Digital Badges – Do we need them?

Posted: February 22, 2012 in education rants
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This post is in response to the many that have been written about digital badges. The latest of which was written yesterday by Ted Curran.

I would argue that a degree does not show mastery. Instead it shows that someone knew 60-70 percent of the material long enough to pass a test. Degrees do not show what a person has done with the knowledge, or in most cases that they can apply the knowledge outside of the academic setting. While at the same time limiting the learning of those who wish to go above and beyond.

Additionally degrees are only available for those who persistent formal education pathways. There are many ways to learn any topic outside of a formal setting, and these learners are currently left out in the cold. In the united states there are methods to gain credit for this knowledge through AP and CLEP exams or course challenges. The problem with these methods is that they are not well known and can only be used for a small percentage of the units in a degree.

Digital badges have the ability to assist in recognizing non-formal and informal learning. I don’t think that anybody is really disputing this. The issue that people have is that organizations will just hand out badges without ensuring that learners really met a criteria. Cathy Davidson addressed a similar issue in today’s post concerning the start of multiple choice tests. ” How do I know my child is a “top student” when the person determining that excellence is herself not “top”?” This applies to the issuers of badges as well. This can only be accomplished with the aid of supporting materials. The framework has provisions for linking to evidence such as portfolios.

The next question is of course why don’t we just use portfolios to show what we know? What do you think?

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