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Where is the discussion on badging going on your campus?

Are you seeing folks incorporate badges into their teaching methods?

How do you think we can leverage the alternative credentialing movement to improve learning?

And what impact will badging and competence based learning have on more traditional methods of assessment and credentialing?

To help get at some of these questions I conducted an e-mail Q&A with two colleagues, Michael Evans and Michael Goudzwaard, who have recently collaborated to introduce badging to a class that Michael E taught.  

I think that this is not only an interesting case study in how badges may be utilized to meet learning goals, but also a great example of collaborative course development work between a professor (Michael E) and an instructional designer (Michael G).

Question 1: Can you give us a quick sketch of how you introduced badging into your course?

Michael Evans (professor):

As a Neukom Fellow, I had the opportunity to design a new course based on my research interests in science and religion in American media. The course is highly interdisciplinary and multimodal (LMS assignments, lectures, student-led classroom discussion, software skills training), so there were some challenges in tracking and evaluating student progress.

I decided to experiment with badging to track the portion of my course focused on digital scholarship skills. I introduced badging to students as part of the syllabus. For all of their digital scholarship assignments, they could receive both a grade and a badge. Each assignment would earn a "progress badge," and completion of an entire training sequence or practice sequence would earn a "completion badge."

I made it clear to students that grades would always be assigned, but badges were optional to accept and use.

Question 2: What objectives were you trying to achieve by using badges?

Michael Evans (professor):

The main objective was to communicate student competency beyond the grade or transcript.

In addition to the normal complement of lectures and discussion and exams in the course, students also learn how to use media analysis software and produce digital scholarship. But you would never know that from the course title or grades or transcript information.

Badges retain the validity of a grade or endorsement, but are flexible enough for students to communicate to future employers, to grad school admissions committees, or to their friends and colleagues.

Their grade says "I got an A in the course" but the badge says "I can search, collect, edit, collaborate, compose, curate, annotate, and analyze digital video, audio, and text."

Question 3: What were the steps necessary to enable Michael E to utilize badging in his class?

Michael Goudzwaard (instructional designer):

First, we explored what badges would achieve in the course that other forms of assessment would not. In short, badges would allow students to communicate their evidence-based skills they had developed in this course with an external audience.  

Badges also demonstrate competency required in other courses. For example, as part of their work in Michael's course students attended training on a specific software, Mediathread. A Mediathread badge could allow a student to work toward a higher level badge in a future course rather than repeat the same training.

The second step was to define badge outcomes, which essentially are learning outcomes fit into the badge framework. Badges offer the possibility of linking to evidence of competence. In one meeting I recall we talked about crafting the Mediathread badge outcome from "attend training" to "create a MT project based on training".

Third, we evaluated badge issuing methods currently available in the badge-o-sphere. We had to educate ourselves about the relationships and realities of platforms such as Mozilla's Backpack, Credly, and other third party issuers. We tested badging plug-ins in Canvas (our LMS) and ultimately Credly offered the simplest and most portable badges for students.

I think it would be ideal in the future to have the badge issuing more tightly integrated with the LMS (Canvas). This would support the pedagogy and lessen the work of both badging and grading for the course.

Question 4: How do you plan to use badges in your future teaching?  

Michael Evans (professor):

I have two answers for this.

First, I plan to continue using badges to track and communicate student accomplishments that might otherwise get lost in traditional grading and recording schemes. I am even considering whether it is possible to go all-badge for my media course, with the ultimate course grade being calculated based on the number of badges completed.

Second, I plan to use badging as a way to think about how I might improve my course design, whether that is around competencies, scale, technology integration, evaluation, or simply doing a better job of articulating learning objectives.

Through working on this project I've found that many of the conversations about badges aren't actually about badges at all. The very possibility of badges exposes a lot of unresolved tensions around how we teach and learn.

I don't think that badges will magically resolve all of those tensions. But thinking and talking about how they might do so can be productive.

Question 5: What issues does your collaboration with Michael E. with badging raise about course design, evaluation and assessment?  What do you see as the path forward?

Michael Goudzwaard (instructional designer):

At the core of badging platforms is developing evidence-based competency outcomes and at the core of course design is defining learning outcomes so the two are closely linked.  A similar backward-design process can be used with both to start with activities and assignments and design back to outcomes.

While there is a relationship between learning and competency, I am not suggesting that you might be able to equate every part of a course to a badge. In interviewing a few of Michael E's students about badging, one student reflected that badges seem binary and not that applicable to non-science courses.

For badging in to be useful in the broader arts and humanities, feedback to students needs to be robust and the iterative path to mastery well documented.

For the path forward I am interested in Michael's proposal of going "all badge" the next time he teaches this course. In this model a student might choose 22 out of 25 possible badges.

I could also see another course using badges, particularly if the course built on competencies demonstrated by the badges Michael E. issued.

We as a teaching and learning community should continue to have conversations about the value to students of badges in courses, the relationship between badges and overall assessment, and the implications badging has to inform teaching and learning.

What would you want to ask Michael and Michael about badging?

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