What are digital badges and how might they apply to university contexts?

What are Digital Badges?

Badges are digital crests that serve to recognize the achievement of specific skills, accomplishments, qualities, or interests. Other common terms for digital badges include open badges or micro credentials.

Badges come with a host of meta-data built in. So while the ‘crest’ may be an image, behind that image lies detailed information regarding what the badge is all about (name, URL, tags, etc.) and how the badge owner received the badge (criteria, issue date, and evidence).  The evidence attached to a badge is oftentimes an artifact of the badge-owners work that exemplifies the skills, accomplishments, or qualities the badge owner demonstrated in order to earn the badge.

An open badge is digital and has meta-data inside of it such as badge name, URL, criteria, and evidence
Open Badges (P.S. there’s data inside…) by @BryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

Badges are designed and awarded through an online badging platform, such as CanCred Factory or Credly. Once an applicant earns a badge they can use it however they would like. Often, badges get added to an online profile like LinkedIn, an ePortfolio, or online CV for an external audience to view and explore (e.g. view the meta-data). For more on badge design, see the post How do I design a digital badge?

How Might Badges be used in University Contexts?

Bryan Mathers Badge Taxonomy (below) shows how badges can be awarded for all kinds of reasons, such as:

  • membership to a group or organization, such as a professional academic community;
  • mastery of a task or skill that demonstrates excellence, such as performing a clinical assessment skill or playing Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 1;
  • participation in specified activities, such as attendance at a professional development workshop;
  • capability or ability to reach a defined standard, such as passing an Academic Integrity module.
A badge taxonomy: badges can be used to recognize Membership (belonging to a group or organization), Mastery (demonstrating excellence), Participation (involvement in one or more activities), or Capability (reaching a defined standard)
Badge Taxonomy V0.2 by @BryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

The above badge taxonomy outlines the general reasons why a badge might be awarded – but in what contexts for higher education might badges be useful? The following list, adapted from Michigan State University, shows the far-reaching possibilities of badges:

Credit-Bearing Learning

Curricular: recognizing learning outcomes within formal courses. For example, recognizing the development of research skills by having engaged in an inquiry-based learning assignment in a 3rd year science course

Cross-Curricular: recognizing learning outcomes across or between courses. For example, recognizing and rewarding the progressive development of communication skills across 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year writing courses.

Non-Credit Learning

Co-Curricular: Sometimes referred to as Extra-Curricular, these badges recognize learning or scholarship that occurs outside traditional courses. For example, earning a badge for sustained participation in a debate club or for having gone on an alternative spring break.

Open-Curricular: While not a popular occurrence here at Western, an open-curricular badge would recognize learning outcomes achieved through openly available courses, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Faculty and Staff Development

Professional Development: recognizing learning as part of faculty or staff professional development, such as attendance at workshops or completion of training courses

Certification: awarding a badge for learning gained through certification, such as completion of a faculty certificate in teaching or mental health support certification.

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