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Our Assessment Innovation Fund pilots: The University of Newcastle, Australia

Shaping the future of learning and assessment

We’re on a mission to break boundaries in assessment with an investment fund to support and pilot new ideas on the future of assessment.

The University of Newcastle, Australia

The University of Newcastle (UoN), Australia is a world-class university with a strong focus on student experience, excellence in teaching, and research. The university is ranked in the top 200 of the world’s universities. 

Dedicated to the core values of equity, excellence, engagement and sustainability, the University of Newcastle is a globally recognised education institution committed to solving the world's greatest problems. 

About the pilot

The University of Newcastle, Australia pilot tested the process of moving from a grade-based system (for example 80% / High Distinction) to digital badges in courses. The university was awarded funds to develop its pilot over a 12-month period, involving over 1,000 learners. Having started research in November 2021, the team evaluated their approach, measuring any impacts on systems, policies, processes, staff and students. 

Digital badges in initial teacher education: Final summary

The findings have shown that the awarding of 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-efficacy.

However, it was also shown that these benefits can be overshadowed by student anxiety and dissatisfaction if the badging system is not optimally conceptualised and executed.

Recommendations for the use of digital badges in education

The pilot findings have given the team at UoN confidence that digital badges can work in assessment; there are some key points of recommendation that should be considered before a digital badge system is implemented. 

A. If you are going to use badges, then remove marks altogether. 

Only use digital badges where they replace marks – not in contexts where marks will ultimately be used as the measure of student performance. 

B. If you cannot remove marks altogether then avoid using Level 3 digital badges. 

In circumstances where marks will ultimately be awarded and used as the basis for recording student performance, then using Level 3 digital badges (i.e. digital badges at the level of criteria in a rubric) is probably counter-productive for most students. The exception to this may be for high-performing students, who may find being awarded badges is motivating and reduces grade anxiety.  

C. Badges are not a substitute for high-quality written feedback.  

In the context of a university course, if Level 3 digital badges are going to be used at all, then they should complement written feedback, not replace it.  

D. If you are going to use digital badges, then invest in appropriate software infrastructure.  

The badge awarding and receiving process should be integrated and seamless within the LMS.  

E. Developing a badge framework is important for both students and teaching staff. 

If using digital badges, it is important to adopt clear and relevant frameworks for the awarding of those badges.  

F. Students need to know exactly what to expect. 

Recognise that for many students, digital badges are unfamiliar. Students are used to being given a grade or mark; this makes it important to explain why digital badges are being used and how to interpret them. On page 51 of the final report you can see an example of how a virtual badge tree has been used to help students to see what digital badges are available and to track their process.  

Next steps for digital badges

Extending the research on Newcastle Teacher Performance Assessment (NTPA) Badging

The university has now extended the research into investigating the impact of digital badges on both students and employers when utilised in the post-programme phase. Digital badges are being issued to students completing the Newcastle Teacher Performance Assessment (NTPA). The NTPA is a capstone assessment task completed by students after their final professional experience placement. Students submit a portfolio of evidence against three criteria: planning, teaching, and assessing. When students pass each element, a digital badge is being issued.  

So far, the response to the NTPA digital badges by school leaders has been overwhelmingly positive. The team plan to extend their evaluation by conducting interviews with students receiving the badges – of interest will be student perceptions of their NTPA digital badges, and how these digital badges will be used by students when applying for graduate jobs.  

The framework behind the NTPA micro-credentials is extensive, rigorous, and closely tied to relevant professional and academic standards frameworks. However, this information is not readily available to schools seeking it. A significant next step will be making the assessment frameworks and criteria behind the NTPA digital badges available to employers. The UoN team are currently in discussions with relevant stakeholders within the university about how this might be achieved. 

Find out more about upcoming application phases and how to apply

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Complete our contact form to subscribe to email updates about upcoming funding windows, download the application guide, scoring criteria and much more.

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Final report

Key findings and recommendations 

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Implementation report

UoN’s approach to implementing digital badges.

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