Want to start a fight in the open badges community? Bring up rigor. Challenge the point of participation badges or say something like, “I got the I blinked while breathing badge.”

I admit I am guilty of questioning badges for low hanging fruit. During the Connected Educator Month last October you could get a badge for attending almost any event. I wondered, often out loud on Twitter, if this approach made sense.

Christina Cantrill of the National Writing Project often pushed backed. Christina made the argument that the evidence for the participatory bags is just that, evidence. She explained to me that different badges have different value and you could even have leveling up badges. As Christina explained it, rigor means nothing, it is relevance of the badge to the community that matters most.

As I have become more and more swayed towards Open Badges (due to the evangelizing efforts of Ian O’Byrne and Doug Belshaw) I keep returning back to this question: What do we get when badging for participation versus badging for competencies?

VIF International

I found my answer yesterday during the The Badge Alliance Teacher Badges open call. Mark Otter and Julie Keane shared their learning platform that they use as part of their efforts in teacher preparation and global education.


The call was great. Seeing badges in the wild, specifically connected to teacher preparation and professional development, really helped to formulate my thinking. To date VIF International has awarded 592 badges to teachers in their community.

Behaviors versurs Competencies

I am sure this debate has played out int eh badging research community for quite some time. Like I said, I am a recent convert so I am stumbling into  many of the lessons others have already  learned.

Mark and Julie make a distinction between competencies and the behaviors that they would like to see in their community.Teachers can earn badges when they share evidence that demonstrates competencies.  This often includes  lesson plans.

To recognize behaviors that help support online communities and professional development Mark and Julie created a point system that translates into stars. So you can earn points for things such as logging in, posting to a forum, and commenting on another post. These are not behaviors  that provide evidence of growth. Yet these behaviors are crucial to building critical mass in online learning spaces.

I think as I start to develop badges, specifically for summer Gear Up Programs I help run, I will try to bake in a similar approach. Lets keep badges for competencies and use other metrics to reinforce behavior.