I’ll admit to being a digital badge sceptic when I first encountered them.
But being in turn a student and later a support tutor on non credit-bearing online courses where badges were awarded, I’ve seen them act as rewards and also motivators (at least anecdotally) and find my mind changing.
I believe my initial scepticism was due to my thinking of digital badges only in the context of credit-bearing courses where they appeared to be irrelevant; credits count for something, what is a badge worth? Of course, credits, badges, certificates of attendance all have the value ascribed to them (by the issuer and the recipient): we have fixed the exchange rate for university credit, but badges are still negotiable, they will be worth as much as we make them worth. Could digital badges do something that credit can’t? Can badges go where credit doesn’t? My own institution has a plethora of activity for staff and students that are not and probably never will be credit bearing. Do badges have a place there: rewarding, encouraging, signposting opportunities, building a sense of community…?
Would it be wrong to get a badge simply for turning up? But is turning up more than it looks, not trivial but the first step in that journey of a thousand miles, without which we go nowhere. Or do we need to receive that first badge in order to experience what it’s like which, if positive, might then prompt us to look for opportunities to repeat the experience? Perhaps they are useful external motivators when ‘the joy of learning’ seems elusive and we find it hard to appreciate our own progress.
Possible problems are if digital badges distract from what is important (but the same can be said of any reward, including credit) or if they are time-consuming to set up and administer. Though this can done in many ways, my experience of digital badges awarded through WordPress and Moodle is that they are quite straightforward to set up, certainly not a great technical challenge, and can be awarded automatically without tutor intervention if required.
Though I don’t have a direct use for digital badges at the moment, I shall be following their uptake, particularly in UK HE, and how they are implemented.