Issuing an Open Badge is easy, but making it valuable is hard

This is adapted from a comment I left on The three biggest (perceived) problems with Open Badges by Doug Belshaw.

I really like David Wiley’s points about quality and OERs, and agree they apply equally well to badges. I think Timothy Freeman Cook makes good points about motivation and badges here, especially where he says “Let us not use badges as a tool for motivation, but as a tool for way-finding and archiving.”

That leaves value. You say: “Literally anyone can issue a badge for anything.” I’m certainly not an expert on badges and am happy to be corrected; but doesn’t this cause a problem for value? Taking money as an analogy, if you imagine a country where anyone can issue their own new currencies, sellers are going to have a hard time when a buyer makes an offer with a new, unfamiliar currency. We might say the seller would have a problem knowing the value of one of these new currencies.

As I understand them, Open Badges aren’t a currency, but a way of issuing new currencies. In a corporate environment, I can see how badges issued by company X would be valuable within that company. There are a few risks for the employee; for example, how can they be sure that their hard-earned badges are going to be valued by the company in five years’ time?

But the bigger problem is when we expect badges earned within company X to be valued out in the wider world. This comes into relief when we imagine two job applicants using badges on their CVs. One has a badge for Python which they earned from a training scheme within company X. Another has a badge for Python from company Y. How does the employer reading these CVs know the value of these badges? Were they easy to get? Difficult?

The answer I expect an Open Badge proponent to say is “Check the metadata behind the badges – it’s all there.” That’s fine for two applicants, but it’s easy to see this becoming impractical. Say the Open Badge Infrastructure really takes off and we’ve got 10 applicants, each with 10 badges earned within their respective companies. A busy employer probably isn’t going to check the metadata for all those badges.

I’m going to compare apples and oranges here, but indulge me for a minute. Say the 10 candidates all have degrees in Computer Science. The employer can quickly value those degrees based on the degree class, the reputation of the institution, and so on.

These are crude instruments, where badges are fine grained. Both useful in their own way. But badges do have a problem with value, I think, and it’s precisely because anyone can issue them. Not so the Computer Science degrees.

UPDATE (20/4) Doug makes some good points in his response.

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