What are digital badges?

Badges and other visual markers have a long history and rich symbolism associated with them.  The Military and Police forces use badges to display hierarchy, authority and identity. Gamers use badges as a way of marking accomplishment and incentivizing participation. Boy and Girl Scouts use badges as symbols of shared experiences and evidence of tangible skills. The Web uses badges as evidence of peer-assessed respect.

Badges can be motivators to learn and collaborate, act as currency to enable further experiences and to recognize achievement. When the learning experiences behind a badge are appropriately designed and sized, they can enable small successes, encouraging learners that may be discouraged or overwhelmed by the length of commitment in other delivery methods compared to the timing of feedback. This is particularly critical in the case of adult learners or underserved groups who may be facing particular time constraints as well as identity issues relating to ability or pressure for success or failure.

Digital Badges in higher education also have an additional ability that is newly available — the ability to embed the badge into social platforms and have others “see into” the learning that has been accomplished via metadata that contains valuable information about the issuer, criteria, skills and evidence.

What is the value of a digital badge?

The value of any individual Digital Badge exists in the combined factor of:

  • the soundness of the pedagogy applied
  • the exposure of the criteria and evidence
  • the rank of the badge-issuing organization
  • the amount of effort required by the earner
  • and the autonomy of the earner in the choice of badge

What is Penn State doing with Digital Badges?

Penn State is experimenting with Digital Badges through a number of different pilot projects involving the Teaching and Learning with Technologies group (TLT) and partners in colleges and institutes across the University. Penn State has also partnered with Texas State University and NASA to provide STEM educators across the country with the ability to earn Digital Badges to enhance their professional education.

We are creating a unique digital badging platform that offers flexibility for learners, evaluators and badge creators alike. Digital Badging is an evolving practice, and we are evolving with it.