I had an email discussion today with some partners in a EU project I am involved in. We are discussing the option of giving badges to learners and teachers who participated in the project. We have some disagreement about the (potential) value of using badges in this particular project (aimed at dropouts). I summed up my ideas about it in an email, which I share below.
First, on the value of a badge in a professional sense, so for assessing some kind of competency or experience: if the only thing you have in front of you is a badge from some unknown issuer or of a course you have never heard of, sure, it might be meaningless. If the person has multiple badges that show all kinds of efforts in a domain or just that someone has varying interests, this could be more interesting for an employer or for an administrator deciding upon applications for a college. What I want to say is that you do not have to see badges as a definite proof of ability, but as a conversation starter, just like your CV is. Still, some badges can be issued by reputable institutes, websites, or individuals, making them valuable by itself.
Secondly, I think that badges could have a value in the sense that people owning them could share them with friends and family, just to show you have been part of some kind of experience. It legitimizes in some respect the time on school or effort put in a project, as you can describe in detail why the badge has been issued, and what the criteria for issuing the badge were. Students and teachers might be fond of it, or not, I don’t know, but it’s worth finding out, especially if we take the idea of integrating the reAct approach into regular educational curricula seriously. As many of the competencies developed by students and teachers in the program are not rewarded in the traditional sense, badges could be a solution.
Thirdly, as you are mention as well: they can be used as a way to get additional information from and/or to give additional feedback to students and teachers applying for a badge. This could indeed be a significant undertaking or not, if we choose to put less effort in it.
Fourth, badges could be used as a personal and shareable portfolio where specific experiences and competencies are made more explicit, and thus more visible for the user and others. The learner (or teacher) could evaluate it and see if there are things ‘missing’ in it, and construct personal learning goals accordingly.
Praise and reward can be just as serious a block as punishment. Take the Desmond Morris story; the chimps loved to play with paint and produced some very interesting patterns of form and colour. But once the chimps were rewarded they lost interest in their paintings and began to produce the minimum acceptable. Seeking reward can be a significant block—knowing that something you or your friends are doing is valuable and then trying to repeat it.