10 Promising Practices & Possibilities for Using Digital Badges in Your Courses

Why digital badges? As a K-12 teacher or University professor, why might you consider experimenting with digital badges in your classroom? What benefits might it bring to your class? What are the possibilities? What are some of the promising practices that you might want to consider? As I’ve continued to experiment with badges in my work, here are ten possibilities that excite and interest me. Some of them do not require badges to make them happen, but a good badge system design could be a great help. Take a look at the list of 10 possibilities below, consider trying one out, or feel free to add some of your own ideas in the comment section.

1. Establish a badge system design that scaffolds the learning experience, requiring certain competencies before proceeding to more complex course challenges.

As an advocate for self-directed learning and multiple learning pathways to the same learning destination, I am weary of overusing this one. That happens when a teacher is convinced that there is only one right way to learn something. In most cases, that is not true. However, we can all think of times when students venture into a course assignment or project where they lack certain basic or pre-requisite schools to be successful. Maybe they are working on a research paper and they are held back by not knowing how to use research databases or use the proper formatting on their paper. Some teachers are leveraging badges to make sure students have these basic skills sets as entry tickets into the larger assignment. Or, suppose you are planning a major debate or conversation that would be deeply enhanced by significant background knowledge about the subject. What if participation in the event required earning some sort of foundations badge in the subject?

2. Use badges to require ongoing evidence of certain knowledge and skills over an extend time, even over one’s entire course of study.

There are certain skills or bodies of knowledge that students will need to reuse throughout a course of study and well into their life’s work. We know that just demonstrating learning one time does not mean that it will be retained over months and years. So, what if we build a badge system design where a learning earned a badge, but needed to renew it in each new class, or on a set time schedule (monthly, annually, etc.)? This repetition will reinforce the learning, increase the likelihood of it staying in the longterm memory, and it will give the different teachers evidence that each student is ready for the challenges of a new course.

3. Help students recognize their progress from basic skills to mastery using badge levels.

Badge levels are not difficult to create. Perhaps you earn one badge for basic understanding, trade that in for a badge that is connected to more intermediate skills, and then a third when one reaches a level of mastery. This helps teacher and student track progress toward a desired end. Similarly, we can use badge levels that increase with the frequency and consistency of one’s performance. So, perhaps a badge is earned the first time one submits a well-crafted essay. However, writing one essay is not adequate for deep learning. That will come from writing multiple essays for different purpose, in different contexts and over an extended period. In such cases, new badges can be issued as the learner completes a growing number of essays and grows a writer.

4. Leverage badges to encourage peer and external review of student work/progress.

The heart of a badge is found in the criteria that one needs to meet to earn that badge. The credibility of the badge partly depends upon whether there is a solid review process. In other words, if some people earn a badge without actually meeting the criteria, that can decrease the real and perceived valued of the badge. This can be time-consuming depending upon the criteria. However, this is where benefit from recognizing that the teacher need not be the only reviewer. We can build badge system designs where students get their work reviewed by peers, experts in a given field, automatically by a more quantitative set of conditions, or any number of other sources. Such models can be excellent ways for students to get rich and authentic feedback on their work.

5. Recognize multiple pathways to the same learning outcome.

While you don’t need to use badges to do this, badge learning designs lend themselves nicely toward multiple learning pathways. More educators are recognizing the inequity requiring all students to go through the same exercises and activities on the journey toward meeting a given learning objective. Students don’t come to class with the same disciplines, habits of thought, life experience, academic skills, or background knowledge in the subject. As a result, they usually benefit from personalize pathways to learning. A badge design often focuses upon outcome (although it is certainly possible to design badges that require certain processes). So, a badge learning design can easily be put together so that there are multiple learning activities and exercises to help learners progress toward competence or mastery. The teacher can select from this to give a personalized learning plan. A plan can be designed in partnership with the students. Or, students can be taught to leverage the resources (and find new ones) to create their own learning pathways. Again, you don’t need to use badges to personalize, but I find the use of badge learning designs to help me think more in terms of distinct learning pathways for each student.

6. Build stronger connections between learning outcomes in different courses.

Given the standard formatting of badges and the ability for students to move their badges into a backpack outside of a given course, this also provides a promising way to seamlessly build upon student mastery from one course to another, creating a more connected and cohesive learning experience that extends through one’s entire course of study.

7. Emphasize competency and mastery over completion of tasks and assignments.

As I mentioned in the #5, badge designs work well with the design of personalize learning pathways to the same outcome. In doing so, the focus can be placed upon mastery and competence. Many course grades are made up of things like participation points, completion of work on time, the ability to follow the instructions of each assignment, and more. In the end, it is hard to tell if a letter grade indicates mastery or simply skill in compliance. Given that badges focus upon specific criteria, if we make that criteria about mastery and/or competence, then the badge can serve as a more exact measure of learning than a grade that is inflated or deflated by many cursory elements that do not speak to what a student has or has not learned.

8. Provide the opportunity for instant resume boosts.

The moment a student earns a badge, the student owns it and can add it to an online portfolio, resume, or on their profile in a place like LinkedIn. Before a class ends, it is possible for students to have and display evidence of new knowledge and skills that might increase their employability for new jobs. Obviously, this applies to the older students, but is an especially promising option for adult learners and college students looking for work experience in their desired fields.

9. Create shared badges and learning challenges between teachers, schools, and classrooms.

Badge system designs are easily shared, and there are many technologies making it possible for schools to have shared repositories of badges. This opens the door for exciting possibilities for collective learning experience design and sharing resources between classes and schools.

10. Create more transferable evidence of discrete skills than possible with many current grading systems, especially the dominant letter grade system.

Badges fit nicely into a competency-based system and provide another way of getting at some of the emerging practices with things like competency-based report cards. They offer more granular and discrete evidence of learning than something like a letter grade on a traditional report card. This makes it possible for people to get a more accurate understanding of a person’s knowledge, skills, and accomplishments than many traditional credentialing system.

The more I learn about and experiment with digital badges (especially those that are OBI compliant), the more possibilities and promising practices I see for schools and classroom teachers. This list represents some that I’ve seen, but perhaps you have others. Please consider sharing other possibilities by posting a comment.




Posted in badges, blog, education, educational technology

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.