Mozzadrella on Badges: A Refined Opinion

It’s been a badge-heavy week. I’ve known that both of my instructors at MIT, Mitch Resnick (Lifelong Kindergarden Lab) and Sherry Turkle aren’t keen on them—they’ve both mentioned that badges were the exact opposite of the way we should be thinking about lifelong learning.

So I was surprised when they changed the reading of this week to the Mozilla Open Badges white paper. As a member of the Peer 2 Peer University community (an organization that uses badges), I went into the conversation with the posture:

  • badges recognize the learning happening everywhere
  • an open badge system can evolve faster than slower institutions of learning
  • easy entry into technical and artistic experiences is good for culture–open learning+badges supports that process
  • I also don’t really see what the all the wrist-wringing is about.

They also assigned Alfie Kohn, who came to our class and challenged the concept of badges (in an extremely spirited fashion). Kohn points to the lingering beliefs about behaviorism in our culture–that where education fails is when we offer direct rewards for performance.  He points to research that shows that folks perform less creatively and generally worse over time whenever there’s a reward involved. Rewards damage our culture, according to Kohn, when they create a society of folks expecting “tokens” for their performance—this gesture makes people self-centered, less intrinsically motivated, and less curious.

And I bristled at this.  It’s counter to my experience with P2PU.

I spend time with Peer 2 Peer University because I enjoy it. And when I see the badges I’ve earned, they remind me of the amazing P2PU Community and the projects that I’m proud of.  I don’t even think I buy the extrinsic versus intrinsic debate–people come to P2PU for so many reasons, and a whole host of motivations. Open learning, unlike many other learning structures, isn’t really a simple rewards situation–a “you do this, you get that” economy–because we all help each other.

To me, badges are a reflection of a suite of experiences I’ve had. Because of this, I tend to look at them after the fact, as a collection, as something I’d probably be doing anyway–but P2PU facilitated the connection.

I refuse to limit the learning experience to the badge alone—to render the experience an object.  These badges are stories—rich and evolving and unexpected.  And I think it’s this limited sense of “badge as object” that many folks take issue with.  I just don’t read it that way.

As I start day 2 at Mozilla Media Freedom and the Web Festival in London, I’m glad to have spent that time sharpening my ideas on the subject.  So far, school has been a sustained time for me to reflect on pieces I’ve been mulling over for years—and that’s really one of the best outcomes I could expect for it.

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One thought on “Mozzadrella on Badges: A Refined Opinion

  1. It s just more often than not, the really fun times are the ones I don t anticipate, and the experiences I look forward to and build up the most tend to be a damp squib.

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