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Best Practice: Put a Badge on It

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Learn more about the ways others have used badges to inspire and encourage their students' learning.

In the first example, Jill's story is a compilation of several teachers' processes so that you can view a total badging system.

Meet Jill: Theatre Teacher

quotes    Learning takes place...everywhere.

Jill teaches theatre classes at a university, both face-to-face and online. She supplements her face-to-face courses with online content. She is also the Director of Theatre for her university where she produces the season, designs and builds the sets, and directs several plays and musicals each term.

Typically, she encounters many motivated students who want to gain advanced skills beyond what she is able to offer in her courses in a term. In the past, she has spent time meeting one-on-one in person and virtually to assist students in their acquisition of knowledge.

She often felt that she could be offering "extra" courses that didn't fit the university's requirements toward a major or minor, and would help students prepare for the jobs they wanted. She had created an independent study program where she offered information, guidance, feedback, networking opportunities, help finding organizations where they could practice tasks, and assistance creating portfolios to showcase the skills and knowledge acquired.

With the Achievements Tool

Jill is now able to leverage the features of Blackboard Learn's achievements tool to offer her students opportunities to earn badges to advance their theatre careers. She is most proud of the lighting design badge system she has recently developed for her students. Her university offers two introductory level courses in lighting design, but students want more. Some of her most promising theatre students expressed a desire to pursue lighting design as a career. Rather than lose these driven students to another school, she wanted to satisfy and encourage their interest while giving them a practical skill they could use in the real world.

With a badge earning system in place, students can view the opportunities for learning ahead. Jill organizes badges in groups so that students can narrow their skills and follow structured paths. The groupings help them to achieve knowledge in the sequence they choose or how Jill recommends.

Some students have a great desire to earn badges. The acquisition motivates learning and encourages retention. Other students are able to view the quantity and the quality of the badges. They recognize the levels of difficulty of earning badges. They can see their fellow students' skills represented during play productions. Onlookers—one of the intended audiences of badges—are motivated to undertake a similar learning journey. Jill and her students have recognized that earning badges goes beyond a term or a school year. Students can become lifelong learners and collect badges throughout their careers.

quotes   A badge is like a door. Unlock it to step into your next learning opportunity.

Jill needed to consider who her "consumers" of badges were: potential employers and other students who could be motivated by their peers' achievements. However, she also wanted the badge system recognized and endorsed by those she wanted to network with, and those who could provide internships and mentorships. These people all help with her sustainability of her badge system through time. 

With her multi-faceted audience in mind, she developed badges for the following tasks:

  • Participation and recognition of skills learned.
  • Technology—some students have designed their own lighting design software.
  • Plotting designs, hanging lights, and maintenance of equipment.
  • Managing lighting crews, project management, and estimation of job costs.
  • Setting up portable lighting systems and their installations.
  • Research, conferences, and workshops attended.
  • Awards and recognition received at lighting design and theatre competitions.
  • Peer to peer teaching/mentoring.
  • Soft skills including creativity, collaboration, and teamwork—all qualities not easily measured by standardized testing.

Each badge includes information about earning requirements, a student's journey, and links to photos or work. After students earn the appropriate badges, their experience can culminate in a final badge for lighting design for a university production or an internship at a Broadway show.

Benefits of Badges

quotes    With badges, knowledge is tested and skills are demonstrated.

By awarding badges, Jill is able to bring assessment and feedback closer to the learning moment. Earning badges engages students. They choose to go further and continue learning. Because of the quality and integrity of the badges Jill awards, theatre organizations do seek out her students. They have built a "trust relationship" with Jill and her badging system. They place great importance on the badges' metadata.

Jill has a simple goal: She wants to connect talent with opportunities. With badges, she is able to help students focus on the individual needs that specific employers want. Students can acquire the precise competencies that will get them noticed and hired.

Students can gain knowledge and skills in areas not offered in the formal university's courses and receive recognition for their commitment. Jill can use a variety of tools to capture learning outcomes and skills in ways not currently possible in traditional, formal contexts.

The online portfolio and accumulation of badges offers potential employers evidence of critical skills, interests, and qualities. Earned badges showcase the depth, mastery, and focus of a student’s expertise. Whoever views a badge collection can see the qualities they want in a future employee, intern, mentor, or volunteer.

intern badge

Meet Connie: Nursing Graduate and Animal-Assisted Therapist

Excerpt from: "7 Things You Should Know About...Badges." Educause. June 2012. Web. 11 July 2013.

Connie is a recent graduate of nursing school, working on a certification in animal-assisted therapy. The Center for Human-Animal Interaction at her university has instituted a new program, having made arrangements with several community organizations to work with student volunteers. The center is implementing a digital badge system, designed to recognize not only what students study but what they accomplish in the community. The icons or images of the digital badges will appear in students’ eportfolios. There they offer faculty, peers, community organizers, and potential employers a snapshot of interests and suggest the depth and focus of a student's expertise.

Connie is doing an internship on Wednesday afternoons at the local Autism and Communication Center (ACC). She and five other student volunteers will set up and oversee field trips this quarter for six children, grades K–5. They will also work with the students to assess the effectiveness of the animal-assisted therapy, completing a related research project. In addition to the three course hours credited for this effort, the interns will receive a university-sponsored badge for child-animal interaction. Connie also works Thursday afternoons at a local riding stable, and she arranges with her employer to set up a field trip for the students from the ACC to introduce them to the horses. On the day of the field trip, Connie saddles the horses and ponies. Some kids "ride" with an adult leading the horse, while others "visit" selected animals, including Connie’s experienced therapy horse, Raindance.

By term’s end, Connie has earned badges for Child-Animal Interaction, Community Volunteer, and Community Project Management. A badge she received for placing third in a national dressage competition can also be displayed with those granted by her university. The badges from the university include links to web pages that describe each badge, list the requirements for it, and note the date she earned it. Through a simple online interface, Connie can manage her collection of badges, indicating which ones can be seen on personal and professional networks and in her eportfolio.

paleo badge

Meet City Museum: Badges for Ecoliteracy

A city museum developed a badge system to generate excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about the community around the museum. They wanted to help youth develop identities and confidence as science thinkers and doers. Their idea incorporated technology and a badging system. Youth would use mobile phones to explore the museum and acquire badges for knowledge and skills acquired.

Organizers recognized two patterns in how achieving badges motivated the young visitors. High achievers loved the challenge and wanted to earn every badge offered. They were eager to identify skills they weren't familiar with and pursue the corresponding badges. Many created their own interest-driven pathways. The lowest achievers were also highly motivated. Organizers helped match the badge earning tasks to students' levels and abilities. As they successfully collected their badges, they enjoyed the public recognition that they weren't accustomed to.

Organizers offered the opportunity to showcase earned museum badges alongside other badges the youth could earn in their science courses at school. The badge system helped place students in science courses they were interested in and ready for. Inspired teachers incorporated more ways to spark science interest, such as providing opportunities for field trips and outside lab work with science professionals.

quotes      Most youth understand the concept of milestones...

                   something you earn along the way as you get better at something...

                   milestones = badges

Badge earning at the museum incorporates game-based elements like mastering content or skills, overcoming challenges, earning points, and competing with others into the learning process. This "game feel" evokes excitement, interest, and drive in all types of participants, even those who have never played a traditional video game.

mentor badge

Meet Catherine: Answer Guru

Excerpt from: Young, Jeffrey R. "Badges Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas." The Chronicle of Higher Education. Jan. 2012. Web. 14 July 2013.

When it comes to biology, Catherine Lacey is a Level 40 Hero. That's her ranking on OpenStudy, where the University of Western Australia student spends up to 30 hours per week answering homework questions posed by students around the world. The level indicates time spent on the site, and Hero is the hardest-to-attain badge. If you think of helping with homework as a game, she's got the high score.

The 20-year-old first stumbled upon the OpenStudy site while surfing the Web. She was hooked after an answer she tossed out yielded an online medal signaling that her knowledge had served as a lifeline to a struggling student. "I said, Wow, people think I'm smart," she recalls. As she spent more time on the site, "achievements start popping up," she says. Now her online persona on OpenStudy, TranceNova, has racked up a page of merit badges, including one for helping people with MIT open biology courses.

She receives no pay for all the time she logs on the site. A paycheck would be "an honor" but would make the experience feel like toil, she told me. "I don't see it as a labor, I see it as no different than going out to the movies with friends." Going out with friends is one thing she doesn't do much (calling herself "not that social"), so for Ms. Lacey the site is an important outlet.

So far that Hero badge isn't listed on the student's résumé, but she might add it if she ever applies for a teaching job.

quotes    It's a measure of how much time and effort I've put into this

                 and what other people think of me.

Digital badges will make the accomplishments and experiences of individuals in online and offline spaces, visible to anyone and everyone, including potential employers, educators, and communities.

blue line

Meet Purdue: Nanoelectronics

Excerpt from: Carey, Kevin. "Show Me Your Badge." New York Times. 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 July 2013.

At the end of Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy, a short online course offered by Purdue University, students who score at least 60 percent on the final exam will receive an email with a file attached. It will contain a picture of a blue-and-white circle, roughly one inch in diameter, embossed with the stylized image of an atomic force microscope bouncing a laser beam off a cantilever into a photodiode, which is how scientists take photographs and measure the size of very small (nanoscale) things.

The picture is a digital badge.

In addition to formal lectures and homework, students are recognized for the time spent in labs, doing field work, working on service projects and internships, and the experiences they gain from student organizations. Instructors and advisors give students digital badges to indicate mastery of skills.

Purdue is also rewarding badges to students who have successfully completed courses through nanoHUB-U, a collection of short courses in nanotechnology offered online to an international audience.

blue line

Meet Carnegie Mellon: Robotics

At Carnegie Mellon, students can take online courses in robotics and computer science where they are awarded badges during the learning process—one for teaching robots to move and another for manipulating robot motion sensors. After their course study, they can acquire the final badge certifying their overall robot programming skills.

Learn more

How do other institutions use badges?

Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities Through Digital Badges

Colleges Use 'Digital Badges' to Replace Traditional Grading

Trending: Professors Tout Badges Over Grades

Rethinking Digital Badges

Sample badges with links to criteria and evidence

Badging From Within