Earning your Shakespeare badge

Second post in a series on the design & delivery of my intro-Shakespeare course next term. 

When you complete a degree, you earn a diploma. When you complete a course, you earn a grade on your transcript. Should this system of credentials translate to a more granular level, to particular goals within a course?

Imagine you meet a goal in my intro-to-Shakespeare course, say by publishing a couple of blog posts on the historical context or source-texts of Twelfth Night. Call it the “Context” badge. You’ve shown that you can read texts in relation to other texts – a skill that you can then transport to your next class, whether it be in History or English or Sociology or another discipline altogether.

We’re already practicing this kind of accreditation, in higher education. We know that students take skills in course A and use them in course B; that’s what prerequisites are for. All badges do is externalize this recognition. They’re sometimes called “micro-credentialing,” because they give students’ knowledge or skills a formal or external designation (“badge”). Think of Girl Guide badges for knots or computer programming, and translate them to the world of higher education.

Badges show that students are capable of certain things, at the micro-level within a course: and skills that are (by definition) transferrable to other courses. So for instance, if I earn a badge in a Shakespeare course for close-reading (that is, analyzing a poem’s language as the result of an author’s deliberate decisions), then I could take that badge to other courses in my English major. Or if I earn a badge in analyzing performances (that is, critiquing a film or radio play’s depictions of a given play), then I could take that badge to a course in Drama or Communications.

Okay, so what am I saying? Should I use badges for my intro-Shakespeare course? For the past few months I’ve been thinking about this question, and had my research assistants investigate it for me. They’ve helped me appreciate a few things:

  1. Badges show that students have met given learning outcomes. They have to be aligned to those outcomes, says David Raths.
  2. Badges and assignments are different. Getting an A on your research paper might earn you a badge, but it provides information at both the more granular and the meta-levels. That sounds paradoxical, but bear with me. Say you earn a “Citation” badge for your paper. It says that you are conscientious enough to cite all your quotations correctly, which is both a granular achievement (within the paper) and a tranferrable (meta-) skill.
  3. Badges are signs of students’ competencies, and are better indicators of learning that their grades for attendance or even for particular assignments. Those will be vital to your evaluation plan within a course, but badges are better signals of the competencies that students extend beyond your course.
  4. Badges reveal experts within a peer community, who can help others in the community (the class) develop the same expertise.

There are a number of considerations when implementing a badge system.

  1. The system might be very difficult to manage and administer. Who awards these designations? What’s their relationship to assessment? (They’re supposed to be arm’s-length.) And what other benefits will they confer – like exemptions from assignments, bonus grades?
  2. Then there’s the implementation problem: how am I going to do this, exactly? Where will the badge system live? Will I integrate it into D2L, our learning management system? Or do I need to host it myself? The Mozilla Open Badges wiki has some helpful guidance if I go with the latter, but I still feel like it’ll be a lot of work.
  3. There do seem to be a few 3rd-party systems that work with Mozilla’s protocols, like Achievery, Peer2Peer University, and Credly. Somebody’s plotted them all on on a spreadsheet, which is really helpful. Thanks to this, I learned about BadgeOS, a WordPress plugin: that’s the platform I use for the course blog, which sits alongside the D2L course.

So BadgeOS it is. Instead of full implementation, I’ll probably just try this with a pilot group: students who sign on to try this, who will help me develop a platform to award and display their badges and a rubric to award them. They’ll need a clear sense of what they’re signing on for, and I’ll provide incentives if they earn enough badges: like a bonus grade, or an automatic extension on a given assignment. Much to consider, but this already feels more concrete than when I started.

One Response to “Earning your Shakespeare badge”

  1. Daniel O'Donnell (@DanielPaulOD)

    Hi Michael,

    I think I see two things here that might be helpful in your thinking–or better said, this matches two things in my own thinking so that’s what I’m seeing.

    The first is that badges are actually a pass-fail credentialing system and the second is that they are a standards-based rather than assignment-based assessment system (see http://activegrade.com/get-started/ for a discussion). I think that both of these are important and, once you realise that, it can impact your grading elsewhere.

    An interesting approach to this that I’m considering is called Specifications Grading. http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2014/11/25/41-interview-linda-nilson/?cid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en I’m thinking of using a modified version of that that involves “excellence” badges.

    On the whole, I think that the ABCDF system is a major issue, so anything that breaks that up is well worth it.


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