We know that students learn best when they are happy, engaged and have agency over their own learning. As educators, we are always looking at how we can improve the experience for our learners and making a difference to students’ learning remains at the heart of Hero’s vision. That’s why a number of years ago we created a digital badging platform within our software.
The concept of badges or micro-credentials has been around for a long time and is heavily used across the world, including in the realm of teacher professional learning. Whilst in my role as principal, I wanted to explore how this idea could be used with school-aged students to demonstrate their progress through a curriculum area.
It is not the awarding of the badge that counts but the journey to get there.
My first challenge was to overcome my philosophical problems with the badging concept as far as rewards go. Having read and watched people like Daniel Pink and Alfie Kohn, I agree with their assertion that learning is not aided by the use of rewards as a carrot. Learning should be intrinsically motivated and authentic. At first glance, this seems to run contrary to the idea of 'awarding' badges to recognise learning. However, by looking at badges as a way of making learning explicit and providing a clear pathway for certain types of learning, I was able to ease my concern. It is not the awarding of the badge that counts but the journey to get there.
My interest lies in how badges can not only develop agency and engagement but how they can be used as a teaching tool. A platform that provides teachers, students and parents with a clear picture of where the students are with their learning and where they need to go next.
The concept of digital badges fits in well with the seven precepts for effective formative assessment as identified by the Assessment Reform Group in the UK:
- It is embedded in a view of teaching and learning of which it is an essential part;
- It involves sharing learning goals with pupils;
- It aims to help pupils to know and recognise the standards they are aiming for;
- It involves pupils in self-assessment;
- It provides feedback which leads to pupils recognising their next steps and how to take them;
- It is underpinned by confidence that every student can improve;
- It involves both teacher and pupils reviewing and reflecting on assessment data (Broadfoot et al., 1999, p. 7).
My first foray into the world of badges was in 2015 with the children in my Code Club. We had been using 'Scratch' as our learning tool and so I decided to create a collection of badges that tracked students’ progress. Each badge has a set of criteria for which the students must provide evidence before a teacher signs off the badge. This helped me design our software to enable badges to be embedded as part of a student's portfolio within LINC-ED, and now within Hero. It was important that the badges and criteria were visible to students, teachers and parents. As I continued the trial, refinements were made to the software, enabling the badging platform to be utilised for grouping students so that targeted support could be offered easily. The students in my Code Club were already motivated to be there, however, I observed that the students who had already achieved a badge became a great resource for helping the other students still gathering their evidence.
Working with our Hero partner schools to make a difference
With Hero making badging possible in a user-friendly and integrated way, we extended this trial with Ormiston Junior College back in 2017. Ormiston Junior College was a brand new school catering for years 7-10. An innovative leadership team and staff were looking for new ways to engage their learners and to provide them with agency over their own learning. Luke and his team at OJC had a clear strategic vision and worked closely with our team to enable Hero to support their direction.
Core Education Ten Trends shines a spotlight on micro-credentials for schools
It was great to see that the concept of micro-credentials is included as part of Core Education’s Ten Trends for 2019 and that Ormiston’s badging journey has been captured and shared more widely.
We are incredibly proud and privileged to have been and continue to be part of the journey with OJC. We have provided the tool, however, it is the innovative leadership and vision that sits behind the tool that is truly heroic. Since working with OJC, we have seen a number of schools adopting the concept of micro-credentials. One of which is Whangaparaoa Primary School. The team at Whangaparaoa have designed badges both related to the curriculum and the wide range of extracurricular opportunities they offer.
More recently, a collaboration with Student Volunteer Army has resulted in the creation of a set of student-centred goals and digital badges, giving teachers a clear framework within Hero to guide students through volunteer activities. These activities foster leadership, teamwork and strengthen service values among students.
The sets of student-centred goals and comprehensive resources have been written to support the development of key volunteer skills - global volunteering, project management, problem-solving, self management and communication. These can be applied to any volunteering context, aligning with the United Nationals Sustainable Development Goals and facilitating connections with localised curriculum.
The Hero Progressions toolset enables schools to fully customise the progressions and goal sets through any curriculum or subject. Schools can build their own set of progressions or use the wide array of preloaded progressions. Hero schools have adopted a wide variety of curricula to reflect their own school values and expectations. These progressions can then be mapped to the school's expectations for key milestones, so that data collection and analysis are seamless. By aligning the next steps and goal setting to the school's own curriculum, Hero releases teachers to focus on the most important thing - the students.
Goal sets can be grouped together as micro-credentials so that digital badges can be awarded to students when they have completed all the goals within that set. Students can select the badges they wish to work on, set their own goals and then share evidence. Digital badges are not limited to the curriculum, badges can be created for a wide range of purposes, including values or service.
Hero is a unique product, enabling students to easily understand their progress, achievement, and next steps and to grow their agency around this. Making a difference in students' learning is at the heart of Hero’s vision.
If you would like more information about how we can support your school to develop student agency through micro-credentials, contact us here and learn more about Hero’s full suite of apps by visiting our-hero.com.
Originally a school principal with a Masters degree in ICT in Education, Paul Sibson is the co-founder and CEO of Hero, a unique Student-centric Management and Communications System.