Education Technology: Are Digital Badges Better Than Letter Grades?

Education Technology: Are Digital Badges Better Than Letter Grades?
The Editorial Team April 29, 2013

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Education technology is at the forefront of discussions about how education will look in the future. Gaming technology and digital badges may play a significant part of that process. While there seems to be a growing reluctance to keep score in youth sports, a new way of tracking wins and losses may just be what’s needed in education. However, this type of score-keeping would not be an effort to defeat other students. The gaming aspect of digital badges would train students to compete with themselves and to hone skills that are inherent.

Let’s take a look at gaming, digital badges and technology, and how they may be used to evaluate and motivate students.

What are digital badges?

Badges are typically a symbol of achievement. In this case, they signify classroom accomplishments. Digital badges depict a graphic  associated with a subject matter or achievement. For example, a badge with stars and stripes might be used for American History or a  book badge could be used for reading. The badges themselves could be different shapes or trimmed in various colors to denote levels of achievement in that subject. When a student earns a badge, it could be proudly displayed on the school intranet, their blog, and social media.

What are the benefits?

Badges are a motivator for students, particularly for pupils who excel at a certain subject. While they may struggle in some areas, their level of achievement in others will help their self-esteem. With our current grading system of A through F, even a student who gets five A’s and a C will likely have the focus placed on the C. A badge system also focuses on the daily and weekly activities of a student rather than a full grading period. Badges are a visual tool that can spur discussion, and are more likely to be shared with peers.

Badges would offer higher levels of rewards for students who achieve mastery in a subject. Currently, a student may achieve a maximum A or A+. There could be layers of badges above that, providing further motivation for even the best of students.

What is the downside?

The biggest downside to the use of digital badges is change. While today’s students embrace change, especially with technology, schools  are dependent on the letter grade system. The question of how to integrate the two systems brings up the issue of consistency. Initially, at least, there would be more subjectivity in the issuance of particular digital badges.

One would have to consider at what grade level badges would be considered “uncool,” and perhaps implement a different digital recognition system.

The role of education technology and gamification in education

A generation that has been raised on video games is now old enough to seek ways to implement some of the principles of gaming into other areas. Ebay has used a star rating system pretty much since inception. Buzztime, a popular trivia game played in clubs and restaurants, started issuing badges in subject areas of trivia. Now we are seeing gamification in our schools. is one website in particular that has hundreds of colorful badges for use in a variety of class settings. But the use of digital badges can extend beyond classwork. Badges can be used to recognize leadership, timeliness and teamwork. They can be awarded for achieving progress and consistency.

Using digital badges takes the motivational part of gamification and puts it to good use. The digital badges serve to tell a story, not just summarize intelligence levels. They can be used in a digital scrapbook to give a better picture of a student’s achievements.

When it comes to technology in education, it would appear digital badges are already starting to play a role.

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