Beyond the Grade: Digital Badges to Certify Learning
Grades are not the only way of assessing student work. There are a number of colleges and universities that have experimented with alternative approaches to the traditional letter grade. One such college, Reed College in Oregon, provides students with more detailed feedback and assessment in addition to grades. As stated in their Guidebook, “Students’ work is closely observed and frequently evaluated by instructors; the student and adviser then discuss these evaluations in individual conferences” (Reed College, n.d., para 2). Grades are de-emphasized. More qualitative, active feedback and discussion is promoted. As the College (n.d.) further states in it’s Guidebook, “The College does not wish to divide students by labels of achievement. A conventional letter grade for each course is recorded for every student, but the registrar’s office does not distribute grades to students” (para 1).
The Reed College model does not get of grades entirely, but there are movements towards replacing the traditional system with an alternative model. Given that the system is so entrenched in American higher education, meaningful change must come from a system-wide level. One such model is the creation of digital “badges” which function as “a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest” (Digital Media and Learning Competition, 2011, para 3). Rather than assigning a letter grade for a monolithic course, badges are a means of certification that indicate competency in a variety of individual skills. They can also span a variety of contexts, which may include education received at a traditional college or outside of it.
The benefit of badges is that they are universal and portable. They also allow for the certification of additional skills without the requirement of completing an entire degree. A number of organizations have supported this effort including the MacArthur Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The United States Department of Education has also pledged support with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, describing it as a “quantum leap forward in educational reform” and that “Badges can help engage students in learning, and broaden the avenues for learners of all ages to acquire and demonstrate—as well as document and display—their skills” (MacArthur Foundation, 2011, para 1). Badges represent a new way of certifying student learning that is more responsive and in keeping with the new digital age.
How might you utilize the concept of the digital badge in advancing your student learning efforts?
Digital Media and Learning Competition (2011, September 15). Badges for learning info and press release. Retrieved from http://hastac.org/documents/badges-learning-info
MacArthur Foundation. (2011, September 15). Digital media and learning competition provides $2 million for innovations in digital badges [Press Release]. Retrieved from http://www.macfound.org/press/press-releases/digital-media-learning-competition-provides-2-million-for-innovations-in-digital-badges/
Reed College. (n.d.) Guidebook: Evaluation of students. Retrieved from http://www.reed.edu/academic/gbook/acad_pol/eval_student.html