What is the relevance of digital badges in schools?
With an estimated global market of $27.34 billion in 2021 and a projection of $40.36 billion in 2026, digital badges are increasing in visibility. But what specifically about the usefulness of digital badges in the academic environment?
For a long time now, educational or vocational training institutions have offered certificates to recognize the achievement of a goal or the completion of a course. With the advent of technology, many of them have transposed these certificates into an electronic version (digital certificate). More recently, we have seen the popularity of digital badges grow. Like digital certificates, these badges are intended, for example, to confirm the qualification of a person or the completion of a training course in a virtual way. The main difference between these two concepts is that the digital badge was designed with the intention of being easily shared. Unlike the digital certificate, which has a more traditional appearance, the badge contains less text and a more attractive visual (Digital Badge Guide).
What is the purpose of a badge?
Four main categories have been identified to distinguish the purpose of a badge. It is interesting to discover them in order to elaborate on the possible uses in the school environment.
- A normative badge will validate a formal certification (title, diploma, micro-training, etc.)
- An inclusive badge will aim to reinforce practices in a group (such as the badges offered by the scouts)
- An instrumental badge will formalize the knowledge acquired in a context other than training (useful in professional integration)
- A badge associated with the power to act will offer more informal recognition often granted by peers (everyone can create their own badges without necessarily having a legitimate authority)
What are the possible applications in academic settings?
A first prescriptive approach to using digital badges in an academic setting is to offer micro-credentials. This is probably the simplest approach to implement in a post-secondary institution since it is essentially enough to offer formal recognition to an individual, even if they are not enrolled in a full program. Simply taking a few elective courses is formalized with a digital badge. This opportunity will allow the learner to broaden their skills in the eyes of employers at a more reasonable cost and duration. It is also an excellent showcase for schools as recipients will share their badges on social media, thus conveying the school’s name in a positive context of academic success.
Digital badges can also serve as a showcase for graduates. Thus, the digital badges accumulated during the student’s academic career become a narrative thread of the different skills and competencies developed in a formal and verifiable way. Anyone can write on his or her resume that he or she demonstrates leadership, but this will not carry the same weight with an employer as a badge issued by the school for the same quality.
In the same vein, in an era where the importance of soft skills, cross-curricular competencies and a good attitude at work is increasingly recognized, it is interesting to think about the use of digital badges to highlight different values that are important for the school and the workplace. It is also a great source of pride for the recipients to stand out in their job search.
The use of digital badges in the school environment also has the advantage of encouraging learner motivation. Digital badges can be used as a new approach to classroom rewards. They can be used to recognize achievement in ways other than assigning summative grades. They can also be offered more frequently and in a just-in-time mode as learning progresses.
Encouraging the sharing of accomplishments through the assignment of digital badges in a game format can also encourage natural competition between learners for the top spots on the leaderboard. It will be possible to use digital badges in a playful way to foster motivation and engagement in a different way and to appeal more to certain student profiles.
Digital badges can also have a motivating effect to reduce performance gaps. It is not uncommon to see post-secondary students with significant gaps in French or math. Accumulating badges as they progress seems to have the effect of developing the learner’s self-confidence and thus helping them to progress further.
What are the issues to consider?
The integration of badges in the school environment certainly presents several interesting advantages. However, it must be recognized that the implementation of digital badges involves issues that should not be overlooked.
First, the implementation of a digital badge system requires investments in time and money. The institution must be convinced of the added value of digital badges compared to more traditional digital certificates.
Second, the institution will want to ensure the security of the badges offered. You certainly don’t want the badge to be copied and used by just anyone. Fortunately, there are now systems in place to secure the information and validity of a digital badge. However, you have to know how to use them.
In addition, you have to be careful not to nip the idea in the bud by using digital badges for everything. At some point, too many badges that are too easily accessible will diminish their value.
In summary, while there are issues to consider when introducing digital badges, recent publications tend to support the use of badges in schools. The experiences shared highlight several significant benefits. These include increased visibility for the school, additional support from the school for the integration of graduates into the workplace, increased motivation in the classroom, and improved self-confidence in overcoming difficulties. These are several good reasons to consider implementing digital badges as a complement to formal school certifications and diplomas.