Open Badges in School

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Schools offer a myriad of activities for pupils to do. But how do these sustain beyond the knowledge of the context in which they were done? How do we know if a UCAS personal statement says, “I did this!” that this was done by that person? In my school, we value learning for learnings sake, and that is fine, but would it not make sense for these important pupil achievements to be stored as an online profile: evidencing the required commitment, determination, time, effort and ability? Perhaps participation in a dramatic production, a musical performance, a series of sporting events, or a community action project.

For example, four of my Digital Leaders (DLs) have taught several programming workshops to visiting pupils from local special needs schools. How do I provide recognition of the work put in by these four DLs and not the other six? How do I share that with all those whose opinion matters (the pupils key personnel in school, at home and beyond)? Currently, I do it via email and school bulletins. However, this only holds credence for the immediate context; for those who are in situ, here and now. How could I make this hold fast as the individual pupils context changes over time?

I watched Doug Belshaw deliver a talk to Cambridge English. This information initiated a reductive thought process of something I believe would add value to my school — an open badging system that would facilitate each pupil being credentialed in the vast range of opportunities that are offered. Ultimately this could create a profile that stood firm as testament to participation and achievement. Why? We offer a crazy number of opportunities to our pupils, and I am mildly concerned — as I have been in every school I have worked in — that it is the same minority of pupils that actually take advantage of a significant number of these activities. What if we could change that. Could we develop a complex and multifaceted badging system that allowed teachers to award badges for various levels of contribution within the discipline they manage?

Since I co-host a podcast with Doug every week(ish) I thought it would be useful to write a blogpost that attempts to scaffold all the initial questions I need to answer to unlock the viability of this as a project. Please note that a lot of questions are answered in Doug’s talk, so it is worth watching that if this thread interests you.


  1. Which platform do we choose?
  2. Will it be trainable so it can scale to all teachers and pupils in my school?
  3. Will we be able to keep control over school-issued badges so no-one can appropriate our identity?
  4. Is this something we should use for staff CPD?
  5. Is it worthwhile?

  1. My Initial Answers:
  • I need to do a proof of concept — a prototype. Which badging platform is best suited for this? My department uses a Moodle installation with which we could use thebadge plugin. I have earned a few badges on Mozilla’sbadge backpack. Are there any more? I would rather not use Moodle because we have another VLE (Firefly) and our Moodle is Computing Department specific, although we have Active Directory authentication so all our teachers and pupils are on it, even if not currently required to use it. The Badge Alliance lists eighteen different platforms — which one is right for us?
  • Is badging a system that I can cascade to teachers and pupils? As Head of Digital Strategy it is my job to keep out tech that does not add value when compared to the training requirements for implementation. If it is too complicated to get to where the service adds value to the classroom, it is a dumb initiative. Some would say Moodle is like this, but interactive computer display boards are another example whereby the work required to claim value outstrips the actual impact.
  • I don’t think control is a real concern but I imagine we want to be able to maintain our badging system with our school identity and not let that bleed out. I would aim to allow whatever we develop to be usable by another school, but the metadata that includes our school name would need to be stripped out. Equally, it is important to protect its open nature so that our badges can be merged with others by the earner.
  • It is possible that teacher CPD would be a good starting point to explore a badging system. Whereas I see the sense of this in substantiating the value of badges to those who would be required to make their own, I also would want pupils involved in the early stages so that we can garner their opinion as well.
  • Developing educational technology in a very successful school is not an obvious tactical manoeuvre. As a 13 year old pupil said recently at a debate about our Internet being switched off at bedtimes: [I paraphrase]before coming here I read so much about the success of this school which was all achieved without this. So why is it necessary? In our digital strategy, my priorities centre around protecting what is successful at our school and protecting the energy and effort in the classroom from technological initiatives that require skilled and motivated professionals to shift their focus. Equally, from my observations to date, the school thrives through trust, diversity and ownership. The last thing I want to do is homogenise workflow unless absolutely necessary. I do not want to dilute what works.

I am writing our digital strategy at the moment. This has been a long time coming, but consultation with staff and pupils is at the heart of it. The outcome will be simple documents that are founded on our shared vision and scaffold our work into projects. The concept of open badges makes sense as a part of the digital strategy. It would support learning, energy and hard work. It might help us understand the achievements of pupils, holistically; and prevent worthwhile effort from slipping between the cracks in the floorboards and getting lost in the corners of corridors. With 850+ boarders, we are a huge organisation and how we spend our time is important — it is the difference between one person and another. There are many high profile individuals who excel. But this creates a certain school-centred mythology whereby the individual gets labelled, and labels can be misleading. This might be an opportunity to bring balance — to bust the myths. It is a digital project but not driven by digital developments. Its purpose is to bring the truth of pupil activity and achievement into the open. A platform to acknowledge the fantastic contribution our pupils make to daily life at school. Could we be a school that shares a personalised URL in every pupil report and reference that is proof of how an individual contributed to their community not only academically but holistically? To my mind, this would add significant value to the education of every person.