No #OpenBadges, please, don’t spoil my pleasure!

During the planning meeting of #badgetheworld panel at SXSWedu, Dame Kate Coleman (@kateycoleman) mentioned the case of a person (let’s call him Tom) who refused to collect the “programmer badges” he earned, responding that programming was a pleasure and he did not want to have his pleasure spoiled by badges. Then I went to my backlog of mails and discovered a message from Niel, an Irish colleague, pointing to a post with the title: We need more stinkin’ badges (or, how to increase student participation without using grades as a reward) (link). As the author explains, the title comes from a quote that has been used in at least three different movies (most famously in Blazing Saddles in 1974) where the lawmen are asked for their badges, to which they respond, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”

My very first reaction when I heard the story of someone refusing to have his pleasure spoiled by badges was: this guy deserves a badge! We should even create a badge for all the Toms of the world! Later, when I read the post on Badges? We need no stinkin’ badges! I thought, we need to create a badge to celebrate all those who will have the guts to say Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges! Both badges would complete my collection of reflective rebel’s badges.

My guess is that the people who issued the badges refused by Tom would agree with the author of We need more stinkin’ badges when he writes: “Badges are a reward, and doesn’t everyone want something to show for the work they did?”

There are many good reasons to refuse rewards or any form of external incentive. Grades, rewards, awards, praise create an asymmetrical situation where one of the parties is (tries to be) in control of the other. The student motivated by grades is not different from the drug addict in search of a fix. The author goes on lamenting the fact that unfortunately, some students are not motivated by grades (read, they don’t want to buy my poison).

Contrary to the author, I would say: “fortunately, some students are not motivated by grades,” when it is based on the refusal to be controlled like pets (“good dog, here is a piece of sugar”) or crack addicts. The fortunate ones are the strongest and most brilliant. They are in a position to treat grades with disdain. Unfortunately, there are also all those who are the victims of the deleterious effects of grades, rewards, awards and praise.

Alas, the (too many) badges based on the (false) assumption that they can create motivation are nothing more than glorified digital gold stars. And we certainly don’t need no stinkin’ digital gold star!

So, if Open Badges should not be used for extrinsic motivation, what could they be used for? How about exploring intrinsic motivation? What would badges solely based on intrinsic motivation look like? How about moving from a model where badges are primarily pushed to people, mainly by institutions, to a model where they are pulled from people, not just designed and issued for them, but designed and issued with and by them?

On motivation and badges, read @timothyfcook “A Badge Won’t Make Me Care” (link) and “Unpacking Badges for Lifelong Learning” (link)