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Showcase your Skills with Digital Badges

Have you earned your badges? Just like the scouts, now students can earn badges for achieving specific skills and acquiring knowledge both in and out of the traditional classroom. You may also be familiar with other existing badge systems, such as those offered through video games and social networking systems like Foursquare.

A badge, in the context of learning, is defined by Digital Media and Learning Central (DML) as "a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality, or interests that can be earned in [a variety of] learning environments." The list of possible learning environments is long, but includes both online and face-to-face options, such as peer learning, mentorship, extracurricular activities, formal training (e.g. military), and mobile learning.

How do they work?

Badges provide something visual that we identify with and understand when we see it. Whether it is an embroidered patch sewn on a uniform or a digital image added to a website, it's a representation of achievement. Educational programs are working on ways to assess skill achievement and award badges to learners who have met established learning standards and objectives. There's a lot of work involved, especially in these early stages, to develop agreed-upon criteria and to set up the logistics to both approve and allow users to display earned badges on websites, social media profiles, blogs, and potentially even digital resumes.

Here's a look at just a few of the learning programs that are already experimenting with digital learning badges:

  • Open Badges Project is an effort led by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation. The goal here is the development of the technology necessary "to support an ecosystem of badges" issued from multiple sources and for various uses by the individuals who earn the badges. Peer 2 Peer University is one project that is piloting the system through its training for web developers. Badges awarded in this program recognize not only technical skill achievement (i.e. learning specific computer programming languages), but also demonstration of professional skills and characteristics (e.g. mentoring, communication, innovation). 
  • The Lifelong Learning Competition, organized by DMLCentral as part of the HASTAC Initiative, is in its fourth year and currently focused on digital learning badges. The call is for individuals and organizations to submit ideas for integrating this approach into all types of education and for a variety of learners. This group notes that while there is no universal list of badge types, they are seeing four patterns evolve: 1) training badges that assess skill achievement, 2) dossier systems for the display of sets of badges, 3) social badges based on community connections, and 4) ranking badges that represent levels of expertise.
  • A recent post on the site outlines a badge program for K-5 students as a case study for other groups to consider. In this program, badges were evaluated as a method of assessment of students' abilities to "do," "recognize," and "talk about" specific skills, such as reflective learning, collaboration, and information literacy. 

How are they used?

Digital badges have the potential to be used in a number of ways. Here are some of the options I've seen in the early prototypes and discussions:

  • As a tool for job search efforts: a new way to present skills and specialization areas to employers who can refer to or look for specific badges when screening applicants.
  • As a way to assess learning and offer credit, which might even become part of a formal transcript.
  • To measure and document learning that takes place outside of the classroom through practical experiences gained from volunteer and community service, participation in open courses, internships, museum workshops, and a host of other formal and informal learning environments.
  • As a way to represent different levels of skill, such as beginner, intermediate and advanced, documenting expertise or mastery.
  • To set specific learning goals for students at incremental levels that both bring larger goals into perspective and track the accomplishment of prerequisite skills along the way.
  • As a gaming element within a single course, challenging students to work individually and in teams to achieve learning goals and advance to higher learning levels, while encouraging engagement through the added element of competition.

There's still a lot to figure out. The concept of learning badges at this point is still fairly new, and while not intended to take the place of certification or degree programs, there are details to iron out if there is to be a formally recognized structure. Some of the questions still unanswered include: How will evaluation of a learner's achievements take place? Will there be a central monitoring and guidance system to validate the process? Is there a potential for "counterfeit" badges to emerge?

Stay tuned …

This area is sure to grow and gain attention as more research is conducted and educators continue to explore the options with their students. There are already several helpful resources available. Mozilla developers provide their Open Badges Project working paper [PDF] online for review. In addition to information about their process and goals, the paper outlines four specific learner scenarios in which digital badges both recognize and display skill achievement in a range of learning contexts.

So far, I've found two collections of articles devoted to digital badges and learning, both using Bookmark the following: Digital Badges, curated by Jackie Gerstein Ed.D., and Badges for Lifelong Learning, curated by the DML Competition team. These efforts bring the latest info on the topic together in a central location and are continuously updated.

… And by the way, the traditional scouting badges are changing, too. An article posted yesterday from describes how Girl Scouts have a new series of challenges that add evidence of digital skill achievement to their collection of physical badges. These include digital photography, digital movie making, and web design. Just think about how these skills and achievements may influence the future of these scouts' learning and career goals!

If you are out there earning badges for your online and digital efforts, let us know more about it! What types of digital badges would you be interested in earning for display on your social profiles?

Image credit: Steven-L-Johnson, FlickrCC. The badges used in this post are part of a larger set created by the originator for use in his MIS3538 course taught at Temple University School of Business, Fall 2011.

October 7th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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