Digital Badges: What Are They & What Can We Do With Them?

Have you heard of badges? No, I don’t mean those that are worn by police or military officials, or even merit badges collected by boy/girl scouts and displayed so proudly on the child’s uniform, though digital badges are somewhat modeled after these badging systems. According to the MacArthur Foundation, “a digital badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest that can be earned in many learning environments.” Similar to the physical badges that signify the completion of a task or acquired skill level, digital badges can be used to visually display a wide variety of skills and competencies online, including both physical and virtual skills, as well as hard and soft skills. Digital badges also take some principles from video game design as they can be used as a reward for completion of a task or a means to unlock additional tasks that must be completed in a sequential order.

So, now that we know a little more about what digital badges are, why would we want to use them in an educational setting? In general, digital badges are a relatively new educational technology so the answer to this question is evolving. However, there is a significant amount of research on topics that overlap with the use of digital badges like the effects of student motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic, on achievement, as well as the use of rewards and recognition within virtual communities. These techniques can be implemented in a variety of ways, but digital badges have become a new option to incorporate these strategies into educational settings. Digital badges really started to get attention in 2011 when the Mozilla Foundation announced the Open Badges Project, which provides a set of standards for creating, credentialing and displaying badges of all kinds. Without this type of underlying infrastructure for badges there would not be the attention from the education market that we see today. Digital badges also overlap with ePortfolio technology, as one of the main components of collecting badges is to display them to others as evidence of your skills or accomplishments on given topics. ePortfolios can be a useful place to display this type of information for academic and professional reasons. Digital badges have also generated discussion around the tracking and credentialing of informal learning. With the increase in MOOCs and other non-credit educational experiences and the issue of how to assess and award credit for these types of learning experiences, the use of digital badges have been suggested as one of many possible solutions.

Please take a few minutes to watch the following video to learn more about digital badges and how they may be used within education.

Source: MacArthur Foundation (http://www.hastac.org/digital-badges)

Below are a few examples of those using digital badges in higher education:

University of California, Davis – Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program

“Instead of being built around major requirements and grades in standard three-credit courses, the Davis badge system is based on the sustainable-agriculture program’s core competencies—”systems thinking,” for example. It is designed to organize evidence of both formal and informal learning, from within traditional higher education and without.”

Read the full article here: http://chronicle.com/article/A-Future-Full-of-Badges/131455/

Purdue’s Passport Project

“In one early example of Passport’s use, instructors are giving out badges for students who pass an 8-week MOOC-like course in nanotechnology that doesn’t have credit attached. In another example, the provost’s office has created a badge related to intercultural learning that students can earn for their work in different disciplines and departments.”

Read the full article here: http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2013/06/20/How-Badges-Really-Work-in-Higher-Education.aspx?Page=3

Carnegie Mellon University – Computer Science Program

“Carnegie Mellon University has included badges in the Computer Science Student Network (CS2N), which provides a distributed learning infrastructure for computer science and STEM skills. Learners participate in a scaffold environment and work on achievements ranging from entry-level skills to industry certification. Badge pathways provide a clear view of progress, as learners can clearly see how lower-level competencies lead to higher-level competencies. Creative competitions provide additional motivations and opportunities for peer review and learning from others’ work. Learners can progress to the levels of achievement that tie into industry-accepted certifications and entries to employment.”

Read the full article here: http://edtechdigest.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/put-a-badge-on-it/

As well as the above examples, Blackboard has also recently released a tool to allow faculty to create badges and award them to students directly within their courses. The Blackboard Achievements tool connects with the Mozilla Open Backpack project, so that students can display badges acquired within a course on a public page for individual use. Here at Fisher, the Achievements tool was part of the recent upgrade to Blackboard that was completed over the holiday break. If you would like to know more about the Achievements tool, please contact me directly and we can discuss your own badging ideas together.

Would you like to learn more about digital badges and discuss their use in education with other interested faculty at Fisher? On behalf of the Educational Technology Roundtable and the Fisher Geeks Blog, we would like to invite all interested faculty to participate in the following webinar sponsored by Pearson and hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as participate in an open discussion following the webinar.

Designing Your Own Open Digital Badge Ecosystem

Thursday, February 6, 2014
 2:00 p.m. in Nursing 209

For a full description of the webinar, please click here.

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