How digital badges could revolutionise ICT teaching – a plan.

There’s a growing buzz at the moment around digital badges, and I’m going to try and put down my thoughts, specifically on the following:

  • Why I was initially so negative, and why I now think I was wrong
  • One possible vision for the delivery of ICT embedding student choice and badges.

I first came across the idea of digital badges (specifically the Mozilla Open Badges project) from Doug Belshaw. Initially I was so dismissive of the idea I didn’t even bother following the links. I think my initial scepticism came from the following:

  • All the previous attempts I’ve seen at providing some kind of accreditation for ‘extra curricular’ activities have been deeply flawed and had little student buy-in
  • I’m not a ‘gamer’. Never have been. Don’t have the skills required, or the patience / curiosity needed to aquire them. This is also true of jigsaw puzzles. It just seems to me there’s a more productive use of my time. While I accept that there is much to be learned from the ideas around ‘gamifiying’ the curriculum I’m probably going to need more persuading than most
  • A growing concern that any ‘badges’ or rewards system (such as my school’s merit system) is at most ineffective and at worst damaging, through the value it places on extrinsic rewards (read Carol Dweck and others for a demolition of this)
  • I haven’t yet found the opening for badges in either my use of Edmodo, or in something like Classdojo (Caveat – this says more about me than either of the tools, I know many teachers making great use of both)

Doug’s initial blog post of one possible idea didn’t help dispell any of these concerns, however a few weeks ago I decided to follow some links from this post and ended up completing the Badges 101 quiz. Anyone watching may well have seen the lightbulb going on over my head. This had the potential to be powerful stuff indeed.

If you haven’t registered and completed badges 101 yet, I really would urge you to stop at this point and go and do it. It’ll take you no more than 5 minutes and the rest of this post might make more sense. Then come back.

Go on….


Right, let’s go on.

This idea, combined with the more student centred approach I’ve been trying to develop in my ICT teaching over the last few years (my current moto: Get out of the way) has lead me to imagine a new way of delivering ICT at KS3. I’m sure there any many problems with this, but this is intended as an initial sketch.

Before we get on to this, much of the talk on twitter at the moment is around the idea of replacing ‘ICT’ with ‘Digital Studies’ in England and the great work going on in re imaging what this might look like. This suggestion is not (yet) part of those ideas for two reasons:
1. In Wales we still have the ICT NC which needs to be followed
2. The posts I’ve read on digital studies are still quite teacher centred – the teacher decides what topic is to be followed when and how. I’m looking at the possibilities offered by the technology to do something a little more student centred.

That said, I would urge you to have a look at the digital studies wiki and some of the great blog posts coming out from those involved in developing the idea. You can follow the #digitalstudies hashtag on Twitter to look out for these.

To me, there are two main problems with the current ICT curriculum.

The first is that students are coming in to us with a huge range of existing skills and experience and this is getting wider year on year. This is making traditional ‘teacher led’ lessons virtually impossible. We’ve moved towards a more open, problem solving approach recently, but I still feel there is work to be done providing support for weaker students and letting those at top really fly.
Secondly, in some cases, the work students are doing outside the class that is far more advanced that the work we’re doing in class. I’d like some way for that to be noted and accredited.


So, what would the new system look like?

KS3 would have access to a series of self contained ‘challenges’ based around software, tools, websites etc. Each would be hosted (probably on Moodle) with all the materials needed (either in the form of videos, text instructions or links) along with a forum to provide community support.

Some of these would be compulsory, others would be optional. Some would be quite prescriptive, others would be more open. Some would be traditional ‘ICT’ tasks, others would be more ‘computing’ based, others could open up some of the issues around digital literacies and digital society.  Challenges would be of a range of difficulties, and students would be free to start at which ever point they felt appropriate. They could move straight to the assessment task at the end, or complete a series of warm up activities if they needed.
The successful completion of a challenge would earn a badge. Until the Open Badges framework was ready these could be awarded either in Edmodo or using a Moodle plugin

Much of the content would come from existing ICT resources, it would just need to be repackaged. Others could be developed over time, some even by other students as tasks for advanced badges. All content should be able to be packaged up and shared with other schools.

What’s missing / what could go wrong

This is just an early sketch. The number and nature of the tasks would need to be developed with the ICT dept

One of the really nice ideas in some of the digital studies development work is the idea of a bportfolio – a student blog that would allow them to record their thoughts on longer, more pbl style projects. While this isn’t here, one idea could be that a number of the final projects would be published online as part of the task. Students could use a Google Site for this.

With students working on different tasks, the role of teacher would need to redefined. There is the potential for a heavy marking load – although some badges could be created to be automarked.

We’d need to consider how homework would work and be monitored.

We can’t (currently) add modules to our school moodle (which is managed by the LEA). This would potentially mean students working across three platforms – Moodle to access materials, Edmodo to submit and get their badges and Google Sites to publish some of their work.

Badges are explicitly NOT linked to NC levels. This is part because we now longer use them to mark work for students. However, tasks can be matched back to help teachers track progress.

Whatever happens, I would like to see the following kept

  • The principle of student choice
  • Projects at a variety of depth and length, the completion of which earn badges
  • Students at all years in KS3 get access to the same ‘menu’ of choices.
  • Students supporting each other through a community behind each task


Those students who fly through this could move on to advanced badges. This could include creation of other tasks or perhaps these could become digital leaders.

So, what do you think? What have I missed? What other opportunities are there to make this even better? What else could go wrong I haven’t thought about? I’d appreciate your comments below!

11 thoughts on “How digital badges could revolutionise ICT teaching – a plan.

  1. Hi Dave,

    Awesome blog post which completely gets what #digitalstudies is all about! 🙂

    I just wanted to pick up on the point about homework. Although it hasn’t been stated much I honestly am hoping that set homework is killed off in #digitalstudies. I take my cue on this from an admittedly teacher understanding of work in a tech world and that is no one gets any homework. Instead if you have to work at home on a project it is driven by the needs of the project.

    I know I may be skating close to pipe dreams here but I think this is something which could work.


  2. Thanks for the comment Brian,

    Completely agree about homework – should be driven by the project and the student, not a 20 minute allocation per lesson.

    Not only can this work, but I think it’s beholden on us to make it work!

    I look forward to seeing how this evolves over the coming weeks and months!

  3. Great post Dave. I think you’re definitely thinking along the right lines. I think there is an opportunity here to think a little bit more radical. Somewhere there is a happy middle ground between this idea, the content of the #digitalstudies discussions so far, Nick’s efforts to give students almost free reign over the content of their work ( and Dai & others moves to cover ICT in other subjects (

    It’s a fine balance but I think I’d like to see something along the lines of students coming to ICT (or whatever it’s called) lessons to continue the work that they’ve been doing elsewhere, but specifically to look for help and advancement on the technical skills that they need to complete that work.

    Students would use their work from these other lessons as evidence towards attaining badges in various ICT skills & competencies. Badges would be awarded when enough evidence is available to show competence in that area.

    Speaking as a Maths teacher there’s no reason that even the coding side of things could not be done in collaboration with other subjects.

    All of the above sounds fab, but would take a LOT of effort to make work correctly.


  4. I am enjoyed hearing how you have approached your own personal development as a teacher as much as the core debate on badges, badging, and ICT.

    One other point to raise, predictability / uncertainty of reward. There is a lot to be explored here, within education, from psychologists and neuro scientist, from other industries, notably the gaming industry and marketing.

    Extrinsic rewards – I do think the old skool merit systems need refreshing and I am far more in tune with badging, it’s worked for the scouts.

    3D Gamelab offer an interesting model.

  5. @Dan – Cheers mate. It’s interesting that one of my other pencil sketch ideas for ICT was similar to Dai’s – each half term would ‘buddy up’ with a department and work together at using technology to develop skills embedded there.
    I need to give some more thinking time to the idea of what would be badged – I was thinking more in terms of a small, clearly measurable, earning often approach, but other people are moving in the other direction. It’ll be interesting to see it playing out. I hope we can end up with something that can be implemented in various schools in different ways, but the resources are largely shareable.

  6. @Kristen – I agree mate. At the same time as looking at this I’m reading more and more bloggers querying the assumptions behind learning objectives. Interesting (potential) dichotomy.
    Will have a look at that 3D Gamelab example.

  7. I think getting the content/competencies of the ICT / #digitalstudies curriculum is the first step. Let’s grasp this opportunity to write the course we always wanted. I’m fairly convinced there will be no KS3 guidelines by the end of the year so let’s just go for it.

    KS4 examinations that evolve over the next year or so will obviously affect this as we go.

    Once that’s clear in our minds then how it’s delivered can be tailored by each school, their timetables and their ideologies.

  8. This is exactly the process I am going through when designing and developing curriculum ideas for 2012/13. The only thing I think needs to be added here is the use of pathways and support/extension. The more structured pathways give support the less structured leave a more open outcome for students. Good stuff.

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