To @nashworld: Badging & Credentials

Sean Nash, otherwise known as @nashworld on Twitter, said the following this morning.

I’m sure that there are many badging and credentialing systems out there, Sean.

But I think that you should identify your own rather than using someone else’s, and that you should consciously teach graphic design skills as part of the effort, by having your students design the badges.

Let me unpack this further after the cut.

Establishing Requirements for Credentials

To have a credentialing system or a badging system in a classroom, you first have to define the objectives and then the time constraints of each badge.

The one which I grew up knowing and using, of course, was the Cub Scouts and Webelos, and later the Boy Scouts of America; the Girl Scouts and the Spiral Scouts do something similar, which is that everyone gets a sash, and then various embroidery patches are sewn on.  Each badge in the Boy Scouts represents about five hours of work in a given subject-area, and the fulfilling of ten requirements.

I used to teach the Archaeology badge for the Boy Scouts.  Here are the requirements for that:


  1. Tell what archaeology is and explain how it differs from anthropology, geology, paleontology, treasure hunting, and history.
  2. Describe each of the following steps of the archaeological process: site location, development of a research design, historical research, site excavation, artifact identification and examination, interpretation, preservation, and information sharing.
  3. Describe at least two ways in which archaeologists determine the age of sites, structures, or artifacts. Explain what relative dating is.
  4. Do TWO of the following:
    • Learn about three archaeological sites located outside the United States.
    • Learn about three archaeological sites located within the United States.
    • Visit an archaeological site and learn about it.

    For EACH site you research for options a, b, or c, point it out on a map and explain how it was discovered. Describe some of the information about the past that has been found at each site. Explain how the information gained from the study of these sites answers questions that archaeologists are asking and how the information may be important to modern people. Compare the relative ages of the sites you research.

  1. Choose ONE of the sites you picked for requirement 4 and give a short presentation about your ndings to a Cub Scout pack, your Scout troop, your school class, or another group.
  2. Do the following:
    • Explain why it is important to protect archaeological sites.
    • Explain what people should do if they think they have found an artifact.
    • Describe the ways in which you can be a protector of the past.
  3. Do ONE of the following:
    • Make a list of items you would include in a time capsule. Discuss with your merit badge counselor what archaeologists a thousand years from now might learn about you and the culture in which you live based on the contents of your capsule.
    • Make a list of the trash your family throws out during one week. Discuss with your counselor what archaeologists might learn about you and your family if they found your trash a thousand years from now.
  4. Do ONE of the following:
    • Under the supervision of a qualified archaeologist, spend at least eight hours helping to excavate an archaeological site.
    • Under the supervision of a qualified archaeologist, spend at least eight hours in an archaeological laboratory helping to prepare artifacts for analysis, storage, or display.
    • If you are unable to work in the eld or in a laboratory under the supervision of a qualified archaeologist, you may substitute a mock dig. To find out how to make a mock dig, talk with a professional archaeologist, trained avocational archaeologist, museum school instructor, junior high or high school science teacher, advisor from a local archaeology society, or other qualified instructor. Plan what you will bury in your artificial site to show use of your “site” during two time periods.

9. Under the supervision of a qualified archaeologist or instructor, do ONE of the following:

  • Help prepare an archaeological exhibit for display in a museum, visitor center, school, or other public area.
  • Use the methods of experimental archaeology to re-create an item or to practice a skill from the past. Write a brief report explaining the experiment and its results.
  1. Do ONE of the following:
    • Research American Indians who live or once lived in your area. Find out about traditional lifeways, dwellings, clothing styles, arts and crafts, and methods of food gathering, preparation, and storage. Describe what you would expect to nd at an archaeological site for these people.
    • Research settlers or soldiers who were in your area at least 100 years ago. Find out about the houses or forts, ways of life, clothing styles, arts and crafts, and dietary habits of the early settlers, farmers, ranchers, soldiers,
      or townspeople who once lived in the area where your community now stands. Describe what you would expect to nd at an archaeological site for these people.
  2. Identify three career opportunities in archaeology. Pick one and explain how to prepare for such a career. Discuss with your counselor what education and training are required, and tell why this profession might interest you.

Anyone who achieved these eleven goals in five hours should be able to receive an Archaeology badge.

So the first thing I say to you, Sean, is that you should identify as a discrete unit how much TIME each of your credentials should require to complete.  In the Boy Scouts, you get a year from starting a merit badge to completing it — otherwise you have to start over.  But once earned, a badge is kept forever.  The badge serves as a physical/mental reminder of the learning, and it’s awarded in formal ceremonies to mark the transition from lack of knowledge to having knowledge.

Five hours is a lot of time invested in a particular, focused subject of learning (some badges take a lot more than that, like First Aid or Environmental Science, but 5 hours is a good point of argument).  It’s a week’s worth of classes in the typical middle school, for example.  The Archaeology badge is a combination of written, verbal, social (interact with others) and somatic (hands-on) learning — and that’s a good model for ALL badging requirements.  It’s also forward-thinking: identifying some career goals and potentials is a common part of all Boy Scouts merit badges, and gives kids some impetus to think about what their sources of childhood happiness are, and where their adult happiness is likely to be in the future.

I’d argue that 5 hours is about the right amount of time to invest in a skill set.  At the scouting camp I taught at, scouts spent five hours in class, and up to 3 hours on elements of the homework for the class.  One hour — a badge a class — is too many.  Ten hours is too much.  Five or six is about right — think, three class periods and three or four nights of middle-school homework.

Content of a Credential

I think that the Boy Scouts’ educational program is pretty top-notch.  Most of their merit badges contain around ten requirements, that are all arranged around a check-mark, a signature, and a date on a blue card.  Check off ten requirements (with multiple options for completion) and you’re done.  No grades, no tests… either you’ve done it or you haven’t.

I was usually able to teach this stuff through Socratic seminar process, asking questions and waiting for answers.

So to design a credential, think about what your ten requirements are. Based on the Archaeology badge example, above, you’d want requirements to include the following:

  1. Be able to define a subject matter, and compare and contrast it with other subjects;
  2. Identify a historical or procedural process by its named steps or order of operations;
  3. Describe at least one key methodology in the subject area;
  4. Name, describe, and compare locations, events or procedures relevant to the subject;
  5. Give a short verbal presentation on the subject.
  6. Demonstrate understanding of some of the legal or or cultural ramifications of the subject;
  7. Engage in some hands-on learning and record-keeping alone;
  8. Perform hands-on activity to a certain minimum standard under supervision.
  9. Perform a different hands-on activity that requires physical, mental, and social relationships;
  10. Engage in research about the process, procedure or skill.
  11. Identify possible future careers in this field of use to the student.

Is every credential you create going to follow this list?  No.  But consider the following totally made up credential on Horror Writing:

  1. Define horror fiction, and compare it with historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, detective fiction and literary fiction.
  2. Identify four or five major horror writers and their time periods; name some of their major works of fiction.
  3. Create a word-list of twenty words that can convey horrific themes or subject matter in fiction; define them, and use them in sentences.
  4. Read two short works of horror fiction, or one longer work by one of the authors in 2.
  5. Present (<5 minutes) to the class on the subject of horror writing.
  6. Do one of the following
    1. Learn about the market for horror writing in the US (or your own country), and its finances and major figures, and explain in a few paragraphs about the market demand for horror writing;
    2. Identify some of the cultural themes of horror writing: monsters, aliens, UFOs, vampires, the undead, the unknown, horrible human beings.  Compare and contrast these themes with one another.
    3. Learn about the horror movie business: how many people attend, how many films fall into the genre, how many are re-makes of books, how many tickets sold, how much money made from them.
  7. Write 500 words of horror fiction using words from requirement 3.
  8. DO one of the following:
    1. Help someone revise or edit their story to evoke a greater emotional response;
    2. accept help in revising your own story for greater fearful emotional response
  9. Find and interview three people who like reading horror fiction. Devise a set of appropriate interview questions, perform the interviews, and report back on the results of your interviews.
  10. Based on your research, identify three careers in the world of horror fiction, and the training of some of the people involved: not just writers but also publishers, literary agents, printers, proofreaders, editors, book designers, cover illustrators, etc.

A motivated student should be able to complete this work in five to ten hours, although the task of writing and reading might be a serious challenge for some to complete in that amount of time.

But again, the purpose of the badge is to serve as an introduction to the subject, not raise them up to mastery.  It should be enough to get them started, to wet their whistle, to sharpen their axe, to give them some skills.  And it’s also likely, in the process of doing this work, that they’ll encounter other information along the way which will pique their interest.  There’s a reason that so many life-long learners I know started in Scouting — they have a process for learning a new subject that lasts forever.

Designing a Credential’s Badge

The part that really intrigued me about Sean’s question, though, was the question of what badges should look like.

And I think that you can set a few basic requirements, and then ask students to design the badges that your class uses.  Hold periodic contests to select a winner, and then use that standard design.

Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 10.33.29 AM.png

You can set your requirements for the designs something like this:

  1. Mathematics badges shall be CIRCULAR.
  2. Literacy badges shall be HEXAGONAL.
  3. History/Social Studies badges shall be TRIANGULAR.

That way you can tell at a glance what a kid’s strengths and motivations are — because as a magical friend of mine says, “having is evidence of wanting.”  If a student has sixteen circular badges, nine hexagons, and only four triangular badges, you know where her interests and strengths lie.  (and keep in mind this student has done (16+9+4) x 5 hours = 50 hours of work!)

You can also specify colors for borders and fields of a badge.

  1. Yellow shall mark a badge that involves a social/presentation requirement;
  2. Blue shall mark a badge that involves a non-fiction writing requirement;
  3. Orange shall mark a badge that involves a computer-using requirement;
  4. Green shall mark a badge that involves fiction writing requirement;
  5. Purple shall mark a badge which has a graphic design requirement;
  6. Red shall mark a badge that a student must attain before the end of the school year.

You can also specify that a badge has to use an image or graphic design of some kind, and that it include its name:

  1. The badge shall have an image in it, which is cartoony and descriptive not explicit.
  2. The badge shall have the name of the badge on it, in black Impact type 14 point.

So, our hypothetical Horror Writing badge is a literary badge that involves presentation, non-fiction and fiction writing.  It should be hexagonal, with yellow, blue, and green in the design, and an image suggestive of horror, and the name “Horror Writing.”

A student might then design something like this:Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 10.57.03 AM.png

Perfect?  No.  But it allows you to tell at a glance what a student has accomplished. That they’ve tried their hand at fiction, that they’ve done some research into the publishing industry, (that they know that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1822, is the foundation novel of the genre), and that you can have a conversation with them about the merits and flaws of Lovecraft vs. R.L. Stine vs. Stephen King. That’s pretty cool.

But I note that the creation of the requirements is up to the teacher — but the creation of the badges is itself a credential worthy of a badge.  It involves learning to read the requirements, to work with computer software to make a simple badge that meets certain graphic design criteria, to learn graphic design software well enough to make simple pictures, and to learn visual thinking skills. By refreshing and revising your criteria and your badge designs every few years, you help re-engage students in the world, and teach them HOW to do things for themselves, and not solely what is on the test.

Anyway, Sean, I hope this helps.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for this Andrew. It isn’t often you pose a question via Twitter and get a blog post response. 😉

    That said, I am with you 100% on what you have posted here. We are using competency-based assessment at many levels here and much thought has gone into the skills, knowledge and performance required to demonstrate such competency.

    I’m also a big fan of tinkering with graphic design. I also agree that having students get into the mix on visual design and ownership is wise. The idea of having visual cues or threads of taxonomy is also very smart. I like it, and I agree.

    However, I really DO want to adopt a platform, but…… not for the reasons you have listed here. Like you assert, this is EXACTLY the sort of work we plan to and do own regarding a “micro-credentialing” approach. We want to own all of the planning and strategy behind it. And yet, we also want a platform will accept our “content” if you will… but take over much of the logistics of recording and displaying, archiving, etc.

    We want a platform that plugs into the LMS (Canvas, in this case) and allows students to earn badges in agreed upon ways. As a side note- we’re particularly interested in badges for cross-cutting things that can be included across the board in all grade levels and content areas. We are currently testing “Canvabadges” which is free, allows us full control over design and content, allows manual awarding of badges by staff, also allows some badges to be auto-awarded for completing certain learning modules (ex: An Online Course Orientation), allows students to opt into the public display of each and every badge the earn right on the front page of a student’s profile, also allows badges to be exported to Mozilla during school or upon graduation, etc.

    However, there are features of two others (Badgr & Credly for instance) that seem rather valuable as well. Being able to do some administrative analytics on how badges are earned across the system is something that could inform teaching and learning in valuable ways as we strategically plan programs to meet student needs into the future. That’s one example, but there are so many choices. Right now, to integrate a system across an LMS in a large district is not a simple choice. There are negatives and positives to each system, and some of these variables are significantly technical in nature. We want to keep things as technically simple as possible for students and teachers. It is a fun thing to research and I just need to leverage the bright folks I am connected to a bit more.

    Again, thanks so much for responding in such a long-form and public way. I miss this level of online discourse. People rarely connect like this via Twitter. It was more common four or so years ago before it go so noisy in there. Cheers!

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