What are digital badges?

Data hacker 1

Digital badge are mini-credentials, awarded after a process of assessment which may be used to guide, measure, recognize and communicate learning. In school settings, digital badges might be called “alternative assessments.”  Badge are awarded upon successful completion of tasks or challenges which are really performance criteria. The tasks can be designed, through authentic learning experiences, to evidence understanding of the performance objectives which could include specific knowledge and/or skills. After the learning products or evidence have been reviewed by a teacher or mentor, badges may be issued or given to learners who successfully meet the learning objectives.

Unpacking a digital badge

Digital badges are essentially images with metadata attached; they can be displayed on web pages, digital documents such as resumes or CVs. The metadata, or data about the badge, may include important information about the badge such as data of issue, who issued the badge, links to “evidence” or digital learning assets. The great thing about digital badge assessments is that the information you would like to know — the learning objectives, the performance criteria and the actual evidence of learning — can be “baked” right into the badge. Interested or targeted audiences (usually with permission) can click on the badge to view this information, that is, the metadata, or data about the badge.  This just can’t be accomplished with traditional “grades.”  

Digital badges are already used in a variety of environments to communicate individuals’ achievement and/or learning. Arne Duncan, U. S. Secretary of Education recently described the use of badges as a “game changing strategy. “

 “Badges can help engage students in learning, and broaden the avenues for learners of all ages to acquire and demonstrate—as well as document and display—their skills” (Remarks at the 4th Annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition, 2011). 

What can I do with a digital badge?


Learners can accumulate digital badges into a “digital backpack;” badges awarded through systems which are compliant with Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) standard can be displayed together, through Mozilla’s site, once the user has signed up for a “backpack” (display space). Badges can also be displayed on digital products such as web sites, blogs, resumes or eportfolios; they can also be printed on a kind of transcript. To sign up or take a closer look:  http://backpack.openbadges.org/backpack/login

Digital badges and assessment –

 great tools for teaching and learning in K-20 environments

Teachers and administrators have repeatedly expressed concern over K-12 content standards as well as the standardized testing methodology used to “measure” or evidence learning to “meet” these standards. There’s an understanding by educators, that students need much more than the primarily declarative knowledge and lower order thinking skills tested by large scale, criterion- referenced testing such as the Michigan’s MEAP or IOWA test battery. Digital badges can help; by complementing existing systems of grading in higher education and K-12 schools, the use of robust badge assessments, carefully applied, can provide an in-depth understanding of individuals’ capacities and accomplishments.
walkthrough2Since badge criteria are so flexible, they can be designed to support  learning and assessment. Also, they may be used to communicate skills and knowledge which may not currently be measured, but that are crucial for students’ success such as soft skills or complex performance tasks requiring higher order thinking skills. The idea of a system to recognize, communicate and articulate skill development addresses some of the knotty issues in learning and assessment of competencies which are essential for the knowledge-based workplace, skills which are not adequately measured through standardized testing. As web-based, “open” credentials for which criteria are available to be reviewed upon demand with an Internet connection, digital badges, for perhaps the first time, may provide unique assessments which could be:

  • transparent (because the specific criteria are published);
  • evidence-based (for some badges, products which evidence learning will be “attached” to the users’ badges, similar to a digital portfolio);
  • acknowledge and hence make visible skills and competencies needed for the workplace but which are neither “taught” nor assessed in formal environments;
  • flexible (even transcultural, embodying criteria important to communities of practice globally)
  • granular (very specific skills and knowledge sets can be targeted) and in some sense, may be
  • “common assessments” in that authorizers may openly solicit feedback on badge criteria and design aspects from pertinent communities of practice. In this manner, badge criteria could be “crowd sourced” by relevant experts.
Why would I want a digital badge?

Unlike grades or summative assessments, digital badges can provide detailed information about the skills or knowledge the learner demonstrated.  Performance criteria can be very simple or complex; criteria are established by the badge issuer and hence vary from badge to badge.  The badge performance objectives and purpose may be viewed by clicking on the digital badge. This kind of information will be useful to a wide variety of audiences including school administrators, teachers, college admissions officers, potential employers and professional colleagues.

Educators, earn your own badge!

The Walkthrough for Learning Digital badge (above) is awarded for demonstrating knowledge in a specific walk-through technique (Downey, Three-Minute Walk-through). As an administrator or teacher leaders, you may be interested trying to earn this for yourself! Please use the form below to be added to the list. When a cohort of educators have signed up, a start date will be determined. Looking forward to your participation!

Posted in BadgeTalk