Do Badges Reflect Mastery Better than Grades Do?

11 02 2014

There’s a school just up the road from us  in Sterling, Kansas, that is reportedly in the process of shifting about 60% of their high school classes to reflect a Career and Technical Education focus. That means that their kids aren’t just attending classes and working for a grade like you and I did. They’re participating in classes that will lead to credentialing and licensure once the student has demonstrated mastery. It’s about careers and Career Pathways. It’s about leaving school ready to work. Or go to college. Or go to a technical school.

There are other shifts happening, too.

ESSDACK, the non-profit education service center where I work, is shifting the notion of professional learning for educators with our Self-Directed Professional Learning Modules. We believe that learning and professional development credit points ought not come from simple seat time at a workshop. That learning can happen any place, at any time, and that our educators want to be doing something better. So we are developing an opportunity for them to get credit for doing better, any time, any place.

badges in education

Badges have often signified learning

However most of the evidence of learning for students and educators is reflected by grades or seat-time credit. It’s not about learning or mastery. It’s about “did you put your time in and did you jump through the hoops the right way at the right time?”

And that’s simply not good enough any more. We want kids leaving school with actual learning and evidence of that learning that indicates they can actually do something and are ready to get started. We want educators who get credit for not only spending time in professional learning sessions, but who are doing something with that learning.

If we stay with the current broken model of grades, it’s too hard to shift mindsets. Enter badges.

Now I have been a vocal critic of badges in the past, but not because I think they’re bad. In fact, I think they are great, if we spot potential pitfalls and build bridges over those dangerous gaps.

At the risk of writing too much, I’m going to just drop a couple links, then share a video. If you’re brand new to the concept of badging instead of grades, click these links first. When you feel you have a handle on the basics, watch the video below. It might be a little slow in spots, but the conversation is rich.

Once you feel up to speed about badges and gamification (and how game-based learning isn’t gamification), jump into this roundtable discussion: “Should we use Badges and Micro-credentials for learning?”

Full disclosure, I was invited to be a member of the roundtable as a voice of dissent, or at least as a voice of caution.
This roundtable was streamed live on Feb 7, 2014

Of course, there are numerous ways to go wrong with them, but done right? Done where people earn badges that signify what they can, and have demonstrated what they actually are able to do?
This might really be a great answer for many learning communities!

Let me know if you want to learn more.


More information about the roundtable
From Ben Wilkoff,  Co-Director of Blended Learning at Denver Public Schools, and the roundtable facilitator: Thank you so much for everyone who participated live. The notes document is now a hugely valuable resource for those who want to start implementing badges:

If you’re interested, you can get involved by watching the video and submitting your own reflection
1. Submit your reflection for your own badge for this session –…
2. Attend the rest of the Project Roundtable sessions:




5 responses

11 02 2014
Darren Draper

Interesting concept, Ginger. Working within a school district that’s digging into mastery-based grading, I really like the potential badges has to offer (especially in the middle grades).

Thanks for sharing!

12 02 2014

I would love to see what you all try with them. I’m always wary about using badges, which were meant to be to motivate some behavior (we’re using them to motivate learning, right?), used in a very narrow way.

Richard Bartle talks about gamer-types and the folks who use badges in a gamification/marketing approach have smartly used his gamer-type analysis (achievers/socializers/explorers/killers) as one of the game mechanics that works.

I see it with so many things: 4 Square, Candy Crush, Angry Birds, rewards cards at stores…some of the best gamified toys and tools know how to hook each of the types of customers.

So now we think about our customers; let’s start with our students. How do we recognize each of those types in our student population and then use badges to hook them into the learning behavior we want from them?

And to extend it, let’s think of education’s other customers: our staff, our parents, our community. How do we use badges hook them into the behavior we want from them?

It’s more than just “achievement” because those kids are already motivated by getting the highest scores, the highest grades. We have to find ways to motivate our socializers, our explorers.

Ok, that should have been another blog post…

13 02 2014

Very Interesting Concept! I absolutely support the badges system! I believe it gives much more motivation and sense of achievement. The world has changed and it has to affect the education system as well.

13 02 2014

I absolutely agree with you about the world changing. Unfortunately many in our own system feel that the world’s changes are affecting schools but in a negative way.

Education is such a tiny minority of the world’s careers but affects every single one of them. We are not going, nor should we want, to stop the changes. So I say look for them, recognize them, embrace them, and let’s do this!!

13 02 2014
Do Badges Reflect Mastery Better than Grades Do...

[…] There's a school just up the road from us in Sterling, Kansas, that is reportedly in the process of shifting about 60% of their high school classes to reflect a Career and Technical Education focu…  […]

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