There is no question that marks or grades remain a constant in education in both the lives of students, teachers, administrators, parents and politicians in 2015. Yet we all know that marks (and even report cards) do not always adequately capture learner’s progress. Today, we have many tools to document, assess student learning and achievements with a remarkable level of specificity beyond a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA). Futurist Turri, believes that “the grade point average (GPA) will no longer be the primary instrument to validate academic achievement.” (Turri, Disappearing Future 2. Educational Processes) How would such a transition from a marks-based to a standards-based approach in education impact assessment processes? How can we leverage sound pedagogy, learning theories and technological tools to aid students to achieve and learn with rigor yet allow them individual expression and reflection? Could instructors and institutions use strategies such as badging or digital portfolios to measure student progress for future learning opportunities and even offer them as admission standards for future learning or employment? Would a standards-based approach aid graduates given how critical self-directed and lifelong learning will be in our increasingly complex times.
Digital badging is one new practice worth examining for its potential benefits for teaching, learning assessment practices in both formal and informal learning settings. “Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. “ 1 (http://www.macfound.org/programs/digital-badges/ )
This YouTube video from Mozilla explores the reasoning, practices and potential methodology behind digital badges.
This diagram I designed showcases the Badges Ecosystem as described by the Mozilla Open Badges video above and John Foster’s article. This diagram has the learner in the middle, who is awarded a badge from an issuer (a respected authority figure on a topic or subject) which is stored and displayed as part of a collection and ideally as part of digital portfolio. The critical step of this ecosystem must be the potential link between the badge and specific evidence of the individual’s results and achievements. Jackie Gerstein states this in her blog post “I Don’t Get Digital Badges!” (ed. note She likes them, but offers a critical review of badging as an indicator of student progress and achievement.) Finally, badges are stored in a public place like a digital portfolio, blog or websites for interested parties (i.e. admission officers, potential employers etc.) to access and review.
Some of the benefits of digital badges are: they provide a method to showcase the skills of learners beyond traditional structures like academic transcript marks and degrees. As we live in increasingly technical and complex times, surrounded by evolving technology, organizations and knowledge, lifelong learning becomes an essential ingredient of success and productive citizens. Badges are one strategy to measure and recognize new learning in a transparent manner. When badges are linked directly to evidence on eportfolios or websites (i.e. video, photos, documents, testimonials etc.) etc. potential employees, partners, administrators and evaluators will have a better insight into a individual’s abilities beyond marks, transcripts or perhaps even a short interview. For educators, eportfolios and badges can aid the assessment process by providing a more complete pictures of a learner’s progress. A digital portfolio (i.e.blog, wiki, site etc.) can also provide a rich platform for dialogue and asynchronous communication between educators and learners through comments and messaging. As learning becomes increasingly specialized, badging offers a new and potentially unique pathway of learning for each student. In other words, an educational system based on badges in a higher institution might allow students to register for specific courses only previously available to a specific degree. Alex Halavais, a college professor uses badges instead of a traditional grading system in his university course on communications. “It’s an index of your learning biography,” he says. “It allows you to stitch together your [educational career] in interesting ways.” (Ash , Colleges Use ‘Digital Badges to replace Traditional Grading.”
A good critical analysis demands that we address some of the challenges with badging. In specific, some might say that students escape rigor through a “easy pathway” of courses in higher institutions. (i.e. B.Sc. students could avoid the dreaded “Bio-Chemistry” course, Social Science students avoid Math heavy statistics course or Arts students avoid learning a second language as prerequisites for graduation.) Critics might say such gaps could undermine the reputation of the institution by potential employers who expect employees from a particular course to have a specific set of skills. However, such a pathway would be a learner’s choice and employee with access to badge information could examine a canditate skills in more rather than less detail. Finally a student in Halavais course from above wonders “whether the system would be too unstructured for a less motivated younger student. ” (Ash, 2012) In response to that criticism, I would suggest that good curriculum design and lesson planning could allow K-12 students, who I would argue love choices, to experience an equally rigorous pathway.
Badging has the potential to increase motivation in students. Badging is definitely a form of operant conditioning, which educators can use positive reinforcement of awarding badges to encourage students to learn and excel. Instructors can utilize badges as positive reinforcement for learning and success. However, as students get older this form of positive reinforcement may lose its impact especially if not accompanied by increase credibility for badges from outside sources (i.e. potential employers or admissions officers.)
Examining badging through the lens of a humanist learning theory, reveals that badges could provide a authentic record of learner’s pathway of exploration, understanding and interactions with others. Badges would be an excellent method to map out and articulate Malcolm Knowles’ ideas on self-directed learning. This pathway of learning could also include a wide range of interactions and connections that demonstrate curiosity and the active journey to change society as Freire suggests. Perhaps through reflection and detail provided in a digital portfolios, full of badges, visitors might even be able to see evidence of the journey towards self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In short, the opportunity to have a clear record of specific learnings beyond traditional methods like degrees and marks helps individuals present a more accurate expression of themselves, perhaps even approaching the ideal self.
From cognitivist and constructivist perspectives, a collection of badges might provide a map of the “black box” of a learner’s brain. In addition, badges when accompanied by a collection of writing, thoughts and reflections perhaps in digital portfolio format could provide a road map of a learner’s journey through Piaget’s stages of development. Such a format is an excellent artifact for examining a learning’s thinking as they assimilate and accommodate new learning. Learners, dependent on age and stage, can also be aware of their Zone of Proximal Development through examining and planning their learning pathways and through collaboration between teacher and learner on a portfolio. Learners should definitely be able to view, question and explore the criteria for earning specific badge in order to consider next steps. Finally, the link between play, gaming and learning is reinforced as badging is often a huge element in recording a gamer progress in the completion of the game. Critical to this connection between gaming and badging is providing a non-linear structure for learning where learners can “unlock” badges and a variety of learning pathways that appeal to them.
Badging has much potential to aid teachers and students if grounded in good pedagogy, fully supported by parties internal and external to organization, as a reward for rigour, student success and achievement. Such student progress MUST be accompanied by specific evidence, perhaps a embedded in a portfolio or badge itself or as a open link. Considering learner motivation towards badging is challenging because “(I)t is beyond argument that we cannot crack open a learner’s head, insert a magnifying glass, and make direct, error-free observations of what the learner “knows.” (Wiley, 2012) My experience with badging seems to indicate that this strategy of portfolios and badges will motivate most but not all. However, in the differentiated classroom, educators must leverage a variety of tools to appeal and in some cases motivate all the individual learners in their class. Through the lens of learning theories, I would argue that badging and digital portfolios need to be continually examined critically but at this time have potential for a positive impact on learning. Experiences with badging in three environments, junior students in Grade 4, senior students in Grade 11 and 12 and finally educators seem indicate that badges and digital portfolios provide an asset for both educators and learners in the assessment process.
“Advocates of this vision for K-12 contend that such badges could help bridge educational experiences that happen in and out of school, as well as provide a way to recognize “soft skills” such as leadership and collaboration. Badges could paint a more granular and meaningful picture of what a student actually knows than a standardized-test score or a letter grade. ” (Ash, 2012)
Ash, K. (2012, June 13). Colleges Use ‘Digital Badges’ to Replace Traditional Grading. Digital Directions, 05(03), 26. Retrieved HERE
Chuter, A. (2015, February 6th) Digital Badging: a valuable addition to aid assessment practices. https://ict4kids.ca/2015/02/06/digital-badging-a-valuable-addition-to-assessment-practice/
Digital Badges (2015) http://www.macfound.org/programs/digital-badges/
Foster, J. C. (2013). The promise of digital badges. Techniques, 88(8), 30+. Retrieved here
Gerstein, Jackie, (2013, March 16th) –https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/i-dont-get-digital-badges/
Turri, Dan et al. (September-October-2013 Vol.47-No.5) Disappearing Future 2. Educational Processes)
Wiley, David (2012, June 12th) Iterating towards Openness http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2397