Badges Are NOT Assessments

I believe we need to be very careful in the way we talk about badges. Badges are not assessments. A badge is something you receive after you successfully complete an assessment. The actual assessment could take the form of generic multiple-choice questions, a performance assessment, a portfolio evaluation, a construct-aligned bundle of context-dependent items, or whatever. If the person successfully completes this assessment, then they receive the credential. Badges are not assessments; badges are credentials – badges are things we award to people who pass assessments.

Many smart people – people who actually know what they’re talking about – are being less specific than they might in the conversation about badges. If we aren’t vigilant with our vocabulary, the general public will start thinking that badges are supposed to be assessments. If this happens, they’ll start expecting something from badges that badges can never deliver. Confusion early in the adoption process – especially among decision makers – will be a killer for the entire movement.

Also, it’s desperately important that we keep badges cleanly separated from assessments. What we don’t want to do is have badges inseparably tethered to a singe type of assessment in the public mind. You can imagine comments like, “Badges? That’s only good for performance assessment. I could never award badges in my context because I use more traditional assessments.” This is exactly what we don’t want. We want badges to be as broadly used as possible – which means we need everyone to understand that badges are compatible with any and every kind of assessment.

I don’t have a horse in the assessment game – I’m not trying to guarantee that traditional assessments continue to dominate education. I’m also not trying to radically reinvent assessment by inventing new task or item types and rewriting item response theory. I just want to protect the “open” in “open badges.” The badge system should be open from both a technology perspective as well as from a pedagogy / assessment perspective. “Open” means making sure we don’t exclude anyone – whether they are traditionalists or reformers.

I very much want to see badges succeed. But if we set badges up as something they aren’t (i.e., assessments), success will be impossible. Everyone involved in this endeavor – myself included – needs to all stay on message: “badges are credentials, not assessments.”

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  • Jgatza

    I also think it important to keep te possibility of badges larger than assessments, or worse just one assessment. Otherwise we could end up with a one to one ratio. One badge earned per assessment. That has the potential to water down the effectiveness. But I guess that is a question of good design…

  • Chuck Severance

    David,  Often emergent concepts are tarred because the early evangelists for those concepts overstate the impact.  Your post is the kind of balanced dialog that needs to get away from the hype like “badges will end higher education as we know it within five years”.  Badges and certificates are all great things.  It will take far longer than most expect to see their real value and what their true impact will be.   Nice post.

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  • Carlos Sanchez-Moreno Ellart

    I find that distinction in some way superficial.. If it comes to affirm that badges reflect assessment we are in the right way; if not, something must be immediately changed. I´m afraid we are dealing with the second case….

  • Carlos Sanchez-Moreno Ellart

    But above all the post is really suggestive!

  • David Hopkins

    Hi David.

    Thanks for this insightful post. I agree with you that badges are not assessments, but I do not agree that “badges are things we award to people who pass assessments”.

    Yes, they can be used like that (and there’s nothing wrong with it either) but I would rather see badges awarded to participants based on the work / input rather than grade / output. Therefore they are, or can be, issued irrespective of grade or the pass / fail achievement. The badge should be the achievement of group work, skills exhibited, etc.

    All the best, David