Recently, I have embarked on the educational journey of learning about digital badges. As a non-gamer and non-scout, I never really put too much thought or value into the earning of badges. Sassy thought to self: "So I earned a badge! What am I going to do with it?" Exploring the topic further, though, I can see how badges may offer an alternative way of assessing student achievement.
Unlike grades, which give an artificial, subjective value to students' learning, badges are awarded when students demonstrate a pre-determined skill. Grades also tend to end the learning process with the assessment, however successful it was. Well-designed badges, on the other hand, support mastery learning. Though badges are sometimes criticized for being just another (limited) external motivator, I believe they can tap into internal drives, and they have great potential for soliciting more authentic assessments.
Backward design is the answer! What do you want your students to be able to do at the end of the unit? Which sub-skills will they have to master to get there? Once you know the steps students need to take to reach the unit objective, create rubrics for each step (sub-skill), and attach a (digital) badge to it. The collection of badges often has to be sequential, but sometimes, there may be room to give flexibility in which badge has to be tackled when. And... some badges may just be optional!
I worked towards a badge in the "Learning Beyond Letter Grades" MOOC, and... I got it! Responding to my earlier sassy thought to self: "This really is quite exciting. I can't wait to display it on my blog!" And here it is: