Punished by Open Badges?

Punished by Rewards Book CoverWhy Open Badges Could Either Kill or Cure Learning?

As many Open Badges supporters, and self-appointed ambassadors, I had absolutely no reservation regarding Open Badges: I saw them as the natural development of the work I did on ePortfolios as a means to support, recognise and celebrate learning and achievements: I envisioned Open Badges as a means to create an open and distributed ePortfolio architecture.

I saw no evil in Open Badges. That is, until I learned about Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. As the book was written by Alfie Kohn in 1993, and revised in 1999, it does not address Open Badges. Yet, the book provides plenty of evidence from research eliciting the deleterious effects of extrinsic motivation on learning (and work), one of the most noxious legacies of B.F. Skinner, the psychologist described by Alfie Kohn as the one who “experimented with pigeons and wrote on people.”

This post is divided into 3 main parts:

  1. An exploration on the potential dangers of Open Badges practice (Open Badges as glorified gold stars) and infrastructure (asymmetry)
  2. An exploration of the potential benefits of Open Badges practice (Open Badges as distributed ePortfolios) and infrastructure (trust).
  3. What needs to be done ASAP[1] to minimise the risks and maximise the potential of Open Badges

One of the objectives of this post is to prepare the welcome of Alfie Kohn as keynote speaker at ePIC 2014. Shall Open Badges and ePortfolios pass the Alfie Kohn test? Whatever the results, his presence should contribute to raising key questions and possibly debunk some of the prejudices hidden in our practices.

In the Reference section of this post you will find some of the (very few) posts addressing the same issue as well as references to Alfie Kohn’s writings and public speaking.

Why Open Badges Could Kill the Desire to Learn?

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User Generated Contexts are COOLE!

We need to address the current asymmetry in the type of technologies developed for education: we have many teaching technologies (LMS, electronic whiteboards, OER, etc.) and substantially less authentic learning technologies. Evidence of this asymmetry, amongst others, is to be found in the fragmentation of the learning landscape and infrastructure, something obvious when a pupil moves from one school to another or when studying at different institutions. How can we put an end to this fragmentation? How can we create a truly Open Education Space (OES)? By making learners the designers, builders and operators of their learning environments, the authors of their learning contexts!

While, thanks to the rise of knowledge media, we now have many practices based on / leading to user generated contents, what we now need are technologies and practices leading to user generated contexts. Why not build digital learning environments based on the MineCraft paradigm, i.e. using a technology accessible to everybody? Why should Moodle and the like be left in the hands of the teaching high priests? The issue is not just to make Moodle more ‘open’ or to give students authoring accounts (to mimic what their teachers do?) but to create new tools, with which they would be empowered to design their own learning environments.

Make learners the architects of their co-constructed learning environment(s)! This is a very different view from the individualistic PLE, or the course-focused MOOC (prefixed with either a ‘c’ or an ‘x’). A User Generated Context should be more like a co-designed / co-constructed / co-operated open learning environment,  a self-generated learning context — autopoiesis.

I will christen this new object: COOLE (CO-constructed Open Learning Environment). Probably what we need for the development of an Open Education Space (OES), beyond institutional boundaries.


How to make learning COOLE?

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