Today saw a fast and fantastic discussion take place on twitter between a number of people on the topic of how to assess work within #digitalstudies. It began with @misterel asking how we would be showing progress by pupils – a very reasonable question. To answer it though I will be taking a sidetrack down my recent computer games playing experience.Two of the last major computer games I have played have been the original Mass Effect and Modern Warfare 2 (I know I am slightly behind … I blame parenting and Minecraft :-) ). Modern Warfare 2 firstly is a classic example of an on the rails shooter. Yes you can run from one side of the path to another side and do a teensy amount of sight seeing but if you don’t follow Captain British Stereotype the next story trigger won’t trigger and nothing happens. You exist in a very strictly designed world where you need to progress through the levels and options as set out for you by the game designers. I know for those who are reading this I am probably stating the obvious but hear me out. Mass Effect on the other hand is less of an on the rails shooter. You are presented with some degree of freedom in the choices you make and can see some effect of those choices. Choose to ask someone nicely and they might offer you something out of kindness or be horrible and they respond out of fear. Once you are on a mission there may be some form of ‘rails’ but some freedom persists and once out of a mission you can choose to sidestep optional missions and focus only on the most important ones. You are still following what the game designers have decreed but there is a lot more flexibility in the order of choices you can make. Having mentioned Minecraft as an aside perhaps I can also bring that back in as well and say that even though it’s a classic open sandbox game where you are free to make your own choices you are still bound by certain rails and rules. In survival mode youcan’t break through the adminium blocks at the bottom of the level and you can’t build higher than a certain level. So how do games like MW2 on the one hand and Mass Effect and Minecraft on the other hand apply to assessment and learning in education. I think that MW2 is an analogy for National Curriculum levels and Mass Effect and Minecraft are an analogy for badges as an assessment method. As in a game pupils need to make progress through the tasks they have been set and they and the teachers should be able to show that progress. Levels as a concept can work as it allows a pupil to see where they are, what skills they have gained so far and be able to see where they should go next. However the definitions for the levels (and I am thinking just for ICT here) were so arcane i can remember spending forever translating them into pupil speak (and wondering why they weren’t in pupil speak in the first place). Like an on the rails shooter I also thought that levels were restrictive of a pupils progress and ensured that even with separate strands of levels a pupil was in essence working through the same levels as everyone else. As I think @mberry put it today – pupils may be climbing different mountains (but sometimes the same foothills). As soon as a pupils is wanting to leapfrog aspects of the levelling criteria it becomes very hard to pin them down to a number which shows the ‘progress’ the levelling system is meant to show. Mass Effect and Minecraft are therefore analogies of a better approach to learning and assessment. Pupils remain within a semi-walled garden as even with freedom of choice in learning paths teachers must still provide the guidance and structure to make sure that pupils are continuing to learn in a good way. But pupils are presented (like the missions in a game) with a choice of things they wish to proceed with. There may still be some order to it as i can think of a situation in Starcraft 2 where I was unable to proceed to a next mission unless I had completed a specific previous mission bit there is still some flexibility. Badges to me reward a pupils choice, naturally promote flexibility, provide encouragement to proceed down a learning path but also allow pupils to choose a different path from some of their peers. I have always believed that the goal with this new focus on programming is not to turn every pupil into a programmer but give every pupil the chance and option to take that path and then provide other alternate paths such as digital law or digital authoring. #digitalstudies is a portfolio based subject. At the beginning of a year I feel that pupils should be shown what they should ideally be producing by the end of the year. However in a portfolio such as the multimedia one I am working on pupils could either be focussing on using digital tools to design and create beautiful digital works of art in imagery, audio or video but doing less on the programming side or they could be doing a small amount of digital creativity but focussing more on coding an awesome multimedia website. This approach I think is a reflection of a typical startup where each person has a particular strength and focusses on that strength but is able to work with others. Badges suit this type of work approach as it allows each pupil to work towards their own path which may be independent to someone else even in their same group. Levels I think are highly individualistic and don’t adapt naturally to work done in a group whereas a badge I think could be easier to assign. Pupils then show their progress through an accumulation of badges which could start to indicate both to the pupil and the teacher what their natural ‘discipline’ within #digitalstudies is. Although I had a go at MW2 earlier I do remember spending quite a bit of time trying to nail 3 stars in as many specops missions as I could. Even though I knew that others were also working towards it it was a badge for me and I really wanted it. I think this could also apply to how a pupil could feel motivated in class. How does APP and AfL come into this? Although I have focussed on badges I do believe strongly in formative assessment. Badges although summative as well are I think a better summative assessment method than levels. Pupils would read a number or grade and ignore the comments so often my feedback is only formative and includes no summative grades. From my own understanding of AfL I think that formative assessment is a necessary part of AfL and therefore if you are doing the formative assessment properly you are naturally driving AfL forward as well. APP though although I have never used it being at an independent school I think is too bureaucratic and too structured. It contains a pupil too much within a top down methodology and therefore lacks the flxibility of badge based assessment. Badges therefore in conclusion provides the flexibility, gives the pupil a measure of independent choice in what they wish to learn and show progress in and ultimately provides a learning and assessment experience which I think comes closest to what exists in the workplace which is ultimately what we are preparing the pupils for.