Digital badging is gaining traction across Greater Boston. Since the initiative’s inception in 2015, interest in using badges to recognize skill development outside of the classroom has risen dramatically. This year, the initiative expanded to 11 programs serving 937 students from grades 4-12, marking an 83% increase in programs and a 99% increase in students involved compared to last year.
As this work enters its next phase, Boston After School & Beyond and its partners met to discuss these developments along with programs’ experiences awarding badges, strategies to evaluate the student experience with badges, and issues with growth badges and the summer program time frame.
In 2015, Boston After School & Beyond, in partnership with Providence After School Alliance (PASA), National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST), The PEAR Institute and Cityspan, with the generous support of the Noyce Foundation, piloted an innovative, new learning credential: digital badges. Six middle school summer programs opted to pilot this data-driven system in 2015, awarding badges to students who had demonstrated either growth or achievement in the following skills: Teamwork, Communication, Engagement, Critical Thinking, and Perseverance. By the end of summer 2015, 470 students earned over 1,400 badges.
For more info about the badging system and takeaways from the 2015 pilot, please view the Badging Practice Brief here.
-2016 Data Findings-
This year, school year and summer programs awarded students 2590 badges, with 560 out of 937 students earning at least one badge. This marks an increase of 6 percentage points in the number of students who earned a badge from 2015. Similarly, there was a significant increase in the amount of growth badges awarded in 2016 compared to 2015. However, just as in 2015, there were far more achievement badges awarded than growth badges.
Badge distribution by skill level was about even and did not shift significantly since 2015. There was, however, a significant increase in the number of growth badges awarded in critical thinking, perseverance, and engagement.
Boston Beyond has invested in professional development opportunities that focus on critical thinking and youth leadership over the past year, partnering with the BEETLES Project and Health Resources in Action to provide workshops on these topics for partner educators. In that light, the increased rates of students earning badges in these three skill areas is an encouraging sign that this professional development could be resulting in better learning outcomes for youth.
Data also revealed that high school students were far more likely to earn achievement badges than students in grades 4-8, and that attendance rates among programs serving high school students were much higher than attendance rates among programs serving students in grades 4-8. This led Boston Beyond and its partners to wonder about the differences between high school and middle school program models, and the expectations to which educators hold students in those settings. And given those differences, how can the badge system be adapted to best support learning in those environments?
-The Road Ahead-
As the use of badges among middle school programs continues to expand, with three programs planning to award them to students in the 2016-17 school year, Boston Beyond looks forward to continuing to strengthen this approach to recognizing youth for their skill development. By leading professional development events that explicitly connect adult practice and desired youth outcomes, working with partners and Boston Public Schools to develop performance assessments of teens’ college readiness skills, and investigating the impact that badging has on youth, Boston Beyond and its partners build a vibrant culture of badging in Boston.