What are Digital Badges? How it improves classroom learning? 

A digital badge in education recognises learning outside of conventional school records. Digital badges validate accomplishments, skills or competencies acquired in learning environments, where the learning environment is usually online. 

This includes higher education, eLearning, training programs, boot camps, certifications, internships, volunteer work, lifelong learning, etc.

By a digital badge, we mean a web-based micro-credential earned for a skill or achievement. Developed from research related to game-based learning (also known as g-learning), a badge is awarded for a completed unit or an acquired skill.

Digital badges in education have complemented conventional degrees, certificates, and diplomas. Other than capturing evidence of learning lacking in traditional academic records, digital badges improve learning. For example, digital badges document learning outside traditional classrooms, such as skills gained through internships, volunteer work, and other co-curricular activities. As a complement to conventional certificates and diplomas, badges help students understand their experiences and translate them into employers' skills. The badges also help recruiters understand the specific skills that a prospective employee offers. Focusing on education, earning badges enables students from different backgrounds and academic goals to tailor their educational pathways and motivate them to pursue a certificate, diploma or degree program. These badges can provide evidence of field-specific training in a particular area to learners seeking to learn new skills or reskill to meet professional goals.

Digital badges, especially in higher education, are now mainly preferred to recognize micro-credentials, units of study that focus on particular skills or competencies. These badges represent micro-credentials in the way that a diploma represents a degree. It may contain rich metadata embedded by the issuer that enables third parties such as employers to verify the badge's achievement and helps earners articulate what they have learned by far. 

How do Digital Badges improve classroom learning?

Below, we have enlisted a few pointers to help you understand what digital badges are and what wonders they can do in the overall learning process: 

Recognition and Reward

We all know that we humans tend to learn and perform better when we are valued for what we do, our efforts are acknowledged, and we are rewarded for our extraordinary performance. And digital badges in education help educators appreciate students for what they have accomplished. These accomplishments can be linked to everything, including learning, positive behaviour, effort, skills, etc.

Besides recognizing the success of top achievers, you can use it in the best way by awarding digital badges to students struggling to excel. Although it is a tedious task, you need to notice their most minor efforts and appreciate even the slightest improvement; it will motivate them to learn and perform better. Also, it will create a positive environment by making the learning sessions more inclusive. 

Motivates Learners

Recognition and motivation are, to some extent, interrelated. Humans feel motivated when praised for their hard work and efforts regardless of the outcome. The same happens with students in learning environments and employees in companies worldwide. Teachers need to motivate their students to perform better and aspire to success.

These can be very helpful to you. You need to include digital badges in the classroom to motivate learners, making each badge worth a couple of points that students can earn and use for purchasing rewards. These rewards may include educational gifts, waiver of duties, grace points in a test, or a game session for those with the most reward points each month. This award scheme motivates students to learn and makes learning fun and enjoyable. 

Goals and objectives should be clear.

Learners just cannot be expected to learn unless they are informed of the learning goals and objectives. The objectives allow students to have a clear sense of what will be taught to them and why; they also encourage students to learn in the right direction.
 The best way to make students remember their learning goal is by always having them displayed. Additionally, you can associate ratings from 1 to 10 that allow students to see their progress towards their goal(s). You can offer a digital badge with rewards on each of the marks on the scale where '10' will be the highest mark and mark '8' will indicate mastery.

This is the advantage of digital badges; they can be incorporated at all levels and areas of learning, including goals and objectives. Each badge associated will become the criteria for students to get rewards, motivating them to learn and work towards their learning goals.

Peer review and feedback opportunities

The Digital Badges hold the potential to generate peer discussion and feedback opportunities (O'Connor & McQuigge, 2013). As per the research, by incorporating digital badges into a Big Open Online Course (BOOC) titled Educational Assessment, peer discussion and feedback became the fundamental component of the course. The earned badges can be shared over social networking sites. In addition, participants can also link their final work product along with peer endorsements and comments to the badge. Educators or seniors can also provide feedback on student performance in an online learning environment.

Each student learns differently, and it is challenging to implement a one-size-fits-all concept and assess them. But, coming to digital badges, you do not have to depend solely on exams and other conventional assessment methods. These badges can be associated with class participation, information retention, attentiveness, positive behaviour, etc. They can significantly help assess students and make classroom environments favourable by appreciating their strengths and encouraging them to learn in more comfortable ways. Additionally, it is one of the best ways to increase engagement in the learning process.

Badges as an assessment method

As aforementioned, the digital badge system serves as an assessment model. It provides a framework to ensure consistency of assignments and course evaluations between several course sections and instructors (Reid et al., 2015). Wilson et al. (2016) also identify the course-level badge system as evaluation-based. Badges can be used to certify skill mastery within courses in this badge system. However, many authors warn that weak assessment threatens the validity of badges. Some challenges are lack of support and buy-in, lack of vision for the program, inability to align badges programs with academic missions, and technical difficulties in insignia systems.

For instance, Purdue University using an electronic portfolio system called "Passport", also developed an assessment platform. This platform allies outcomes to challenges and incorporates scaffolding. Well-designed digital badges help provide alternative assessments, supporting collaboration and engagement (Parker, 2015). However, researchers warn that poorly designed badges or weak assessments can adversely impact a university's reputation (Wilson et al., 2016).

Micro-credentials and professional development

Many researchers have explored the possibility of digital badges being considered a reliable system to validate the skills and knowledge of prospective employees.(Parker, 2015; Yu, Dyjur, Miltenburg, & Saito, 2015). They found that open badges can be used in higher education to teach soft skills such as communication skills, decision-making, time management, leadership, problem-solving, etc. For instance, the University of Central Oklahoma identifies soft skills; they expect the graduates to demonstrate and use badges to document and track their skills in addition to grades (Gibson et al., 2016; Parker, 2015).

These badges hold the potential to provide a method of credentialing skills. They check skills acquired through formal and informal learning experiences. The Micro-credentials can document professional development at workshops and other training for faculty, university staff and graduate students in cataloguing their professional learning experiences (Yu et al., 2015). Also, Wilson et al. (2016) suggest that badges used as micro-credentials could position universities as credentialing institutions. Another study states that badges used as micro-credentials allow for criteria-based professional learning documentation rather than just participation-based certificates.


How to Implement Digital Badges in Education?

  1. Know Digital Badges

When planning to introduce digital badges to your students, learn about the digital badges wholly in the first place. Remember these elements when implementing the online badges:

  • Public badges are available to every learner and can be awarded for achievements in specific fields to which they are confined.
  • Private badges are inaccessible to the general public and are used as proof of efforts made by a learner/performer to earn them.
  • 'Badge authoring' refers to the pictorial formation of badges using either an online application or a digital platform. 
  • Only distributors subject to scrutiny and who have a good reputation are eligible to issue badges. This limitation was imposed to preserve the value of the badges.
  • Badges that are made are collected to be stored in 'badge portfolios'. These gatherings connect a person's skills and capabilities to their achievements in one place.
  • A " recognition pathway " is a collection of knowledge and experiences that are important to pass specific exams and gain knowledge is known as a "recognition pathway".
  1. Follow Best Practices:

To save time and increase the effectiveness of online badges, follow these practices:

  • A third party should validate badges for inclusion in learning, challenging to obtain and relevant.
  • Using digital badges is not just about measuring performance in class.
  • Think beyond the classroom and one-on-one performance. Focus on teamwork and participation and facilitate online training to assign badges.
  • Ensure that students in your class know how badge assignments work, their purpose and when they can get a badge.
  • Talk to your students about the advantages of badges beyond awards. This is the best way you can look forward to increased knowledge retention.
  1. Look for Badge-Awarding Platforms and Learn from Them

Before implementing your badge allocation program, familiarize yourself with existing platforms. Find out what badge platforms are like and how they work. Below are some of the digital badging platforms you can check:

  1. Develop and implement the checklist

Create a checklist to judge your strategy for implementing digital badges easily. The list may consist of:

  • Classroom and contextual analysis.
  • The ultimate purpose of badging.
  • Timeline for the deployment of the badge and achievement of the end goal.
  • Cooperation with various companies to create and issue badges.
  • Selection of a digital badging platform.
  • Assessment methods for awarding badges.
  • Differentiate badges from grades.
  • Creation of images for digital badges.
  • Process of evaluating the success of a badge program.

A digital badge is an excellent tool for educators to recognize and reward learners for their efforts in encouraging learning. However, the benefits depend solely on how well it is implemented.

These badges cross multiple fields and are used in informal and formal learning settings, corporate settings, government settings, and all levels of education from K-12 to higher education. It is being used for non-tangible representations of skill achievement and accomplishments; however, the efficacy of badges in educational settings is still being explored.

About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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