Digital Badges Overview

Digital Badges Overview

This post is intended to provide an overview of information about digital badges and possibilities in teaching and learning. This post is a supplemental piece meant to accompany the column printed in the Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy. You can find out more about the column and subsequent interviews in coming weeks.

What is a digital badge?

Digital badges are visual representations of learner accomplishments. They are symbols or indicators of an accomplishment, skill, quality, or interest. They are symbolic representations that can be easily shared and communicated across varied academic, social, and work-related contexts.

Unlike traditional scout badges or other credentials such as school grades or transcripts, digital badges can contain specific claims regarding what the earner learned or did and detailed evidence supporting those claims.

Please review the video overview that details what is in a badge.

What is an open badge?

Open badges are digital badges are designed to be collected by individual learners in their digital backpack and displayed across different contexts and environments. A digital backpack is an online space where learners can collect and display their badges online. An open badge is a digital image or digital badge that has metadata ‘baked’ into it.

As Doug Belshaw indicates, once the metadata has been baked into the image to create the open badge, it cannot be removed from the resultant “cake.” Open badges have the potential to form living portfolios for recognizing personal competencies and achievements and communicating these between education and work.

What is metadata?

A digital badge is really a graphic with a ton of “metadata” behind it. Metadata is data about data, or more specifically, data that contains an underlying definition or description. The real power in the badge is in the metadata associated with it. The metadata is a series of links and data that indicates what the badge is for, what criteria were used to award the badge, and any standards associated with the badge. The image and metadata work together to form a graphical representation of some collection of knowledge, skills, dispositions, or competencies that have been determined by the issuers.


My favorite definition of digital badges comes from Dan Hickey on one of the badges community calls: Badges contain detailed claims about learning, links to evidence of learning, and they’re shareable over the web. 

How do you earn a badge?

To earn a badge, in most instances you need to “pledge” for a badge as a pathway to a goal, or to identify an accomplishment. In this there needs to be some formal announcement from a student that they are working toward earning a badge, or that they believe they have conducted work that would earn them a badge.

After they have completed the requirements for the badge, a review process is typically conducted to see if they earned the badge. This review might consist of a self-review, a peer-review, or an assessment by experts. All of this information is made openly available by the badge issuer, and is sometimes included in the metadata for the badge.

One of the benefits of open digital badges is that you can often access and review the work, reflections, and feedback from the review given to individuals that have already earned the badge you’re pledging for. In this process, you are able to see the knowledge, skills, and dispositions the badge issuer is looking to recognize.

In some instances, digital badges are awarded as a form of “stealth badge”, or an award given for criteria unknown to the earner. These stealth badges are often viewed as a surprise by the earner.

Please review the following video to learn more about badging ecosystems, and the possible value of badges.

How do you issue a badge?

Anyone can issue open digital badges, either by running a badge creation application on their own web server or signing up with an issuing platform. Before considering the technical requirements, it is important to design badge systems to fit your goals as you design a badging program.

As you start building your badge, and possibly a full badge ecosystem, I recommend starting with this template which was developed by digitalME to use as develop the individual badges.

As indicated earlier, badges are awarded as a way to use a layer of technology and a layer of social media to document learning by an individual. To ensure that you don’t confuse learners, and eventual earners of your badges, you’ll need a certain level of “granularity” before beginning to award them to students. In plain speak, it needs to be crystal clear as to what the badges mean, and how people can earn them.

To learn more about assumptions as you create and issue badges, please review the following video from Doug Belshaw.

We need to indicate that digital badges may be open, or they may exist in closed ecosystems. An example of this is a school or organization that wants to ensure the privacy of their users, and as a result does not openly share online the badges, metadata, and the users in the badge ecosystem. In an open badging ecosystem, Nate Otto indicates that:

Open badges are visual symbols of accomplishment that include detailed metadata describing that accomplishment and featuring automated verification of their authenticity.

There are many other factors associated with developing and awarding digital badges, or a full badge ecosystem. I detailed most of my thinking in the development of badges and a badge ecosystem in this post. I have also been detailing my work and reflecting on the challenge and opportunities I’ve encountered along the way on this blog.



Cover image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Takaogi

Top image CC BY Kyle Bowen

Also published on Medium.

6 Comments Digital Badges Overview

  1. wiobyrne

    Welcome all to Learning Event Ten in the #WalkMyWorld Project. For the full write-up on this tenth learning event, please click here. This blog post will share the information presented in the original post on the #WalkMyWorld Project website, but add a bit of extra information and guidance.
    Curating your story and digital identity
    This final learning event for the 2015 version of the project asks you to synthesize and curate all of the work you have completed and shared. As each of us starts and completes the work at different times this final learning event provides time to pull it all together. Additionally, because this project emulates aspects of a MOOC (i.e., massive open online class) people sometimes need time to get caught up…count me in that group.
    This final learning event focuses on the literary term known as denouement. Denouement refers to the final outcome of a story and generally occurs after the final climax of the story. In this resolution you pull together the loose strings and reveal all elements of the plot.

    As you construct and share content in the #WalkMyWorld project, please remember that you are crafting your own story. You have steadily created your digital identity throughout the learning events. Now, in the denouement, you reward readers by saving the juiciest parts of the story for the end.
    How do I do this?
    For this final learning event, you have three major activities to complete.
    First, curate everything and share it to the #WalkMyWorld hashtag.
    The first step in completing the tenth learning event, and ultimately the #WalkMyWorld Project 2015 is to curate and share all of your content.
    In the #WalkMyWorld we want you to move from content consumers, to content curators, to content constructors. We want you to see the value in curating content online and sharing with others. This means that there is value in the work you do on Pinterest, Learnist, and other curating platforms.
    If you don’t use any tool or platform, we suggest that you check out Storify or Diigo Outliner. You may also post this curated content to your website or blog. Storify is a free tool that can be used to create stories using social media elements. To learn more about Storify, I recommend reviewing this tutorial put together by one of our organizers Greg McVerry. Diigo is a free social media highlighter. You can use Diigo Outliner to collect, curate, and share links. You might also chose to just embed links and reflections into a blog post or your website. You chose what works best for you. I will share more tutorials on tools to use in curating content this week here on this blog.

    In this learning event, you should self-select and curate the content you want to highlight from #WalkMyWorld 2015. As you include content in your curated piece, please include reflections in the story. You should add in text blocks between the shared tweets and blog posts. Please use these spaces to reflect on shared content. When you have finished, please share this out to the #WalkMyWorld hashtag.
    Second, complete the participant survey.
    As detailed throughout the project, this is an open learning experience, and an open research initiative. We are trying to identify best practices associated with open, hybrid pedagogy. To that end, we’d like to know about your experiences in the project.
    Please complete the following participant survey by clicking here. This research is being conducted, and reported, in the public. As a result, we want to make our intentions and data public. To review the results of this survey, please click here.

    The first question asks you to share the link to the curated content piece you created for this learning event. Please share that link in the survey. The remaining questions ask about your thoughts, feelings, and some demographic questions. This data will be used by the organizers to improve the project and future activities for instruction in K through higher education.
    Third, apply for a digital badge.
    After you have completed and shared your curated content piece and the participant survey, you can apply for a digital badge on P2PU to show the world that you have completed the #WalkMyWorld Project 2015.
    Digital badges are visual symbols of accomplishment that contain detailed claims about learning, links to evidence of learning, and they’re shareable over the web. To learn more about digital badges, please click here.
    To apply for the #WalkMyWorld 2015 participant badge, click here. You will need to submit the URL for your curated content piece and reflect on the process and product involved. Once you have submitted your pledge for the badge, it will be reviewed by one of our organizers, Ian O’Byrne (@wiobyrne). You will be awarded the badge, or given feedback on how to revise.
    After being awarded the badge, please feel free to post and share your badge to the #WalkMyWorld hashtag. Thanks again for sharing and learning with us.

    Cover image CC BY-NC 2.0 Σταύρος
    Top image CC BY-NC 2.0 Lainie Pub Company
    Upper middle image CC BY-NC 2.0 Lainie Pub Company
    Lower middle image CC BY-NC 2.0 Lainie Pub Company
    Bottom image CC BY-NC 2.0 Lainie Pub Company
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    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  2. wiobyrne

    This post is intended to provide an overview of information about digital badges and possibilities in teaching and learning. This post is a supplemental piece meant to accompany the column printed in the Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy. You can find out more about the column and subsequent interviews in coming weeks.
    More about Zainab Oni
    Zainab Oni attended the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies in New York, NY. At 12 years old, she moved from Nigeria to New York City in a transition that was challenging for the adolescent. While at Hudson High, Zainab joined the MOUSE Squad, a youth development program designed to train students in economically challenged communities to be the technology and web literacy experts for their learning environments. Zainab also joined the organization’s advanced Design and Technology program, MOUSE Corps, which levels students up by helping build skills and apply their interests to create new technologies and solutions for social good.

    For more information about Zainab’s achievements while at Hudson High and MOUSE, please click here.
    Zainab is also big in the webmaker community. Paraphrasing her words, we should strive to not be a user, we should all be a maker. To meet Zainab and other webmakers, please view the following video.

    Four Questions for Zainab Oni

    1. Please explain the work you did with MOUSE and how badges, or the badging ecosystem fit into that system.
    2. How would you define digital badges?
    3. Did badges, or the possibility to earn badges motivate you?
    4. What possibilities do you see in digital badges in education…how do you think teachers should be using badges with their students?

    Examples of badges earned at MOUSE
    Zainab earned numerous badges while at MOUSE. Please click the links to view the badge she earned for Empathy, and the badge she earned for Assistive Tech.

    While you’re on the individual badge pages, you can easily view the individual elements that make up the metadata of the badge. The metadata helps us understand the work Zainab completed to achieve the badge.
    We can review the title of the badge (A), as well as when Zainab was awarded the badge (B). We can review the description of the badge (C), as well as the evidence that Zainab did in fact achieve the described goals (D). The badge also details the granular criteria (E) needed to achieve the badge, as well as the associated categories (F), tags (G), and links for more info about the issuing body (I).

    Cover image used with permission from MOUSE Squad
    Top image used with permission from MOUSE Squad
    Bottom image used with permission from MOUSE Squad
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    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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