February 10, 2016

Revisiting digital badges, 2016 edition

After a Twitter convo about what's going on with badging initiatives and recently reading an article about badging in libraries that I (+ noted by some others) don't agree with, it feels like time for an update on my thoughts about badging.

When I first started thinking about badges and using badges, they seemed to help solve the problem of so many requests for library instruction, but without having the resources to physically be embedded in each class. I first designed and implemented badging into the one-credit course we used to have for information literacy. It was fully online and part of the coursework included tutorials and other online work. I created badges for our initial pilot that required instructor feedback and more conversation between instructor and student for badges to be earned (rather than automated earning through multiple choice, etc.). This pilot was very successful. Students enjoyed earning badges, saying it helped them organize what they were learning and that it provided more... closure perhaps... than just doing a tutorial or reading something and moving on. Since this course was geared toward freshmen, the badges added a student success component to help them think more about how to study and how to move through a course.

When we moved into the Fall semester pilot (still in 2013), when enrollment for this course gets to be the largest (over 100), we had to revise the badges and make them all mostly automated so that our GA could actually get through all of them plus her regular grading and instruction work for this course. Although students were still positive for the most part about the badges, it didn't feel as successful, to me at least, from an instructor standpoint. This could wind up being a discussion instead about class size, but I think both aspects played a role in my impression.

During this time, I thought since the info lit outcomes for our general education program weren't as strong (and mandatory?) as they needed to be, and that perhaps embedding badging options into gen ed courses would help usher in more info lit instruction, but where librarians wouldn't need to be coming in to do one-shots. We just don't have the resources for those anymore, and as Instruction Coordinator, I will firmly say I don't feel they are beneficial pedagogically to our instruction goals here at the UofA (we are phasing them out, #nomoreoneshots).

I wrote about my presentation to gen ed faculty here and also included student feedback from the pilots. Faculty were positive and it was a possibility to make this work. With a new online college established (UA Online), we also considered embedding badges in these programs since badges might work better with fully online courses. We also considered badges for the Writing Program at the beginning of this academic year. But just popping in automated badges in various spots of the curriculum (without greater collaboration with faculty, potentially) would essentially be the same thing as a one-shot, just virtually. This would be more physically possible, but not be so beneficial pedagogically. After bouncing around and evaluating what might work best instruction-wise, and based on the needs of these programs and departments, we reverted back to thinking about badges as a student success tool. So we have ultimately landed on collaborating with the College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences (CLAS) to use badges in their student success course for undecided students. We are working with our GA and ARL CEP Fellow to have them create and design these badges, and there will be 4 available to students in this program to introduce them to research.

This brings up the discussion also then of using badges with the Framework versus the Standards. I was able to design badges, that required instructor feedback and communication (not automated), to teach students about scholarship as conversation, research as iterative, and other frames. It was totally possible. But when we needed to shift badges to automated for our large pilot (and CLAS has over 1,000 students), this isn't really possible. And it has nothing to do with what is better, the Framework or the Standards--I do like the Framework better, FYI--but pedagogically, instructor feedback and interaction with students is going to be more effective and have a greater impact (that's my opinion, at least).

I do think badges are great for student success purposes and for engagement. Badges contribute to how a one might want to project their identity. After discussions on campus about badging stemming from the pilot I did, badges are being used in a large-scale student engagement initiative that's essentially related to AAC&U High Impact Practices. I think this is a great way for students to track what more holistic experiences they are having on campus and can help them conceptualize what they've done. When it comes to classroom instruction or information literacy initiatives, I think the use of badges gets more tricky and a number of factors need to be considered. And I prefer more fluidity in instructional design and collaborations with faculty that badges anchoring curriculum can't provide.

Now, one of those factors that always seems to pop up when badges are discussed is employer needs and employer impressions of students' value as future workers. I recently wrote about the state of higher education and info lit instruction in the winter 2015 issue of Communications in Information Literacy: A Pedagogy of Inquiry, so you can get more context on where I'm coming from with that article. My entire perspective of badges since I first became interested was about improving pedagogy, badges as instructional design, and trying to give students more autonomy over how they might want to represent themselves and their learning. If the badges and the learning piqued employers' interest and helped students get jobs after graduating, that's great, but should not be the sole purpose of badging (or education!). This is one of the main problems I have with a recent article about badges for employers in the Jan 2016 issue of C&RL. The use of "critical information literacy" in the title is a bit misleading, but regardless, critical (as in essential, according to this article's use of the word) anything for instruction shouldn't hinge on what employers say they need. This post is already getting quite long, so do read my CIL article if you'd like more on that. As others had pointed out to me, some of the other problems with the article include: lack of citations to librarians who have already published and presented on badge-related topics (and the citation of my work is incorrect--we saw my article is the only one cited of librarians who have researched this, and is also described strangely, plus my name isn't even included in the citation); it's confusing why HR reps and not even hiring managers were interviewed; and why this particular methodology was chosen.

I'm writing this quickly before I do an ACRL webinar soon (to talk about our use of the Framework and how we are phasing out one-shots... which I would love to write more about sometime in the future), but I knew if I didn't make this post now I might not have time again for awhile. Here's hoping there aren't any glaring errors. And hoping more that this post was useful to those of you asking about what I've learned about badging and how we're using them here at the University of Arizona.