Redhill School in South Africa wanted to prepare their students to succeed in tomorrow’s dynamic world of work-- a world where content is becoming a commodity, and the shrinking shelf-life of skills means that the ability to not just learn, but to re-learn and adapt, is more valuable than ever. To cultivate a culture of inspired, lifelong learning, Redhill embraced a shift toward project-based learning (PBL), where students solve real-life problems or develop new product ideas over the course of multi-week learning activities.
It was a shift that created an implementation challenge for teachers: how to encourage and engage students without the familiarity of grades, while also supporting the development of progressive dispositions like creativity, critical thinking, independence, curiosity, and perseverance
After much investigation and consultation, Redhill’s Director of Educational Technology, Sean Hampton-Cole, identified a potential solution: create a series of badges to scaffold experiences and motivate students throughout their project-based learning program. Badges could then be shared with parents or others beyond school walls through a student’s very own “Digital Passport.”
Using the Credly digital badging platform, Sean developed badges covering both academic skills and so-called ‘soft skills.’ The Questioner Badge, for example, recognizes students who acquire the habit of consistently asking questions and analyzing the claims and information that come their way. Badge earners have demonstrated the ability to “judge the relevance, authenticity, and reliability of textual sources.” The CATO (which stands for Catastrophic Take Off) Badge, on the other hand, rewards grit and resilience -- taking risks, and persevering through failure. Other badges recognize technical skills, collaborating with peers, entrepreneurial skills, and bringing learning into the real world. As teachers track badge attainment, they gain a holistic picture of how and when students demonstrate each skill or competency: insights that can be used to understand how students are progressing, and identify opportunities for support or intervention.
Just one year in, the response from students, teachers, and families has been overwhelmingly positive.
To date, the PBL program has awarded over 700 badges to students, helping the school re-define success to support greater teamwork and cooperation, rather than competition.
Student projects have even led to the development of commercial products that have been recognized externally. Students have been invited to develop their projects in a professional startup environment, and one project is on its way to market as a self-standing new product.