By sleeping before I blogged, I’ve gotten way behind on the whole badges thing.  Here are some belated first thoughts.

The Good

  • Badges recognize that meaningful learning can happen in units smaller than a 750 minute credit hour.
  • The backpack concept makes it easier for learners to aggregate credentials (I am under no illusion that badges are not credentials written small).
  • The replacement of A-B-C-D-F with badge or no badge (now everything is pass-fail, in essence) may reduce relentless sorting pressure.

The Meh

  • Badges still rely on external validation.  Validation already exists outside of the formal higher ed system.  Ask anyone who’s ever taken an MCSE or DELF exam. Therefore badges still signal.  Some badges will be perceived as more valuable ( a .NET badge validated by Microsoft) than others (a .NET badge validated by your brother-in-law, unless he happens to be Steve Ballmer).
  • Badges are touted as a way for learners to have more control over their learning. Can that really happen given that , with external validation, controlling your learning is about  choosing which badges from which validators you will pursue?
  • Almost anything a badge documents could be documented by an e-portfolio.  Badges become another shortcut HR offices and Admissions committees can use to avoid actually examining a person’s work in making screening decisions.

The Ugly

  • How will one ensure that the badges a person claims truly belong to them?  Since badges are digital, anyone planning to validate them is going to have to make significant investments in security and redundancy.  If your badge is hacked or the validator is no longer able to document it’s validity, the badge is worthless.
  • Will a badge system require you to have a single verifiable identity to which your badges are attached? (Thanks to Bud Hunt for spurring this thought). This is a dream for Facebook and Google, and a nightmare for the EFF.
  • The current system of degrees ensures that it’s not just about employable skills.  Even students doing a career-focused AAS are required to take classes in English, math, history, and arts/literature.  To the extent that badges succeed , we may well end up in a world where employers will hire based solely on skill-related badges, removing much of the incentive  that remains for students to learn history, arts, scientific thinking (outside of those in science careers) and other things which contribute to their becoming critical thinkers, conscientious citizens, and well rounded human beings.