My colleagues and I proposed a session on digital badges in legal research for the AALL Annual Meeting. Much to our chagrin, we were turned down, but we are undeterred. We’re still talking about digital badges and what they might add to our online legal research course.
We’re all familiar with badges from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Each badge is a tangible indicator that a scout has met prescribed criteria for learning and achievement in a given area – aeronautics, survival skills, physics, poetry, animal care, and so on. The military uses visible indicators of achievement as well, with stars and bars indicating rank and medals showing honors.
Digital badges are also indicators of learning and achievement, just intangible (requiring no sewing, ironing, or pins!). Once earned, digital badges are stored electronically in a “backpack” or portfolio, and there are badge clearinghouses where you can keep your backpack. Badges can then be communicated to instructors, supervisors, potential employers, or anyone else who might be interested in credentials. Badges can also be displayed on personal websites, blogs, and social networking environments.
Mozilla’s Open Badges is one of the leading digital badge sites, with free software and an open technical standard that anyone can use to design, create, and issue badges. The open standard allows for reliable verification and allows badge earners to collect in one backpack badges from many different sites. Earners can also control the sharing of their badges for different audiences. .
One of the reason badges are intriguing is because they can carry all sorts of metadata about the criteria plus data about the actual achievements of the earner. For example, a badge for a legal writing class could contain information about the course requirements, when and where the course was taken, the grade earned, assignments, grading rubrics, and the actual written work of the student. This would give a potential employer much more information than a mere transcript or résumé.
I can imagine implementing badges in a number of different ways in our online legal research course: perhaps a badge for all those earning As, a badge showing mastery of statutes and regulations, a badge for state- or topic-specific research. Maybe we create a legal research metabadge – a conglomerate badge created by earning several smaller badges. Would the possibility of earning badges provide better motivation to the students than a mere grade? Would badges be perceived as meaningful or gimmicky? Would badges change learning outcomes or are they just about communicating what’s already being achieved? Can we garner the institutional and technical support necessary to begin experimenting with badges? Will they be passé in two years?
Obviously, I have a lot of questions still. My research into badges will continue. In fact, I’m enrolled in a MOOC where I can earn badges for learning about badges. And I don’t have to sell cookies!