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Badges, badges, badges! What you need to know about the new learning buzzword

Hilary Gan is a professional SAT tutor and a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona.

Digital badges are quickly taking over the education sphere. Feeling clueless? This article will get you caught up.

kids learning online

Photo credit: Damircudic/E+/Getty Images

The relationship between education and technology is ever evolving. While some trends come to little fruition, other strategies and tools offer great possibility to students. One model that holds such promise is the digital badge. As this technique for engaging children in hands-on learning emerges, it’s beneficial for parents to understand its roots, its potential future and how they can get their kids involved. Here’s a primer on badges in education to get you started.

What is a badge?

Digital badges are virtual, visual symbols that represent real-life accomplishments. Similar to a Boy Scout badge, digital badges are an alternative assessment system slowly gaining credence in the education community.

What do badges mean for my child?

Badges are a simple method to showcase a skill set separate from grades. Such items as perfect attendance, frequent participation and even small research projects on a current school topic can be awarded badges. Different teachers will utilize badges in unique ways, but all badges recognize accomplishment. Expect your student to maintain a digital “backpack” where she can showcase her achievements online, such as Mozilla Backpack or an equivalent backpack system hosted by other institutions.

The origins of badges in video games

Digital badges originate from video game achievement recognition systems. Completing explorations, quests and tasks all provide badges to avid gamers, and they are used as a motivator to keep players interested in exploring today’s immense gaming worlds. Transitioning this motivational system into education helps students think of learning as an enjoyable and lifelong pursuit that is measured in personal achievements rather than comparisons to others.

The success of badges

In Boy and Girl Scouts, badges may be awarded for simply attending a one-time event or for successfully learning a skill set over an extended period of time; in the military, badges reflect heroism, rank, promotions and specializations. The visual component of badges ensures that others recognize skill sets immediately, and the standardized nature of badges allows for a “brand recognition” effect; everyone can understand that two people who possess a particular badge each completed equally rigorous tasks to earn it. Creative and dedicated students who may not score well on traditional assessments can shine in a badge-reward system.

Badges vs. grades

Badges are gaining momentum as an assessment tool precisely because they do not resemble grades; they can represent the development of a skill set. In particular, they reflect skill sets with real-world applications that require either long periods of time or single moments to master. While grades can accurately portray a student’s ability to engage with required material, badges can measure progress before and after obtaining a grade. Badges can also be awarded for achievements that students engage in voluntarily, such as completing extra research on a homework project, visiting a museum or using online tools to supplement learning.

Badges for adult learners

Badges as a means of recognition for lifelong learners and skill investments outside of academia are becoming more popular as well. Adults who attend workshops, complete workshops, present at or lead events and volunteer can all expect to see digital badge incentives increase in frequency. This will mean that resumes can be verified externally rather than relying on self-promotion techniques, and that recognized learning can continue long after a formal education is completed.

Next steps

UC-Davis has already begun to incorporate badges into its educational framework; hopefully, this will begin to bridge the gap between academia and the workplace for recent graduates. Mozilla Open Badges has taken a huge step in establishing a standard method for issuing badges and enabling open-source software for coding badges, and also offers an initial Backpack system for students to collect and store badges as well as free introductory information and badge-earning opportunities. Check out after-school programs like the Providence After School Alliance and summer programs offered by colleges (like DeVry University) for badge-earning opportunities for your child.

For more tips and strategies to help your student succeed in school, visit www.varsitytutors.com.

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