The latest bandwagon, or something better?

What’s the joke

Originally uploaded by theirhistory

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a few months now.

Actually, no, that’s a lie. I’ve been following some other people kicking around an idea for a few months now and I’ve been feeling like this has the makings of a very good idea. Possibly.

Chris Allen (@infernaldepart) and Brian Sharland (@sharland) keep posting messages about Digital Badges, and a blog post by Dave Stacey (@davestacey) has really filled me with enthusiasm (and a bit of awe at the scope of his pedagogical vision). The basic principle is quite simple; instead of assessing each piece of work as Level 4a, Level 5c or whatever you use the Scouting model of awarding badges as a way of recognising achievement.

This has a real advantage for me that it’s not about me looking at each piece of work and grading it at one of several levels, it’s not about hawkishly passing judgement on the student every time. The emphasis is instead focused on rewarding work, and specifically in rewarding progress.

At Beaver Scouts, my daughter recently earned her ‘1 night away’ badge. Does this represent any learning objectives? No. Does it represent an achievement? Absolutely. It won’t be long before she earns her ‘5 nights away’ badge, then 10, 20… I think my son should be approaching 50 by now. Progress, achievement and rewards.

And actually, it’s not entirely dissimilar to the real world. When I have to write a particular document it is ultimately pass/fail. My SEF either comes back needing amendment or it is accepted, I get to keep my ‘administrative paperwork’ badge and everything else that comes along with it.

All this is helped by Mozilla’s Open Badges framework. The idea is that people can complete tasks and be awarded a digital badge for their efforts. They even have a virtual backpack on which you can proudly display your badges. And being open source (hence the Open Badges name), anyone can create their own badge, or set of badges.

There are two issues I still need to overcome, however, if this is going to work.

One, I need a way to embed the badges in the student mindset. They need to be displayed somewhere in a way that is “automagic and omnipresent”. It’s no use asking them to sew them on their jumpers and I don’t like the idea of students having to go to a third party website just to check their badges and to see the badges of others. One idea I’m looking at is a login script that will display the student’s badges on their desktop. I’m also hearing rumours of a potential plugin for with Edmodo and/or Moodle.

The second one is that in order for this to work, it needs to be consistent across the department, approved by SLT and mapped to levels so that we can still report using the existing systems. None of that is necessarily insurmountable, I just hope that my departmental colleagues are willing to give it a go.

I genuinely think that there is an opportunity here to provide feedback, offer recognition and to motivate students in a fundamentally different way.