A PhD should not look like it’s fun: an actor network theory analysis of digital badges

  • Inger Mewburn Australian National University


Do learners really want to engage with digital badges? This paper features a case study of the implementation of digital badges in the non-compulsory coursework within a PhD program at the Australian National University. It was expected that learners would experience the digital badges as motivators for learning and participation, based on an analysis of the existing literature, but the evaluation - which consisted of survey and focus group data as well as observations of interactions on social media platforms – showed that badges did not perform the roles expected. This failure case is used to develop a theory of badge desirability, using tools and concepts from actor network theory. Analysis of this case shows us the degree of complexity around how digital badges come to have symbolic value (or not). It was shown that what makes a badge desirable or not to a learner is complex and we should not assume that learners will always see badges in the same way. This paper will help practitioners and technologists think about the design of badge systems and will add nuance to the current discussions about when and where to use badges for educational purposes.

Author Biography

Inger Mewburn, Australian National University
Inger Mewburn is the director of research training at the Australian National University and the managing editor of the Thesis Whisperer blog. She has an interest in educational technology and research student experience.


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How to Cite
Mewburn, I. (2017). A PhD should not look like it’s fun: an actor network theory analysis of digital badges. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 1(2), 40. Retrieved from https://sehej.raise-network.com/raise/article/view/mewburn