#OpenBadges: Beyond Spray and Pray!

The current Open Badge process looks very much like spray and pray: badges issuers spray badges then pray that they will be collected —in many instances less than 20% of earners push them to their backpack. Badges earners spray (some of) their badges on the web then pray to get some kind of feedback or value. Badge designers, issuers and earners pray that badge consumers will be able to make sense of the (pretty) pictures embedding the metadata.

If we had to describe Open Badges as a market, it would be qualified as a supply-led market, not a demand-led one. A supply-led market is dominated by producers pushing goods to consumers, enticing them to buy through marketing campaigns. It is what the #BadgeTheWorld and @BadgeEurope could become, and will not!

What would a demand-led Open Badge market look like? What would the benefits be in moving from a model where badges are primarily pushed onto people, to one where badges are pulled from them, with their active participation?

There are two ways to think in terms of demand-led: one of them is to invite the potential clients to tell suppliers what kind of goods and services they would like to receive. This might look like demand-led, while it is just a patronising version of supplier-led. Another model is based on the emergence of the prosumer, a term coined by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave (1980): as society moves toward the Post-Industrial Age, so will the number of pure consumers decline. They will be replaced by “prosumers,” people who produce many of their own goods and services (Philip Kotler source). The read-write web, the fablabs, the webmakers, the regain of interest in cooperatives, are evidence of the emergence of the prosumer. We just don’t want to be adjusted to the market, we want to decide how the market should be. It is for the market to adapt to us and not the other way around.

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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)

Why the #OpenBadges infrastructure is not, and should not be “learner-centred”

To those who still believe that Open Badges are learner/earner centred, just have a look at one of the slides of a presentation Nate Otto and I gave at OpenEd 2014. I’ll repeat it ad nauseam until we have fixed this issue, but the current Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) is 100% centred on the issuer. As the vast majority of issuers are organisations the truth is that Open Badges are organisation-centred. Anybody pretending that Open Badges are learner-centred tells a fallacy, unless their idea of centredness  is that of a firing squad — the only difference being that the person at that centre doesn’t have the option to put the bullet in their backpack!

Is this Learner-Centred????? (I= issuer, E= Earner)

Is the the current issuer-centredness a defect that could be corrected by making the Open Badge Infrastructure more earner-centred? Is it the centre we should aim for? Or should we aim for multiple centres or no centre at all?

While there is no technical reason for keeping apart the functions associated to issuing and earning badges (even in the mercantile world of eBay, everybody is a buyer and a seller) it would be very interesting to look back and understand why, in the world of education, it was decided that there shall be issuers, there shall be earners, there shall be consumers, but they shall not mix. Maybe the answer is in the question: the world of education is an asymmetrical world, where power is unevenly distributed, it should not therefore come as a surprise that technologies embody those existing power structures.

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Endorsement: an #OpenBadges paradigm shift, thanks to @ottonomy

Thanks to Nate Otto (@ottonomy) an extension for endorsement of Open Badges is currently under review (link). I would like to explain why this ‘extension’ is much more than a simple add-on to an existing specification but a breakthrough, an invitation to a paradigm shift (yes, nothing less Nate!)

The proposed extension is the outcome of the discussions (link) in the Badge Alliance Endorsement Working Group (link) lead by Deb Everhart (@ariadne4444). A collaborative document was produced to capture our work (link).

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