Blog Post

ePortfolios as Badges - A Badge System Design for Learning by Creating

A reason that could contribute to so many of the badge systems around looking quite similar, is that badge designers don't have many references to work from.  It isn't practical for badge designers or software developers to all become assessment experts.  I'm going to make an attempt to present an example about how badges could add structure to the discussion of assessment and provide a shared language for communication among assessment experts, content providers and technology implementers.  This is part of a conversation with Dan Hickey in the comment section of his post, "Some Things about Assessment that Badge Developers Might Find Helpful."

When a badge is issued it breaks the assessment process into three distinct phases:

1 - assessment activity:  how the assessment data was collected

2 - assessment data:  the data captured by the badge

3 - assessment reporting:  the display and analysis of badges

Let's see how this structure can be useful in communicating about assessment issues by taking a look at Dan Hickey's post from October 2009, "Positioning Portfolios for Participation".  Here is my preliminary attempt to take Dan's discussion of portfolios and define a reference badge system that could be used by designers and implementers as a piece in constructing their own badge systems.  This is the kind of approach that tech folks generallly like to use to address these sorts of design issues.  I'll be especially interested to hear what assessment researchers think.

The Portfolio Badge System

Description:  The Portfolio Badge System is especially useful in a context where learners are constructing or building as part of their learning experience.  Artifacts support participation because they are where learners apply what they are learning to something personally meaningful.  The badge system archives the learners' artifacts so that they are easily accessed and reused.  The portfolio of artifacts is not itself graded, since that often leads to a portfolio that is more representative of (a) the specificity of the guidelines, (b) their ability to follow those guidelines, and (c) the amount of feedback they get from the instructor.  The portfolio is instead positioned to support reflection. Instead of grading the actual artifacts that learners create, any accountability should be associated with learner reflection on those artifacts.


  1. Artifact Badges  - Issued by learners
    • Activity - learners create artifact (i.e.  quest in Quest Atlantis’ Taiga world, remix of Moby Dick or Huck Finn, writing assignments)
    • Data - a description of the artifact written by the learner with the artifact as evidence
    • Report - a portfolio created by the learner that collects and presents a group of artifacts
  2. Reflection Badges - Issued by teachers
    • Activity - Based on the provided Really Big Ideas (RBI's) and associated rubrics, learners write how their artifact (a) illustrates the concept behind the RBI, (b) the consequences of the RBI for practice, and (c) what critiques others might have of this characterization of the RBI
    • Data - The grade with the written reflection as evidence
    • Report - A display of all artifact and reflection badges for that learner on a timeline





Wow, what a great suggestion. I am part of Dan Hickey’s research team, and this is just the sort of thinking we are doing now as we gear up to put on a hackjam this summer, and as we develop more curricular modules. We have found that when students reflect on their use of a skill, they gain deep insight into their own thinking and practice. When they do this in several different and increasingly distal and formal ways, they learn to use that concept in many different situations. You can read more about our reflections at But grading only the reflection has been a hard sell, especially to English teachers who feel they really do need to grade that essay. So awarding an artifact badge and then awarding a reflection badge could just be the ticket! For the hackjam this summer, we want to use badges, and there is great potential for awarding levels of badges: perhaps a bronze for completing a task, a silver badge awarded by a mentor for deep reflection, and a coveted and more difficult-to-receive gold badge awarded by the community for stellar work.

This really got me thinking about my own reflection and work and experience as a teacher, and I’ll post those thoughts tomorrow. Thanks for the suggestion!


Hi Rebecca,

I appreciate hearing your thoughts and finding out that the example was helpful!  When you're designing your badges for the hackjam, I'd be really interested to hear if you find it helpful to approach it by focusing separately on the phases I wrote about.  I've written some notes below on how this might work for you.  I'd be really interested to hear whether this is helpful to you or whether you prefer another approach.



In implementing an assessment, it is useful to start by trying to understand what is happening in the assessment process.  Some things to think about:

- What information is created as part of the assessment process?  In this case, I thought the information created was the artifact, the reflection, the teacher's grade.  There is probably more though. 

- What are the assessments?  In this case, it seemed to me that there were two assessment processes happening, the student's reflection on their own artifact and the teacher's assessment of the reflection, so that is why I created the two badges for storing information about those two assessment processes.  Again you have more insight into this.

Once you have an idea of the information that is created during the assessment process, it is helpful to think about how this information could be used by the various participants.  Here are more things to think about.

- What are the roles (types of users) that will be viewing the badges? teachers? students? researchers?  anyone else?

For each role:

- What information is appropriate to share with that role?  What information is important to share with that role?  For example:  What student information is shared with peers?  Artifacts?  Reflections?  Grades?

- What learning experience or action do you want to encourage for that role?  For example, should teachers find out which students need additional assistance or should it help them with mentoring students or something else?  Are you trying to provide external motivation for students to engage in the reflection or are you trying to provide support for the reflection process or something else?  What information might be emphasized to achieve these goals? 

- Given the goals and the information to be presented, what presentation of the information might be useful?  It is usually quite useful to create a rough sketch and get feedback from others.

Once you have some initial sketches of the presentation and you've come up with initial ideas of how users in the various roles might use the information, now is a good time to think about the badges themselves.

- What information do you need in your badges to be able to display the information in your presentation?  Based on this information, create initial rough badge specification.  For now, try to focus on your goals and the information you need to store, and don't worry yet about the badge features are available or how they should be used.  The post contains an example of what this kind of badge specification could look like.

- How can you incorporate the issuing of the badges into the assessment process so that it enhances rather than interferes with the assessment and learning experience? 

- Now think about what badge features you can use to acheive these two goals and design your initial badges.

You will probably need to iterate through all these steps several times before you get a result that you're really happy with.

Let me know whether this all makes sense!


Well this is great.  This conversation is really taking off in nice direction.  The fun thing about working with Hackasaurus is that they have done a great job of defiining activities (hacktiviites) and badges for each, so we get to focus our energy on precisely these kinds of questions.  And because the activites will all be open sourced  and shared, we can share these new features with others along with the nascent design principles behind them.


This is why I am a huge proponent of design based research as written about by Paul Cobb, Barry Fishman, Bill Penuel, and Yael Kali.  I really like the idea of iteratively moving back and forth between general principles, specific principles, and specific features, so that the principles get refined and can travel with exemplars.   It helps tame the messiness that is going to ensue when people try to make an sort of warranted claims about the validity of their badging practices.


I took a look at the Hacktivity Kit and I can see why you're enthusiastic about it.  It would be really fun to run a Hack Jam.  I'm looking forward to finding out what you end up doing.  If I was using the paper versions of the badges, I would be tempted to convert the badges into Reflection Badges in the style of their "Make Your Own Badge."  Perhaps one type of reflection badge for each of learning  areas, "navigating", "remixing", ...