Remember turning in your grades at the end of the school year? Did Zack’s B in geometry tell you enough about his mastery of the Pythagorean theorem or the area of a rectangle? What about Grace’s state test
scores? Did they fully represent who she was as a critical
thinker and creative problem solver? Did Quincy’s reading
scores leave you explaining to parents and administrators
that he is actually making outstanding progress? Sara has
shown exceptional leadership among her peers this year,
but how could you acknowledge that? Were you left with
the feeling that those marks on a report card didn’t adequately represent your students and what they could do?
You’re not alone.
K– 12 educators, particularly at the secondary level, are
considering these questions and asking if today’s scoring
metrics are able to provide a robust picture of who our
students are and what they can do. Do those scores represent what you are teaching? What skills and dispositions
do your students gain outside the classroom that go unmeasured or unnoticed? What knowledge, positive learning behaviors, or habits of the mind or heart would you
like to measure, acknowledge, and validate but cannot
within current frameworks?
Educators are hopeful that a flexible assessment model
called digital badging is a way to bridge these gaps and describe student attributes that are currently left
Stargazing: What Is Digital Badging?
Today, we learn everywhere: in formal classrooms
and informal basement workshops; less-structured
environments, such as makerspaces and libraries; and
more-structured contexts, such as religious institutions
and dojos. We know that future success rests not only
on our students’ content knowledge, but also on their
behaviors and mental mindsets. Our graduates need
to draw from the skills they develop in multiple arenas,
yet the skills they learn in one space are rarely acknowledged or valued in others. If Mia learns how to program
a robot at a makerspace, there is no mechanism for sharing that accomplishment with her computer programming
teacher in middle school so that he can provide her with
challenging work instead of repeating what she already
Digital badging recognizes learning and growth wherever it happens and helps people connect their accomplishments across institution types. In bringing together
students’ accomplishments (“stars”) in various learning
spaces, we can better see their full range of potential
In many ways, digital badges resemble Scouting’s merit
badges: They symbolize levels of achievement, honor, status, or recognition. Badges take different forms according
to their context. When used in social media, badges may
simply mean, “I was present.” In online gaming, badges
may indicate a specific game level or an earned tool or
privilege. For educators, however, digital badges acknowledge that an earner has demonstrated declarative knowledge or skill in a content area as well as intellectual, social,
or behavioral growth.
Unlike a Scouting badge, which is permanently affixed to
a sash or vest, a digital badge exists in cyberspace. Badges
earned from multiple institutions can be ported to a central
virtual gateway and, from there, embedded in social media profiles, blogs, and electronic portfolios. This gateway,
named a “badging backpack” by Mozilla, serves as a new
kind of resume or portfolio.
Individuals can filter, shuffle, sort, hide, or display badges
in various configurations to appeal to a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes. Current teachers—as well
as future employers, university admissions officers, community organizations, and bosses—are able to view this
backpack to get a deeper and more granular understanding
of who the individual is as well as the “hard” and “soft”
skills and dispositions he has demonstrated.
Digital badges have the potential to be the effective and
flexible tools teachers have long sought to guide, recognize,
assess, and spur learning. And they can recognize the soft
skills not captured by standardized tests, such as critical or
innovative thinking, teamwork, or effective communication.
Mapping the Universe: Badges Unpacked
Digital badges are created in online badging systems. These
systems will host the information for a badge and make it
easy for you to define a badge and for users to accept an
earned badge. In its most basic form, the badging process
is relatively simple: Educators enter badge criteria into the
system and attach a badge image. Some badging platforms
will allow you to enter class data as well. Once you review
students’ work, you can issue badges.
One advantage of the badge-definition process is its flexibility. You can also attach evidence of an accomplishment
(similar to an e-portfolio), align with standards, share with
other teachers or students, or attach rubrics.
As you create your badges, it’s important to consider that
just like celestial objects, the badges are the most useful, or
shine the brightest, when they are part of a larger system.
Designing badges to work together in context to measure
and acknowledge related sets of skills is usually a better
practice than designing badges that measure isolated skills.