Digital badging: A bright new way for students to showcase their skills and knowledge – Part 1

Digital badges are gaining momentum. Learn what they are and how they can be used to benefit young people.

Digital badges are gaining momentum. According to Michigan State University Extension, some college faculty members use them to acknowledge accomplishments of their students. Some gaming groups use digital badges to show skill and achievements of the players. Still other organizations are considering using them to acknowledge contributions, participation or successes of customers. Digital badges can be used in a lot of different ways, but the primary purpose of the digital badge is to provide electronic acknowledgment of an accomplishment that can be shared virtually.

Remember the badges you may have had in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts? When a new skill was learned or task completed, a scout would be issued a badge that was to be sewn on a sash. The badge would visibly represent to others that this person accomplished a goal or has developed a skill. Well, instead of a sash, think of a digital backpack. Instead of wearing the badges, individuals place the digital badges in a digital backpack. Think of it as an online space to keep and sort all your badges. These badges can then show up on Facebook, twitter web pages to share with teachers or prospective employers.

One of the values of having a digital badge is that anyone can click on the badge and learn who issued the badge, the specifics of what had to be done to earn the badge and a description of what was learned or accomplished. Hyperlinks also take viewers directly back to the issuer (the person or entity that designed and issued the badge), program or sponsoring organization so you can learn more about them and the badge. 

One project pursued by Michigan 4-H along with Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan After-school Partnership involves issuing badges to youth who have learned new knowledge and skills during an out-of-school time experience. Students undertake a lot of study during school hours to earn credits and grades that help validate what they have learned. Their GPA, along with an ACT score are assessments of what the student knows academically and is used by colleges to determine admission. These two data points say a lot about a student. Digital badges could be a valuable third data point that helps communicate other skills and knowledge gained by the young person and paint a more well–rounded picture of the academic abilities of young people.

Youth participating in 4-H Renewable Energy Camp this past June were given the opportunity to earn digital badges in solar energy, wind energy and bioenergy. Youth researched a problem, designed a solution and presented their findings to the entire camp. Learning how to problem solve, work as a team and communicate are important life skills. In addition, youth engaged in these activities meet certain core science competencies that schools try to teach in the classroom. If youth learn and demonstrate these key competencies during out-of-school time activities like in summer science camps, could they receive credit for that learning? That is one of the key questions this group is asking and digital badging may be a way to do just that.

The project is still ongoing and we have much more to research before an answer is provided, but what we do know is that digital badges offer a unique opportunity for students to show learning accomplishments. We also know that students, schools, after-school providers, colleges and employers all have interest and something to gain by pursuing this concept.

This is part one in a series of articles by MSU Extension on digital badging. Other articles include Part 2: What do high school students think of digital badges, Part 3: Could earning digital badges help young people get a job, Part 4: Could earning digital badges help your child get into college? and Part 5: Could digital badges be designed to represent different levels of learning?

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