How digital badges will help define the future of learning and PD

Badges and micro-credentials showcase students' strengths and mastery through reflection and self-assessment.
Jed Stefanowicz
Jed Stefanowicz
Jed Stefanowicz is a digital learning coach in Walpole, Mass., providing job-embedded professional development and instructional coaching for academic technology. As a 25-year elementary educator, speaker, and author, Jed shares his passion for designing engaging digital learning environments and experiences that activate, innovate, and motivate digital learning. He is the author of "Take AIM at Digital Learning: Activate, Innovate, Motivate."

Digital badging can look like anything from a simple spreadsheet sticker chart to a complex adventured-inducing hyperdoc to an amped-up, infographic-driven professional advancement platform.

Badges and micro-credentials are not new ideas, but the tools to create, track, and award badges are easier than ever to work with. Educators will always need to assess and measure student learning and progress, and students deserve to have it done with them rather than to them. Creating a digital badge program can be a mechanism to achieve that goal.

Rather than focusing on the particular products or platforms to create and manage specific badge programs, this article is focused on the why. Effective badging programs promote student agency by empowering learners to showcase their strengths and mastery through reflection and self-assessment. Badges and micro-credentials that measure mastery through performance tasks should blend the goal of tracking accomplishment while celebrating success.

Badges and micro-credentials: Key elements

My digital learning coaching team has developed and deployed three upper-elementary badge programs to assess digital learning. Across grades 3-5, these platforms draw standards and elements from ISTE, Common Sense Ed, and state standards, as well as our classroom curriculum content. This combination allows us to design criteria to recognize students as Digital Learners, Digital Citizens, and Digital Leaders. Each grade has its own program and process, ranging from a digital passbook-style journal to interactive slides that blend instructional content with response activities and content-creation opportunities.

A key element to the design of our “badge books” is that they are meaningful and memorable for both the students who curate their contents and the educators who facilitate their use. Educators can leverage this format to move beyond the bulletin board to create content that has an authentic purpose and audience while compiling a real-time portfolio of learning.

We can capture and model processes; showcase and archive products; share and spotlight performance, and explain and demonstrate practices. Skilled teachers have always found ways to reach these goals but a digital badge platform creates a mechanism to archive, assess, and celebrate these skills. Designing unique and personal passbooks, portfolios, or digital workbooks with (and for) students create an opportunity to curate learning and make thinking visible.

The look of professional learning is shifting

My book, Take AIM at Digital Learning: Activate, Innovate, Motivate, is framed around rethinking and redesigning what digital learning looks like in classrooms. Digital badging addresses each element of the AIM framework. Educators are activating content and engaging learners, shifting the edtech experience from content consumption to content creation.

Instruction and assessment are innovated, capturing and showcasing learning beyond the bulletin board. Motivation is the name of the game in a successful badge platform, where students understand and are invested in their own progress monitoring.

As a digital learning coach, I am always striving to encourage classroom teachers to broaden the tools and techniques with which their students are assessed beyond the district and building basics. Integrating software like Seesaw, Book Creator, or Google Sites and Slides as the platforms for curating student creativity is critical to amplifying students’ voices and promoting varied choices. For some teachers, the badge program has introduced a new model for collecting and demonstrating student learning as school districts had to become 1-to-1 districts overnight during the pandemic.

The rise of professional digital badges and micro-credential platforms for both free and paid PD has been a game changer in professional learning across business, education, and industry. In fact, it surely owes some success to the pandemic in terms of flexibility of pace, space, access, and availability.

In our educational sphere, we can earn badges, certifications, and rewards through everything from big names like Google to local in-district tech coach competencies. The look of professional learning is shifting toward more personalized pathways for improved individualized learning and assessment. Maybe looking at the way educators prefer to learn would be a helpful perspective when we look at designing instruction for our students.

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