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New report unpicks the use of digital badges within assessment
The following news story was originally published on FE News on 10 May 2023.
A new report investigating the impact of replacing marks with digital badges has been released following a year-long study.
Funded through the educational charity NCFE’s Assessment Innovation Fund, the pilot project by the University of Newcastle Australia set out to explore the positives and negatives of the approach on courses within an initial teacher education programme.
The findings show that awarding digital badges has considerable potential to improve the student experience when it comes to engaging with feedback, linking work in specific assignments to career goals and outcomes, and even reducing grade anxiety and increasing student self-confidence.
However, it was also shown that these benefits can be overshadowed by student anxiety and dissatisfaction if the badging system is not properly conceptualised and executed.
James Goulding, Acting Project Lead at the University of Newcastle Australia, said:
“Assessment can be an emotional experience for educators and learners alike, with students sometimes perceiving results as a personal reflection on of themselves. To encourage deep learning, students need to be provided with opportunities to demonstrate learning outcomes.
“The digital badges project afforded an opportunity for researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia to trial awarding micro-credentials to students based on assessments where the criteria is linked directly to the professional standards that all graduating initial teacher education students are expected to meet.
“Awarding digital badges was designed to encourage students to focus on their written feedback—the qualitative aspect of their assessment – rather than simply look at their raw mark and move onto the next assessment task. However, there were limitations, including increasing student uncertainty about their progress in the course and increased staff workload.”
James Goulding (R) with fellow University of Newcastle Australia colleagues Heather Sharp (centre) and Peter Twining (L)
The pilot project was split into six phases and incorporated more than 850 students and almost 25 tutors. The recommendations for organisations considering implementing digital badges include removing marks altogether, creating a clear awarding framework for teachers and students, and investing in the correct software infrastructure to ensure a seamless experience for all.
James Goulding added: “On balance, we believe that the advantages of integrating digital badges into our units outweigh the limitations, and the Assessment Innovation Fund pilot was a fantastic opportunity for us to engage with, and reflect upon, how this can be best done in both our specific context, and in higher education more broadly.”
Full recommendations from the report:
- Only use digital badges where they replace marks.
- If you cannot remove marks altogether then avoid using Level 3 digital badges.
- Badges are not a substitute for high-quality written feedback.
- Invest in appropriate software infrastructure.
- Develop a badge awarding framework for both students and teaching staff.
- Ensure students know exactly what to expect.
- Develop a ‘Badge Tree’ to help understanding and progress tracking.
The project has been supported by a grant from NCFE’s Assessment Innovation Fund – helping organisations with new approaches to assessment and exploring innovative uses of technology across a range of pilots developed by, but not limited to, training providers, qualification developers, awarding bodies, quality assurers, EdTech companies, and colleges.
Dean Blewitt, Innovation Project Manager at NCFE, said:
“At NCFE, we are proud to have funded this innovative research project exploring the use of digital badges in assessment. The findings show that digital badges have the potential to significantly enhance the student experience, but it’s important to approach their implementation thoughtfully and with a clear framework in place.
“We hope that this report will provide valuable insights for educators and organisations considering the use of digital badges in their own assessments.”
The University of Newcastle Australia has now extended its research into investigating the impact digital badges could have on both students and employers after graduating, including incorporating learning from professional work experience and internships.
To find out more and download the full report, you can visit our University of Newcastle Australia AIF pilot webpage.
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