The 1948 movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre worded it a bit differently but I’m sticking with Mel Brooks and the classic Blazing Saddles:

“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

It’s a great line.

But in 2013, it would be wrong. In 2013, badges are a big deal. And used appropriately, badges can help us do our jobs better.

What are badges?

According to OpenBadges, a badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, competency, or interest. Badges can be used to represent achievements, communicate successes, and set goals. They can support learning that happens beyond traditional classrooms. By providing a more complete picture of what learners are capable of and passionate about, badges act as signals to potential employers, collaborators, fellow students, and social groups.

We’ve always had badges. Remember the Boy Scouts? They have badges. Video games? Badges. Olympic Games? Okay, medals. But medals are the same shape as badges and work the same way.

And now many are starting to see a use for them in education.

One of those who have jumped on the badges bandwagon is the Smithsonian. With their new Smithsonian Quests program, they use badges to inspire students to explore their own ideas and interests online, in school, at home, and with other kids. The quest badgesquests connect and reward learners of different ages and 
in different regions as they learn through discovery and collaboration.

The primary goal of the Quests program is to inspire youth to explore their own interests through a series of online 
activities and related incentive badges. The second goal is to
 enhance students’ cognitive capabilities by incorporating knowledge and skill-building into the
 quests. Special online conferences and quests are interdisciplinary in nature, offering students the
 opportunity to choose what they care about most.

The program aligns with many Common Core standards, as well as other national education standards in a variety of subjects and highlights 21st century skills. There will always be some type of “artifact” that the student will produce, whether through a creative writing assignment, a photograph, artwork, a graph, etc. that will be submitted online for approval.

All quests engage students in exploring a topic of interest either as part of a formal standards-
aligned school curriculum or as a student-driven after school activity. An important secondary
 audience is us – teachers who are working with kids but can also become involved in Smithsonian online
conferences, online professional development sessions, and the completion of class projects. And yes, we can also earn badges!

The signup process is relatively painless and the potential benefits are huge.

Badges? Yes, we do need stinking badges.