Digital badging Part 5: Could digital badges be designed to represent different levels of learning?

Not all digital badges are equal: gold, silver and bronze could be the new standard for levels of learning

Digital badges can be earned for many different accomplishments: individuals in video game leagues earn badges for skill and success within specific video games; college faculty members use them to denote attendance in class; and still others use them to acknowledge significant academic achievements. From the outside, many badges look the same but what the badge represents and who issued the badge can indicate the badge’s true worth.

Digital badges are not sewn on a sash and worn on uniforms; rather they are displayed electronically and viewed over social media, posted on websites and blogs and used in electronic portfolios. The individual that earned the digital badge can show them off in many different mediums to help inform friends, family, teachers and employers of what they have learned, experiences they have had or skills they have developed. Still, from the outside a badge does not tell you much. To truly know what a badge represents, you need to click on the badge and read the criteria and description to know whether the badge that was earned by showing up to class most of the time or for mastering and successfully applying the scientific process in a rigorous academic setting.

Because digital badges can represent a wide scope of activities, it could be helpful to create a standard that depicts specific types of learning. Even better would be a particular look for badges that connect to a type of learning that can be easily seen by teachers and future employees. The badge style, in essence, would say, “this badge means I learned something significant.”

A discussion about badging styles is taking place among individuals at Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development, the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan After-School Partnership as a part of a grant seeking to investigate the use of digital badges in after-school settings. Badges have been created for a 4-H summer camp that denote three types of learning: bronze indicates youth actively participated in a learning experience (such as attending 4-H Renewable Energy Camp); silver indicates youth learned concepts and practiced them successfully; and gold indicates youth have been assessed and tested competent/proficient against a particular learning standard. Badges that fit one of these criteria will have either a bronze, silver or gold ring along the outer edge of the badge, easily illustrating upon first glance what type of learning this badge represents.

While this is just the first test of this new type of model that establishes a description and a look for different types of learning experiences, it does help progress the discussion of what digital badges can be and how we can start to offer some common language and standards across digital badges. To learn more about digital badging, read other articles in this series including: Part 1: Digital badges as bright new way for students to showcase their skills and knowledge, Part 2: What do high school students think of digital badges, Part 3: Could earning digital badges help young people get a job? and Part 4: Could earning digital badges help your child get into college?

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