No more levels! Assessment to inform: A Digital Badge Approach

The start of the process started with what we wanted our children to learn. The dawn of the new curriculum made 2014 the perfect time to do this.

The new curriculum coincided with the departure of levels. Children were given a level after completing key stages of formative assessment. These levels indicated attainments that a given pupil could do.

The departure from levels caused concern by some within the profession. Others saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity to make assessment what it should have been all along. A means of not just finding out what the nation’s learners can do (and a way of comparing and contrasting them against their peers) but more importantly a means of identifying how teachers and parents can help their pupils and children acquire new learning. After all learning is all about the lifelong pursuit of inquisitively acquiring new knowledge, not merely jumping through hoops.

The new curriculum provided an outline of what our children were statutorily required to know, the excellent Hertfordshire Scheme of Work that we previously bought gave the bones some flesh and subject-knowledge taken in from eminent speakers such as Sir Ken Robinson, Phil Bagge, Sugata Mitra, Tim Rylands et al refined our Computing curriculum. This ensured that our future assessment strategy could show whether children were beyond, in line or below national and county expectation; a prerequisite from the Department of Education.

Highover pupils complete three computing units in each school year from Years 1 to 5. Year 6 children work towards their Apps for Good badge, a national project that combine app building with social enterprise.

To create differentiation so that the children I teach could access the learning, we layered the skills they had to acquire and the criteria that they needed to meet to earn their given badge. The layered criteria meant each unit would have a bronze, silver and gold digital badge that learners could earn. The initial idea behind bronze, silver and gold was to provide extra motivation to work through the badges. For example if you were assigned onto the bronze badge, why not acquire it and move onto the silver badge and so on.

Pupils were to use web-apps, or free native apps, that linked with Google Drive where possible. The intention behind this was to create easy access to programs they needed to use always from any device so resulting in them having constant learning opportunities if they wanted to take them. Taking down the barriers of learning between home and school; not being able to access their learning from their home environment as it is stored in their school environment. An overview of our curriculum and our ideals behind the Digital Badge system can be viewed in the video below.

With all of this finalised, we started to create our badges. We used another web-based solution called Credly, which is Mozilla Open Badge compliant. We created the badge design then linked the unit outline and criteria which was written and shared using Google Docs.

It was then time for the awareness part of the procedure. Three talks were organised. A morning and an evening, face-to-face talk and a third talk was a live stream of the talk using Google Hangouts on Air. Viewing parents could ask questions whilst watching the Hangout which could then be answered within the talk. As it was immediately posted on our YouTube channel when recording had finished, parents could still view it. Parents viewing the recorded video could post their questions and comments using the TodaysMeet backchannel. This can be viewed by clicking the link below.

The parental feedback proved invaluable. There were two main concerns:

  1. The titles Gold, Silver and Bronze was not appreciated. Parents felt that this made it competitive and the tailored, independent learning ideals behind Digital Badge lost.
  2. The need for parents to know what badge their child is assigned and access to the criteria in advance so that they can help their child work towards their badge at home.

We made the required tweaks and organised another Google Hangout on Air to inform them of the changes. The first tweak was a simple renaming of the badge tiers from Gold, Silver and Bronze to Initiator, Developer and Extender.

We recently migrated our email from Outlook 365 to Gmail. This meant that the parents usernames that they use to access the school’s virtual environment (built using Google Apps for Education) now became a separate email address that the school could use as another controlled communication link. We can now easily use this email address to send parents of the criteria that their child has to meet to gain the badge. We used a Gmail Lab product called Canned Responses to create stored email messages with the necessary link to the given badge criteria. This meant sending an email to a mass group of parents could be achieved in three clicks, making it manageable.

Another backchannel was created for questions and comments based on the updates. The transcript to this channel can be viewed by clicking the link below.

Further changes in the pipeline include The Big Challenge. Included in each badge criteria will be a further question or task encouraging children to independently have a go at. This is linked to what they are working towards in their badge. It will provide an extended learning opportunity that could be done wherever or whenever they like.

In addition, we created Computing Learning Blogs. We want children to use a space where they can reflect on what they have achieved, or failed at (promoting a positive attitude towards mistakes/ failures and utilising them as learning opportunities) as we work towards our badges. Content could then formulate the starter of our computing session or concepts that can be taught as part of a Guided Group session as we address misconceptions that have come up in the blog.


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