Experimenting with Badges

April 30, 2019
Teaching & LearningJulia Winter

Many of us grew up earning badges in scouts. I remember painstakingly sewing the little circles on my green sash.

Then, in high school, when we achieved varsity status in athletics, we received a letter – another badge to sew on to jacket or sweater – and we added stripes for more sports and possibly even a star badge for becoming the captain of the team.

Badges are ways to show a defined accomplishment. I wore my scout sash and my letter jacket with pride. Badging combined a collecting instinct with an extrinsic reward system.

How can badges work in the chemistry laboratory? Instead of the round embossed badge or the felted varsity letter, these rewards are digital images to be placed on a students’ record or even disclosed to a future employer. To earn an experimental skill badge, students must demonstrate competency with laboratory equipment and techniques.

Two papers in the Journal of Chemical Education, show how digital badging can be used to help students learn successful laboratory operations (see references). Michael Seery and Naomi Hennah describe the method in a U.K.-based secondary school, and the Towns research group used the badging technique in general chemistry labs at Purdue University. The daunting task of assessing laboratory techniques for the specific badges was made easier using student-generated videos with smartphones.

To earn a badge in the U.K. classroom, students watched a video of the technique performed correctly, then would practice the skills in lab. When ready, students would partner up to create short videos and narrate the experimental skills as they were being taped. These videos then were reviewed by both students and instructors before the badge was awarded. This discussion both during the process and in review helped to confirm why each of the procedural steps was important – whether it was touching the side of the flask with a pipette when draining or using a white paper to see the bottom of the meniscus. Students felt the video production itself was difficult – they had to practice the narration to make the video “just” right, but in doing so, they learned the lab process even better.

Image of Purdue's Buret Badge from the Towns paper

At Purdue, a similar method was used in a general chemistry lab course of 1000 students, divided into smaller lab sections run by graduate teaching assistants (TAs). The students in this general chemistry laboratory class had a varied degree of familiarity with lab equipment coming from their high school classes. The TAs reviewed the students’ videos and either rewarded a badge or gave feedback and had the student re-do the video.

In the Purdue study, the badges were posted on their internal “Passport” system. In the UK study, the badges were posted using the Credly platform. There are numerous other systems available, for defining and awarding badges for all kinds of achievements. A modern-day scout sash!

What I really liked about this video/badging process was exactly that, putting the focus on the process of lab work itself, not on the number-crunching and report-writing.  

(Now, wouldn’t it be nice to have instructor badges too? Maybe we can work that!)

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Using Digital Badges for Developing High School Chemistry Laboratory Skills

Naomie Hennah and Michael K. Seery

Journal of Chemical Education 2017 94(7), 844-848.

Improving and Assessing Student Hands-On Laboratory Skills through Digital Badging

Sarah, Hensiek, Brittland K. DeKorver, Cynthia J. Harwood, Jason Fish, Kevin O’Shea, and Marcy Towns

Journal of Chemical Education 2016 93(11), 1847-1854

Cover image by Elizabeth Godspeed

Co- Author