Recognizing skills that “machine-age” testing doesn’t get

Scout merit badges

Cathy’s Davidson’s “Why Badges Work Better than Grades post makes several important points I’d like to capture in our talking points for the Open Badges project going forward. Especially this one:

Badges are simply another way, a more flexible way, of certifying a range of skills that our machine-age multiple choice mode of testing doesn’t fully comprehend — but that are crucial to the ways we live, work, and learn.

Her post also provides an excellent use case around how badges can compliment — as opposed to simply replace or otherwise threaten — traditional learning and grading. In Cathy’s “This Is Your Brain on the Internet” course at Duke University, for example, she imagines having her class help design badges, and then develop community standards or community certification for deciding how to award them.

Students would then leave the class with a hybrid of both traditional grades and more granular or specific badges. “Badges are useful for certifying complex processes that are not comprehended in our grading systems,” she writes. And, crucially, those more complex skills are exactly the kind of thing today’s  employers want most — and not finding in many traditional resumes, degrees and transcripts.


  • I added a fourth reason for badges, Matt, one that inspires rather than just measures learning: “Fourth, the badge has to not just credential learning but motivate it. By organizing a set of skills and interests (such as Tim’s multimedia talents) into an actual, definable, measurable skill capable of assessment and judgment, badges inspire students to greater mastery. A hobby becomes definable as an intellectual, creative asset, something to be tended, improved, honed, perfected, advanced, and innovated. As with a game challenge, attainment becomes the floor not the end point, it becomes a step on a way towards even greater mastery. The badge inspires a certain form of learning by naming it and honoring it.”

    • Similar to the point you made about the one-pager — that we need to capture that inspiration & motivation piece. Thanks Cathy — useful language we can use here.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *