such artifacts rests with the ability of the learner to review material while for Ahn, Pellicone, and Butler (2014), artifacts operate in a matrix of open materials that others can access, alter, and amalgamate into one’s own learning experiences. There are some subtle differences in the relay of information from learners to open communities, but both articles demonstrate how the metadata produced by activities leading to badges are of value to both the learner and those who access the data after the badge is awarded.

Digital artifacts are, indeed, important to badging, but they are penultimate to the ontological question of where the data reside in time and digitalized space. Whether housed on proprietary servers, downloaded to individual files, or uploaded to social media, badge metadata ‘exist’ as an archival act. This means that badge providers and learners engage in an exchange of sorts to define the parameters. Within the archive, a badge signifies learning, an ascription linked to evidentiary assessments, and future value(s) the badge may take (for example, if the badge has an expiration date). The ontology of the digital badge is, then, analogous to establishing the memory of learning. If the archive provides the mechanism for envisioning the parameters of micro-credentialing, then the re-envisaging of learning may well reside in the power of providing a demonstrable and public accounting of one’s skills of today and potentiality of tomorrow.

Ahn, J., Pellicone, A., & Butler, B.S. (2014). Open badges for education: What are the implications at the intersection of open systems and badging? Research in Learning Technology, 22, pp. 1-9. Retrieved from:

Gamrat, C., Zimmerman, H.T., Dudek, J. & Peck, K. (2014). Personalized workplace learning: An exploratory study on digital badging within a teacher professional development program. British Journal of Educational Technology, pp. 1-13. Retrieved from: doi:10.1111/bjet.12200

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