Building a Badging Framework for Biology and Anatomy

I had the privilege of attending the recent Badge Summit in Aurora, Colorado which managed to pull in a bunch of badge geeks right before ISTE 2016. Why was I there? Curiosity about badges, I suppose, but also a sense that I need to change things up in my instructional design.

I’ve been doing the eportfolio thing for several years now and have come to realize that no one but me is seeing my students’ work, even though it is in an online space and can be made public. I’m looking for ways to have my students be recognized for their work in a way that transcends my silly grading scheme and the simple letter that can be seen on a report card or transcript.

Open Badges seem to be a way to accomplish that. As I understand badges at the moment, there are organizations out there that will help me to create and issue badges that are linked to evidence that the student provides. Most importantly, organizations such as the Common Application have recently begun collecting badges from students who want to show off particular skill sets to colleges and universities.

Adding badges on top of our existing portfolios could essentially create a new, more public layer of visibility for student learning. This means that I need to examine the language and standards that live in our portfolios and figure out how to issue badges that will be meaningful to students and to their audience, whoever that might be.

There is a great set of guidelines for badge creation to be found at Aurora Public Schools, who have run a pilot badge program in a large, urban public school system for a couple years now. As I got my thinking cap on about what my badges would look like, I went back to their guidelines:

  • Does this Badge provide rigor for our students?
  • Can the student demonstrate this skill independently?
  • Has the student had multiple opportunities to show this skill?
  • Is the Badge evidence based?
  • Is the Badge transferable?
  • Is the Badge based on a small/granular skill?

For me the sticking point was the requirement for badges to honor a small/granular skill. I’m generally a big picture guy and despise trivial details, but I realize that badges need to have some granularity to them in order to be meaningful. I set about digging into what students might earn badges for in my courses and came up with the following two lists, one for Biology and one for Anatomy:

Biology portfolio to badge map

Anatomy portfolio to badge map

The darker blue bubbles represent more granular topics or skills that might be more amenable to badging than the big 7 portfolio standards under which students currently collect their work. The challenge now will be to see if these lists of potential badges will be a workable framework from which to start designing and eventually issuing badges.

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  1. Carlos VanWees’s avatar

    This is a really interesting idea that I certainly would want to try in my future classroom starting next year. While I do agree that seeing the bigger picture is important, I believe that if students see the smaller, trivial details, that can truly enrich their view of the bigger picture if they are scaffold properly to be able to see these details in relation to the larger main ideas (the intermediate steps and enzymes of Glycolysis in relation to energy and metabolism overall, for example).
    I think that out of those questions/guidelines that came from the conference, the most important one to be able to answer is whether or not the Badge is evidence based. A teacher could give students as many badges as he or she desires, but unless that instructor can cite specific evidence of student work, scores, or peer feedback, the badge doesn’t have much meaning, even if it is for something small and specific. Being able to warrant the move of giving a student a badge is just as important, if not more than, what the badge means.
    I also think the two lists for badges in your Bio and Anatomy courses are very clear visual representations for what you would be giving badges for! My only overall concern with badges in general would be if they are not common among schools, how would they be viewed from one school to another by colleges with the Common Application. Would badges from certain schools/districts mean more than from others in the eyes of college admissions boards?


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