The Quest for Badging: My Experiences at TCC 2012

By Jessica Knott
Associate Editor
Editor, Twitter

Thanks to the generosity of Bert Kimura of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I was able to sit in on the 2012 Technology, Colleges and Community Worldwide Online Conference (TCC).  This was not my first online conference, but it was the first I’ve encountered that incorporated a badging system so intrinsically into its programming.

Badges are by no means new to conference programming, though different environments lend themselves to different applications. For example, the first thing I do at Educause events is find the ribbon table and procure a “runs with scissors” ribbon for my badge.  In some ways, I find this ribbon more important than the one labeling me as a presenter, as it gives those I meet an insight into who I am. Active in social media? Yes. Blogger? Yes. Instructional designer? Yes. The one in any given presentation most likely to say something a little crazy? Maybe. At Educause, badges are used as conversation starters, or ways to connect with those you meet to build richer dialogues and perhaps expand your personal learning network.

TCC took a different approach, integrating the badge system to scaffold the discussions and presentations as well as to get people engaged with each other and the topics.

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My experiences with the badging were mixed. There were things I felt worked extremely well and enriched my learning. There were also times I recognized that I was less engaged with the learning than I should have been because I was completing a task in pursuit of a badge. I received/completed three badges overall:

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Every individual participating in the conference received the participant badge. The platinum badge is where I got myself in trouble. In order to obtain it I had to complete a series of quests, answering a series of questions related to conference goals and themes.

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Much like the debate surrounding conference back channels, I wonder: Would I have been more engaged with the presentations I attended if I weren’t also trying to complete these quests? Or did the quests stimulate deeper thinking about the topics at hand? While I felt I learned a great deal and that the completion of the badge quests was worthwhile, I don’t have answers for these questions at this time. I’d like to think I wasn’t distracted, but I also wonder if I might have more fully engaged my fellow conference attendees if I weren’t chasing badges. Also, interacting at the level required to obtain the badge would have meant less time to tune in and learn. It’s an interesting dilemma.

Finally, the aspect of badging I thought TCC handled extraordinarily well was the ability to nominate other attendees, based upon our interactions with them. I was honored to be nominated for, and to receive, the Innovative Thinker badge for something I posted in a chat room during a presentation surrounding the use of Facebook in the college classroom. This didn’t take away from my focus on the presentation, but it was a really neat way to find out that someone agreed with a point I’d made. It inspired me to reward others as well. From a social learning standpoint, this nomination process worked wonderfully.

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In all, the conference was a valuable experience. And, what pasty Michigan girl doesn’t love to be greeted with “Aloha!” upon firing up her web browser on a cold, rainy, 50-degree day? I chose to focus on the badges for this piece because I feel that they were well done and innovative. This is the most I have enjoyed an online conference experience in my 14-year career (and I’ve attended plenty).

I’d like to close this report with a few questions for our readers: What do you think about the badging system? To take it a step further, what are your thoughts on conference back channels? These badges were, at their core, an extension of the back channel. What do you glean from these experiences, and what do you find to be noise? How do you identify with badges, ribbons and name tags at the conference you attend, whether they are virtual or face-to-face?

7 Responses

  1. I find that the details of how badges work and the potential for their use a little complicated (apart from the technical details of how to award them), so I have asked Kyle Peck of Penn State to give a webinar on this. If anyone is interested, you’ll find details at

    I am interested in them for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for non-standard access into higher education programmes. However, for this I feel we need a system that can reliably verify authenticity, define the level and quantity of learning, and then aggregate the badges to verify the total quantity of learning is sufficient for entry.

  2. […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 5:54 […]

  3. Hi, Brian! What is it that you’re finding complicated? The technical integration component, or figuring out what to badge? The webinar looks really interesting, as do your ideas regarding non-standard access to higher education. I would love to talk to you more about it!

  4. I completely agree with you about the opportunity for conference participants to nominate each other for badges. It was just one of the ways the TCC badges could be earned and I found it just as rewarding to nominate someone else, as it was to earn badges for myself in other ways. And this whole process really did open up the possibility to “meet” other online attendees that I might not have met otherwise. Not usually a fan of badges, this event changed my ideas about what they could add to the experience of an individual, as well as a way to encourage backchannel sharing and networking.

  5. I attended the webinar by Kyle Peck that Brian Mulligan mentioned. It was excellent. The presentation was about 30 minutes and then Q&A for 30 minutes. Here’s the recording:

    • Hey, cool! Thank you for sharing, Jan! What were your thoughts on the conference? Badging? Takeaways?

      • Many takeaways since I am a noob at this, but I particularly like the notion of accrediting the individual who is teaching/facilitating rather than accrediting the institution. I also like the idea that badges are clickable and one can see what a person did to actually earn the badge. It’s a great alternative to traditional graded/degree granting education.

        I collected a bunch of websites that I will begin to explore over the next few weeks. Most of them are in the chat box for those who watch the recording.

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