What does Assessment look like in Makerspaces?

Makerspaces provide new affordances for learners and creative types to explore new and exciting branches of learning, creating and exploring from 3-D printing, e-textiles to computer-assisted-design. This leads me to wonder about the role or best stance for educators in this environment. According to Barniskis (2014),

“…many teachers are used to teaching a large group of children to work on one project at a time. However, in a makerspace environment, each student may be working with different tools and processes. The teacher needs to be comfortable with a considerable quantity of chaos in such an environment, as well as skilled with all of the tools and able to switch gears quickly.” (p. 6)

In particular, it is the “switching gears” where educators assess learner proficiencies to inform next steps that is the subject of this paper. First, we’ll examine makerspaces pedagogies and consider the teacher’s/facilitator/coaches role, then explore and analyze the use of “traditional” assessment strategies in makerspaces, and finally, suggest three assessment strategies that seem well matched within a makerspace. Overall, we will consider the role of assessment in makerspaces and how does it need to be modified or adapted in this setting to help our makers?

Makerspace Pedagogies

In makerspaces, the role of learner has evolved from a passive recipient of information to the learner as an active creator and/or maker. The new affordances like 3-D printers, programmable robots, e-textiles, among many others provide a new and increasingly complex canvas for digital designers to build and make. With externals like MakeyMakey, Lego WeDo or Mindstorms, a makerspace can also be an environment that encourages makers and creators to computer program using languages from with “low floor” like block-based Scratch, or text-based Arduino or beyond. Yet, even with these tools that encourage creativity and design where students and makers might pursue their own projects, the role of the coach/educator/facilitator is crucial. They can encourage students to not only learn new skills but also feel comfortable and confident to create, make and perhaps even innovate. Striking a balance between teaching established and traditional elements and principles of design and also encouraging them to innovate can be tricky. The role, stance and practices of the educator are critical so that makerspaces can become a unique place for creativity and design and not simply another room where a specific a set of instructions are “delivered”, then copied and then assessed. Perhaps in critically examining our assessment and evaluation practices we can find approaches and practices that best support our makers and creators in makerspaces.

Current Assessment strategies

Being evaluated is a key and yet sometimes challenging experience for most students (and perhaps everyone) historically and today. Yet educators acting as mentors can have a vital role in helping others develop their ideas and improve the design and functionality of prototypes. The role of mentors or coaches requires a modified approach than a traditional – teach then evaluate model. A review of makerspace literature and research seems to indicate that traditional evaluation and assessment methods continue to be considered as indicators of progress. For example, in some studies, the focus of assessment has been less on creativity and more on specific measureable outcomes determined beforehand by the teachers and curriculum designers. While determining key concepts and core fluencies is critical, perhaps a more flexible learner-centered approach would seem to be a better strategy than one based on immoveable standards. This is especially important in spaces that encourage creativity, innovation, design and perhaps arts. In regard to e-textiles, Peppler (2013) emphasizes art first “… that the e-textile designer is less concerned with coding efficiency—having as few lines of code as possible—than with achieving a particular artistic effect” (p. 38). Assessment remains a critical strategy to help mentor our makers and creators to extend their learning through their Zone of Proximal Development. (McLeod, S. A. 2012 para. 1). Yet in some studies, the justification for makerspaces seems to fall back on numbers to quantify students’ outcomes and progress.

“When we analyzed their final Scratch programs using Brennan and Resnick’s computational thinking framework [2], we found that 100% of the projects used sequential statements, loops, conditional statements, event handling, and 85.7% (or 6/7) of the projects used operators.” (Davis, 2013, p. 440).

Here is another example “…when the multimeter was used, boys had the equipment in their hands 75% of the time on average to only 25% for girls.” (Buchholz et al., 2012, p. 283).

These quotations seem to focus on specific quantitative measurements (i.e. use of specific computer science skills and use of a specific tool by gender.) Both these measurements are important as ONE form of analysis yet neither evaluation indicates a focus on creativity or innovation. Furthermore, they may actually be only a small step from a mark-based assessment with such narrow focus. For example, a student might earn an “A” mark for simply including a certain amount of loops in their project.  Perhaps a model where students and teachers negotiate shared objectives would encourage more creativity. Kohn (2011) seems to reject any traditional form of teacher determined grades in educational spaces saying instead “…students can be invited to participate in that process either as a negotiation (such that the teacher has the final say)…” (p. 6). No doubt, the promotion of computational thinking and gender equality are critically important indicators for success, but perhaps assessment in makerspaces should be specifically focused on creativity, innovation and digital citizenship (helping others) above other specific technical requirements. In other words, a successful project might not include all the computational requirements nor be in the hands of a specific gender and still produce a creative and innovative prototype. Perhaps then assessment strategies should focus away from marks as indicators and instead look towards more qualitative methods that demonstrate a maker’s thinking and detailed progress. In addition, it is unclear whether a grade reflects the “potential” of an idea or a “snapshot” of the project at that time. Subsequently, this type of mark-based assessment in quantifiable terms obscures rather reveals student progress, creativity and potential.

Three Methods of Assessments

Perhaps makers and educators might instead work collaboratively to critically evaluate designs based on principles like Design Thinking that encourage both process and final product through a variety of activities and practices. Based on research into makerspaces and practices, three types of assessment tools seem to be good fits for makerspaces: design journals, reflections and badging.

Design Journals

A design journal can be either physical or digital and is a place to notes and instructions about a particular prototype or program. With prompting, students can not only write about the process but also be prompted to engage in new forms of thinking and processes like design thinking. Design thinking is an excellent process to solve challenges and promotes a similar mindset to makerspaces with its emphasis on creativity, design and iteration. One excellent example of a design journal is found in the project page of in the web-based Scratch 2.0 site. Scratch is an excellent tool for block-based coding and has both Papert’s “low floor (easy to get started) and high ceiling (can be used for increasingly complex projects). (Resnick, 2009, p.63). In addition to a page to create block-based commands is a project page which could be a design journal. Each project page (Figure One below) has three sections for writing: instructions, notes and credits and a comments stream. The first area provides a place for instructions critical for those wanting to run the Scratch program. This area explores the use of each sprite, backgrounds and other commands.

Example of a Design Journal Figure One

The Notes and Credits section provides a place for the programmer to comment upon the design of the program including sources for resources used, a brief summary of their thinking, current progress and next possible steps. These possible next steps might be influenced by the comments section (which can be toggled on or off) by fellow programmers and Scratch users to provide feedback for the original programmers. Comments have the potential to be a shared and logged conversation about programming and specifically Scratch. In its highest level, it is collectivism where programmers and designer collect their best ideas on programming and designs in the Scratch forums. In Scratch, an ultimate form of flattery is the re-mix where programmers make a copy and tinker with a new iteration of the program which also includes a vital and transparent record of the original creator. This “built-in” design journal provides excellent opportunities for assessment as educators can observe not only the program but the programmer’s dialogue with themselves and others. Educators could even join in the collective conversation embedded directly in the project with comments, suggestions and encouragement of their own. According to Nichols (2015), “as students document their thinking they are supported by community partners who act as mentors to promote their thinking and give them the real-world exposure and experience they need to overcome challenges” (para. 5). Nichols calls them “thought-books” and they could serve as a hybrid design journal and place for reflective writing. It is important to note that design journals could be in many different forms from traditional physical books to more sophisticated online creations like the OneNote Class Notebooks. (See Figure Two below for an example from one of my classes).


OneNote Class Notebooks provide a sophisticated tool for designers and educators as the digital format would allow the curation of a notebook that could include embedded physical sketches, notes, photos, animations, documents, videos, links to 3-D designs (i.e. Tinkercad) and even involve audio and video conversation as either a shared private conversation or even public if shared online. Perhaps the OneNote ClassNotebook moves the Design Journal up the ladder up in the SAMR model on technology integration from the substitution ring towards the augmentation or modification stages. (Puentedura, 2014, p. 2). Not to suggest that this amount of complex technology tools are always necessary and may even “get in the way” through diverting focus. After the potentially and rightfully “messy” of a design journal, the next assessment tool for educators allows for more focus on thoughts and words.

Reflective writing

For more depth into the thinking of learners in makerspaces, reflective writing could be another assessment tool for educators to explore the metacognition of makers and creators. Using tools like physical notebooks or even digital forms like blogs, makers and creators share their goals, process and experiences from their perspectives. If this reflective writing is shared, then educators and mentors can potentially have insight into the “black box” that is a learner’s thinking. Access to this form of writing allows mentors and educators to help learners “level up” and reach the next stage for their progress or even when to “move on” to something new in the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). In short, makers and learners need to focus on the process being as important (or perhaps more) than a “final” product. Reflective thinking and writing should take place at various points (say beginning, during and end) as creation and making is occurring so that educators can see the process of student thinking and suggest next steps or extend thinking further when needed. Educators and mentors can leverage reflective writing of makers and creators to provide feedback in the form of constructive dialogue. They can also use this tool to plan next sessions and provide learning materials and guidance for the specific needs of makers and learners. Indications of progress and identifying next steps are part of the final assessment strategy using badging.


The awarding and distribution of badging can be one way to facilitate the conversation between makers and mentors through the awarding, earning and sharing of micro-credentials. “Digital badging recognizes learning and growth wherever it happens and helps people connect their accomplishments across institution types.“ (Fontichiaro, 2015, What is digital badging? para 2) Digital or physical badging has the potential to recognize and indicate learning outside of traditional classes and in unique environments like makerspaces. These tools are new to education but have been successfully used in organizations like Scouts or even objective-based video games. In other words, some students would have prior experience with badging in both physical and digital badges forms. However, bringing this assessment into the new and evolving “anywhere classroom” including a makerspace offers new opportunities for learners and educators to record their progress.

Badging could be an excellent indicator of the wide variety of skills, abilities and progress made by learners in a makerspace. However, there are a few criticisms that should be examined before utilizing badging for our makers. Some like Seliskar have cited badges as a motivating tool, yet I think that using badges only to motivate could have the opposite effect. (2014, para. 1) They might serve as a motivator in the short term but might be better served as a digital indicator of learner progress as issued by educators, mentors and specialists. The idea of a “badge economy” is a much more powerful concept with a longer timeframe as they provide a record of subject or skill mastery. In a “badge economy” student earns a backpack of badges with each carrying everything needed (i.e. metadata) to understand the badge (who gave it, what is it for etc.) Sunny Lee, a product manager from Mozilla suggests that  “(t)he digital backpack enables the learner to be able to curate and manage the image that they want to represent to the rest of the world…the idea is that we’re kind of laying down the plumbing for this badge economy to flourish. Now, we need some badges circulating around the economy to jumpstart it.” (Ash, 2012, p.28) Makerspaces would seem ripe for the creation of many badges (i.e. mBot programmer) that learners could add to their backpack. (See Figure Three below for example badges.)

Figure Three Sample badges


In this assessment model, students acquire key knowledge from a curated list by educators, curriculum designers or specialists in order to earn teacher-created badges. Teacher created badges are essential as they could serve as indicators for makers/creators or programmers to “level-up” their skills. For example, educators could indicate and celebrate students’ initial progress on a particular tool (i.e. Level One) but create a scale to encourage them to explore the tool and their own creativity in more detail (i.e. Level Two…)  According to Grier, “… the best approach to scaling digital badging is not to focus on students, but on their teachers.” (2015, para 3). Teachers can provide the expertise to encourage next steps and extend thinking.

Perhaps an even more student-centered approach is a co-creation model between learners and educators to create a unique learning pathway for makers. This co-creating model has the potential for students to demonstrate core competencies but leaves room for creativity and innovation so critical to leveraging the potential of makerspaces. Like “stepping stones’, learners navigate their progress throughout a specific area of focus with badges as indicators and then earners decide to keep private or share (with interested parties) along the way. Teachers might help students create a “…portfolio that reflects the skills and knowledge they have developed, as well as evidence…” (Grier, 2015, para. 11).

These badges could then be shared online at the discretion of the badge earners. Ash states that “…the badge earner must be responsible for managing his or her own badges.” (2012, p. 28). Putting the sharing permissions in the hands of the learner is critical as no doubt in their mind or the minds of others (institutions, employers, even peers etc.) some badges will have more weight than others. This is certainly a valid criticism but the metadata in each badge will indicate the date, issuer and skills learned and demonstrated for clarity. This metadata is a clear indicator of learner’s progress with sharing permissions at the discretion of the learner. The transferrable and sharing potential for badges through sites like credly.com or badgelist.com and housed on wikis, blogs or websites provides new opportunities for learners to share their progress, learning and success. This not only allows learners to find success but also to create a strong digital footprint potentially leading to future learning and collaboration opportunities in global settings. The Mozilla Open Badges might provide this global setting as place for learners to collect badges earned and issuers to add badges in a learner’s digital “backpack”. (See Figure Four below) However, the appealing nature of the issuing of these micro-credentials is that earners can decide to showcase and share the progress and achievement through the web to interested parties (i.e. recruitment for makers) in global market place of the internet.


Figure Four – Sample from digital backpack or eportfolio

More on Collaborative Assessment

Collaboration beyond student- teacher relationship also offers opportunities for makerspaces. The successful collaboration of educators, curriculum designers, researchers and specialists will aid learning environments and makerspaces that emphasize design and making through varied perspectives on student progress and perspectives. “If teaching artists partner with the shop teachers, home education teachers, and computer science educators in schools, a multifaceted makerspace can emerge.” (Barniskis, 2014, p. 7) Makerspaces can be a good gathering point for conversations between learners with many different types of specialists and experts on next steps and sharing of progress.

Design journals, reflective writing or badging need not be public but can be the basis for crucial conversations concerning next steps between makers and peers or makers and mentors. Educators might plan out time for makers to have these conversations which will only help the makers in their learning but also provide evidence for educators on the progress of students. Even the conversation could be used for assessment, which might be recorded through a page in a design journal, written reflection or even a badge. Making a “pitch” and hearing feedback from peers or experts are an important element in the design thinking toolkit for educators and makers.

Finally, conversations with other parents, guardians and other important figures in a student’s life can have an impact on learning and assessment as educators gain a wider perspective of student progress. Creating connections between home and school through open communication between educators, parents and students can be important to help educators create authentic experiences for students to learn and make progress.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Based on research into makerspaces and practices, three types of assessment tools seem to be a good fits for makerspaces: design journals, reflections and badging. Design journal and reflective writing are two strategies that emphasis metacognition and encourage learners to self-evaluate their progress in makerspaces. Learners can then choose what to keep private, or share with peers in a co-learning or collaborative structure and finally, engage with experts globally. Use of reflections at different stages of projects with a variety of audiences can also be critical to encourage increasing authentic feedback, assessment and evaluation for makers. Reflective writing and design journals are powerful tools for design thinking strategies. Badging is another pedagogical strategy that might serve to clearly indicate the desired outcomes (i.e. design, computer science as well as an implied gender balance) and yet encourage students to explore a breadth (and depth) of maker tools in an open-ended way. In addition, these forms of assessment are easily incorporated into design club routines and workflow. (see Figure Five below) If makerspaces offer new pedagogy and opportunities for students, then challenging and critically evaluating our assessment practices is vital if we are to encourage student success and innovation.

Figure Five Workflow model

In terms of assessment, I do not mean to suggest that creativity and innovation should be the only focus in a makerspace as no doubt equitable access, student enthusiasm, gender equality, computational thinking, curriculum expectations, digital citizenship are vital. In fact, the powerful affordances in makerspaces may even allow makers to make progress regardless of the stance of educators. However, switching between a teacher-centered to student-centered stance and using assessment practices like design journals, reflections and badging allow for mentors and educators to better explore the “black box” that is the mind of the makers. These tools could provide the necessary support for makers to grow and flourish. According to Fessakis et al. (2013) “… the teacher’s role during the proposed learning activities (computational) was critical. She encouraged and supported the children to overcome their difficulties, controlled the various coordination issues that came up (e.g. the next player’s turn) and handled the cases where the children seemed not to be able to deal successfully with.“ (p.86). Overall, makerspaces offer learners to opportunities create a unique pathway with new and exciting experiences for learners and mentors who can support, assess and even co- learn.


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Putting Students First: Using Learning Theories to update Projects and Spaces

build own countryCollaboration is often cited as a key 21st century skill yet students rarely get a opportunity to observe educators in the act of working together. In my role as a technology integration specialist, I consistently collaborate with other teachers, openly when possible, so students can observe and model. The creation of clear, transparent and shared projects between educators aids learning goals and student success. Add in access to creative, technological tools and students have powerful ingredients for learning. Shared objectives not only reinforce the work of a classroom teacher but also validate the learning from the student’s perspective. They might say “this is important as we are exploring it in two different subjects, Information Technology and Social Studies (perhaps more!)” This cross-curricular and integrated approach has been a fundamental aspect of learning and progress in my classes, in computer labs or increasingly anywhere tablets (and wifi) take us. However, my recent thinking, research and discussions on learning theories have led me to acknowledge that much more is needed to put the learner first. How much can I “learn, unlearn and relearn” my approach? (Toffler 1970) More specific connections with learning theories and leveraging vital collaboration with the collective intelligence of peers and colleagues in my current course of study, would improve learning and teaching in my learning environment. This “levelling up” approach has been applied directly to my current and future curriculum and project planning with students. “Upgrading content requires deliberate provocation…what content should be kept,…cut,…created.” (Jacobs 2010) Using experiences with Grade Five students, I will explore benefits of current approaches and leverage established and evolving learning theories, specifically humanism, cognitivism, behaviorism and constructivism in order to upgrade the learning environment for my students.

In the third term of Grade Five, students are often expected to more formally present a researched topic in Social Studies. Taking the pre-2013 revision of the Ontario Social Studies curriculum as a guide, Ancient China was the topic and students were assigned to research martial arts, food, clothing etc. Students were then asked to present their discoveries. When critically examining this project from a humanist lens, it is clear the students might have to “manufacture” their connections to topic, especially when they are assigned by the teacher. Yet connection with the material was a vital assessed element as manifested through enthusiasm, performance and creativity. In fact, much effort was made for teachers to find the right topic to fit specific students with understandably mixed results. These are clear signs that although assigned presentations were appropriate for meeting curricular goals, some tweaking and updating would be necessary to engage students from a humanist perspective. In fairness, our curricular documentation has reflected this change in the 2013 revision with an emphasis on an inquiry-based learning model where students are encouraged to ask questions and research using a variety of sources (primary, secondary etc.) and assumingly leverage new web-based search tools when appropriate.

From a behaviourist perspective, students were encouraged by a secure environment and often felt safe and supported by a variety of educators, peers and parents. Not surprisingly, students loved showing martial arts movies, dressing in beautiful silk and eating Chinese delicacies too. At times, students would use handouts with crosswords, games, stories  and other techniques. We often used presentation tools on the computer (i.e. Power Point, Voice Thread etc.) for engagement and interactive purposes (i.e. Jeopardy, online commenting) These last two strategies were often a great help when exploring more facts-based material (Emperors, Religion etc.) From this analysis, I would argue that students were aided by behaviorist perspective with praise, support and even scaffolding when appropriate. Students were encouraged by the teacher to demonstrate their observational learning skills by leading the class through materials in a teacher-like manner. (By Grade Five, they have much experience observing many teachers in action to use as a guide.)

From a cognitivist perspective, this project has challenges as students are assessed on their performance of their research rather than emphasizing a more gradual accumulation of knowledge, thinking skills, organization, project management or even collaboration. They could also be much more potential for input upon the accumulated scholarship or collective intelligence on a particular topic. In addition, this accumulation only built upon prior research skills (in Grade Four) and towards skill development for future research (Grade Six). In practice, projects were often discarded at the end of the year with little option for retrieval beyond an occasional video recording. Perhaps its place in a portfolio, (digital I would suggest) would add retrieval options, give more clues to thinking processes, knowledge acquisition, accumulation and assimilation. Assessment based on the performance/product alone would give educators less data than a performance combined with analysis of the process through documents like a portfolio most importantly accompanied by comments on the materials. Idealy, this might provide clues to a student’s metacognition and perspective. In fact, Piaget might see this project as more about accepting the research of others rather than “…creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify.” (Piaget, 1952)

From a constructivist approach, our presenter’s performance and ability to engage the students would be based in their “radical constructivism” as suggested by Glaserfeld. In other words, students would be more interested when they can construct meaning to the material with their own inquires. Their ability to accommodate and accumulate puts much pressure on the student to construct and present the materials in an appealing, thought provoking and simulating manner. In fairness, much scaffolding, support and guidance for this was provided by a variety of educators. In fact, students were encouraged to be creative could build or construct their presentation in any manner (i.e. story, drama, multimedia presentation, game, demonstration, samples etc.) However, perhaps a more inquiry-based model is more student centered and would be better supported by constructivist theory.

Our latest project with Grade Five students is less performance based and provide a more opportunities supported by a variety of learning theories and approaches. This “levelling up” or upgrade to the curriculum allows  students more choice (Humanist), while maintaining a consistent level of encouragement through a supportive environment (Behaviorist), provides an emphasis on the analysis of thinking skills in both the process and product (cognitivist) and finally, allows students to create and construct their own meaning and learning (constructivist). Finally, this new approach has the potential to tap into the collective intelligence of our class of digital experts, online sources and eventually when comfortable connect (connectivism) with others.

In specific, students were asked to create their own country after learning and profiling elements of the Canadian Federal government as an observable example. The key components were a “thought book(sample) and a website creation tool (Google Sites). Unlike the prior individual project, students worked in pairs to create their My Country web pages as emphasis on social learning would also benefit students as they can help and aid each other when needed. “Hence, the principle and method of ICT integration in education is as follows: ICT is a means to organize paired interactions in the problem solving process as well as a means of cooperative educational activities in the classroom (teacher – student – group of students).” (Kalas 2010)

Each team was asked to profile their own country based on the criteria from their research and their own creativity and imagination. Scaffolding on using the technology to create pages  was provided by videos (YouTube playlist), links, resources and students were encouraged to work collaboratively. Time was spent encouraging and modelling good collaboration as mentioned above and has foundation in Bandura’s social learning theory. Creating a the videos worked well as an opportunity for students to work within their zone of proximal development (ZPD) as students could watch, pause, rewind and play steps to complete their objective like changing the theme or adding images and links. In addition, teacher-led mini lessons or collaborations with supportive peers aided students to progress in their ZPD. The assessment process was changed from an emphasis on a final performance/presentation towards a gradual process enhanced by technology options like “revision history” and practices like “check in’s” to monitor students progress.

In addition, students were awarded badges (my list) rather than marks based on their creations and these badges were awarded throughout the process than at the end (perhaps too late!) Probably the most exciting element was the opportunity for the students to inspired (and potentially create) badges of their very own based in their interest, achievements and ideas. This appeals from both a behaviorist (“I’ll have that badge I created please”) and humanist perspective (I have designed success myself through the creation of my own badge. Here is my conversation with a student (video only viewable by FDJ) on this and my screencast in student-inspired badges. Based on this conversation and  observation of him leads me to believe that he and his partner is demonstrating Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” when working on this project. Finally, The “final” product being web-based is easily archived, shared and retrieved as both an exemplary for next year’s students and as part of a digital portfolio for the student.

Overall, a reimagining of all our projects and activities through the lens of all learning theories suggested that the learner is at the center rather than the curriculum content. The learner is supported by collaboration from a number of sources including a dedicated partner, educators in a variety of disciplines, other supportive peers, links to learning materials online and specific step-by-step screencasting videos for modelling. In addition, the opportunity in this example project encourages students to be creative on their web design while demonstrating necessary social studies learning goals. Accessing this project online through access to a lab, tablets in the classroom and even at home provides opportunity for anytime tinkering, iterating and creating. However, applying this example further and situated in learning space dedicated to building and construction could be even more powerful for learners. Being surrounded by the “buzz” of creative individuals in the act “flow” no doubt helps too. In fact, here are no limit to the possibilities for this project to include a variety of mediums including digital (paint and sketching (i.e. Flags), audio recordings (national anthem), animations (promoting the country, video, incorporation of web gadgets (a calendar of holidays), even programming through applications like Scratch (a web based games about the country) to Papert’s programmable drawing in Logo. Also physical creative mediums like painting, building with wood, plastics should not be ignored as they can be easily added to the web space through embedded video or photo. Finally, digital to physical mediums like 3-D printers or performing robots provide a new medium for learning. In short, our learning theories tell us that creative learner-centric activities in well designed spaces like makerspaces provide students with the opportunity to self-actualize.

Mini Maker Space 1

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:. TED talk. (Feb. 2014.) “Flow, the Secret to Happiness.” http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow

Glasersfeld, E. von, (2001) The radical constructivist view of science. In: A. Riegler (Ed.),Foundations of Science, special issue on “The Impact of Radical Constructivism on Science”, vol.6, no. 1–3: 31–43.

Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. (2010) Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,  Print.

Kalas, I. (2010) Recognizing the potential of ICT in early childhood education © UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/en/files/3214673.pdf

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, New York, Basic Books

Piaget, Jean. (1952) The origins of intelligence in children. International Universities Press

Pink, Daniel H. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead,  Print.

The Ontario curriculum – Social Studies Grade 1 to 6 (2013 revised) http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/sshg18curr2013.pdf

Toffler, Alvin. (1970) Future Shock. New York: Random House,  Web.

Tsu-Raun, Christian (Jan. 2014) Creating a Mini Maker Space 

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wyatt, Valerie (2009) How to Build Your Own Country © Citizen Kid, Kids Can Press http://www.scholastic.ca/clubs/images/activities/HowToBuildYourOwnCountry_2029_teaching.pdf 

How might Digital Badging impact the future of learning and assessment

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 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 – I believe she actually likes them, but offers a fair and critical review of badging as an indicator of student progress and achievement not a replacement.) 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 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/

Siko et al. (2013) Disappearing Future 2. Educational Processes http://www.wfs.org/futurist/2013-issues-futurist/september-october-2013-vol-47-no-5/top-10-disappearing-futures/disap-0 

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

Tools for Issuers of Badging 


Mozilla Open Badges