The use of badges within informal and virtual learning environments has risen of late as a popular means of conducting peer and alternative forms of assessment. Projects such as Peer to Peer University (P2PU) are seeking to emulate community-based forums such as Stack Overflow by rewarding certain pro-social practices, whereas learning networks in Chicago and New York are attempting to identify sets of skills and competencies that will afford them the means to understand and verify the new forms of learning. Both of these cases are based on the assumption that the digital footprints that learners leave behind as they engage in online and hybrid learning environments can provide substantive fodder to form the basis of an individualized evaluation. Which data merit evaluation, at what time periods, and by what means, however, are questions that few of these experiments have entirely nailed down. Moreover, accessible models for badging such as Foursquare and Gowalla, while they may highlight viable technical solutions, fall short in many ways related to assessing learning. In short, while the discourse is correct in purporting that badges are a fantastic opportunity for understanding and making visible how people are learning today, outstanding issues suggest that both synthesis and research may still be needed to move forward.
At the upcoming Digital Media and Learning Conference, we propose an experimental workshop: a research sprint. The 120 minute session will be organized around the core challenge of preparing a short white paper examining the potential for researching trace data from online environments for the purposes of understanding and encouraging learning. The session will commence with some lightweight preparations and scaffolding by the organizers, Alex Halavais (DML Hub/Quinnipiac University), Ingrid Erickson (New Youth City Learning Network/SSRC), and Ruth Schmidt (Chicago Learning Network/Doblin) (10 minutes). After this, there will be a design exercise to solicit key thematic categories (20 minutes) followed by several short collaborative writing sprints to flesh out the set of categorical sections that will comprise the paper (30 minutes each). The session will devote the closing 30 minutes to synthesizing the sections into a total document and discussing where to vet and publicize the document within the DML community.
In addition to producing a document, this workshop also aims to identify and build community among a set of individuals within the larger DML group who are interested and involved in badge-related work, both from applied and research angles.