Experimenting with Digital Badges in ELA

I’ve been tinkering with digital badges for a few years, but this spring marked my first effort to test them in the classroom. I’m still in an exploratory stage, but I wanted to share some initial reflections.

What are Digital Badges?

In a nutshell, badges are digital ways of recognizing accomplishments or skills. Open badges are tied to evidence of learning and designed to be shared, so recipients can showcase their skills across digital platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

If you’re new to badges, check out the Open Badges website and this article on badges in the classroom. The graphic below illustrates the elements of an open badge.

Image by Kyle Bowen, used with permission and Creative Commons.

Piloting a High School ELA Badge Program

Here is the full list of badges that I co-developed with students this year. If you explore the individual badges, you’ll find evidence from student “experts” who earned the badges.


Ninth and tenth graders developed the badge names, descriptions, and required evidence. They decided to group the badges into three categories: Reading, Writing, and Miscellaneous. Then, tenth graders designed the badges using open badges.me, which they picked up quickly after my three-minute demonstration.

We didn’t get these badges going until early April, so this year was more of a trial. Badges were not inherently motivating to all of my students. Some students were more interested in designing the badges than earning them. Regardless, the time we spent thinking together about skills worthy of recognition in our class was valuable.

While many students were eager to claim multiple badges, a handful were brave enough to ask, “Why should I want to do this, again?” I explained that a digital badge houses more information about your learning and skills than a grade does. If you collect several badges, I explained, you can create a digital portfolio of sorts that showcases your accomplishments. I showed them my virtual backpack as an example. Some were convinced, but they were not all emphatic.

Getting Started Resources

If you’re considering experimenting with badges, you can consult the following resources:

1. openbadges.me  – A free, web-based program for designing open badges.

2. A graphic organizer for teachers (or students) to use or adapt for badge designing

3. My presentation on “Open Badges in the K-12 Classroom” with resources separated into beginner, intermediate, and advanced categories.

For issuing badges, Badge List and Credly are worth exploring. Both sites have built-in badge designers and allow a single administrator to issue badges. Some of the features regarding privacy and administration (i.e., who can award, claim or view badges) differ between the free and premium versions. badgr is another popular platform with Canvas integration, though I have not tried it.

For the latest in badges news, follow @OpenBadges on Twitter, and/or subscribe to Badge News, a bi-weekly newsletter on open badges from @WeAreOpenCoop.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 4.20.55 PM
A screenshot of the free Classic Badge Designer on openbadges.me.

Further Questions to Consider on Badges in the Classroom

Whether or not to link the badge to a grade is a major area for consideration. In my discussion of badges with members of the Digital Literacies Collaborative (DLC), some teachers thought that badges could be used to recognize skills that are not traditionally acknowledged by grades, such as kindness, attentive listening, or leadership.

Are badges motivating? Will they help student learn? A badge that functions like a grade could increase extrinsic motivation. But a badge could also serve as a teaching tool, helping teachers and students have clearer or more frequent conversations about standards and assessment, and providing a platform for archiving student work.

Do badges appeal to all age levels? I know many of my high school students are eager to earn the occasional sticker—I save up stickers from Trader Joe’s and give them out sparingly. Yet when I introduced the idea of open badges to students, explaining the potential to recognize and publish their work, I could sense some skepticism. Perhaps it’s because teens’ digital lives are carefully curated. Appearance matters on social media, and they shape their digital identities carefully.  How can teachers of upper elementary and high school students work against the potentially infectious attitude that badges aren’t cool?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

I look forward to exploring the questions and possibilities in my own classroom, and with colleagues, both in my K-12 school district, and in my PLN. My next learning task will be to watch several webinars on badges (available here and here) from the Connected Learning Alliance.

6 thoughts on “Experimenting with Digital Badges in ELA

  1. This is really interesting, Lauren. Thank you for writing it. I do work with digital badges at the graduate, program-level, and it’s a pretty powerful technology. I’m eager to see more about how you use them in your writing classes.

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