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In recent years, web-enabled credentials for learning have emerged, primarily in the form of Open Badges. These new credentials can contain specific claims about competency, evidence supporting those claims, links to student work, and traces of engagement. Moreover, these credentials can be annotated, curated, shared, discussed, and endorsed over digital networks, which can provide additional meaning. However, digital badges have also reignited the simmering debate over rewards for learning. This is because they have been used by some and characterized by many as inherently “extrinsic” motivators. Our chapter considers this debate in light of a study that traced the development and evolution of 30 new Open Badge systems. Seven arguments are articulated: (1) digital badges are inherently more meaningful than grades and other credentials; (2) circulation in digital networks makes Open Badges particularly meaningful; (3) Open Badges are particularly consequential credentials; (4) the negative consequences of extrinsic rewards are overstated; (5) consideration of motivation and badges should focus primarily on social activity and secondarily on individual behavior and cognition; (6) situative models of engagement are ideal for studying digital credentials; and (7) the motivational impact of digital credentials should be studied across increasingly formal “levels.”
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