Digital Badges for Microcredentials, Student Engagement & Persistence

Vendor EPs
Author Information
Susan Manning, Ed.D., University of Wisconsin at Stout
Jonathan Finkelstein, LearningTimes, LLC
Michael Preston, Ph.D. and Joy Nolan, NYC Dept of Ed. Office of Postsecondary Readiness
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
BadgeStack Learning & Community System
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

In the 2011-2012 school year, more than 2,000 young adults in transfer schools in New York City demonstrated mastery of digital literacy skills while earning digital badges. Badges and the underlying instructional design increased motivation and persistence. The platform and pedagogy can be applied to other populations.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

There are approximately 15,000 students -- most of whom are of college age -- in NYC transfer schools, which serve students who have left or failed to make progress at traditional high schools and have returned to re-engage with their education and earn a high school diploma. So far, more than 2,000 transfer students have enrolled in an innovative new course that cultivates digital literacy skills they need for college, career, and life beyond high school. The program is experienced through a badge-empowered learning environment that heightens motivation, encourages and rewards persistence, infuses game mechanics, and provides a relevant context in which to learn how Internet literacy and media production skills can directly enrich their lives. The online course is called DIG/IT (“dig it”), and it awards digital badges for evidence of skill development as well as contributions to the community that support peer learning. The same principles and mechanics can be applied to higher education populations to increase student engagement and persistence.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Theories of motivation such as Self-Determination Theory suggest that factors such as autonomy, competence and relatedness to others increase intrinsic motivation and sustain engagement (Kapp, 2012).  In the DIG/IT course, badges recognize small achievements in a coordinated and scaffolded pedagogy, enhancing sense of competency.  Because the majority of badges require assessment by the instructor or peers, students work toward mastery of key concepts.  Furthermore, the design requires autonomy over choice of badges that are social in nature, and the fact that the class is taught in a blended format capitalizes on relatedness.  Finally, the increased time on task from sustained engagement is consistent with Chickering and Gamson’s (1991) work concerning principles of quality undergraduate education, later interpreted for technology by Chickering and Erhmann (1996). To date, more than 2,000 NYC students have earned nearly 40,000 badges.  A survey of DIG/IT students conducted in fall 2011 and winter 2012 found: * 79% of students report that the course improved their writing * 71% report using the Internet more effectively for academic research and college/career explorations. * 60% say DIG/IT made them more creative and more effective at presenting ideas. Instructors also found the course helped them make the transition to a blended pedagogical approach, which thoughtfully combines online and face-to-face interactions for a more student-centered experience.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

*Access* - Students work at their own pace, entirely online.  Skills they acquire and demonstrate are recognized with digital badges that can be accessed by those they choose (including possible employers or college admissions officers). Badges are Mozilla Open Badge compliant for storage in their lifelong backpack. *Faculty Satisfaction* - Faculty report that their students are more motivated and engaged, and many students who are otherwise disinterested in or skipping other classes come to school just to take part in DIG/IT. *Learning Effectiveness* - A personalized dashboard reports student progress, but the badges earned are the cornerstone of engagement.  Badges may come from assessed work or community-driven behaviors and nominations.  Student work is compiled in a portfolio-like journal that demonstrates mastery of concepts and skills.   *Scale* -  A unique nomination, peer-review and “power-up” framework awards increasing levels of responsibility to students as they earn badges for demonstrating mastery and supporting each other’s learning.  The system builds on and supports itself over time, so the instructor need not be the only source of personalized feedback and mentoring for learners.  On a logistical note, a downloadable version of the BadgeStack system is being prepared for release as an open source platform, which will scale badge-empowered practices to any institution eager to innovate.   *Student Satisfaction* - Game mechanics hook students and enhance persistence.  The interface mimics some social media tools and keeps students connecting with content and each other.   

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

For the student, only a computer or tablet with Internet connection is needed. For the institution, either a hosted or open source version of BadgeStack.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

No cost for the end user. Institutions have a range of options available to support small-scale or institution-wide deployments and the transition to teaching with this new form of online and hybrid learning.

References, supporting documents: 

Chickering, A.W. and Ehrmann, S. C.  (1996), "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever,"  AAHE Bulletin, October, pp. 3-6. Chickering A. W. and Gamson Z. F. (1991)/ Applying the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education./ San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Kapp, K. (2012) /The Gamification of Learning and Instruction./ San Francisco: Pfeiffer Publishing.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Jonathan Finkelstein
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Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Susan Manning
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