Last week I attended an online presentation from Learning Times that focused on digital badges for learning and professional enhancement. The session, Badge-based Learning and 21st Century Skills [recording], described "a digital badge ecosystem" that aims to help all kinds of learners capitalize on "living in an age of opportunity for learning, specialization and innovation like none ever seen before." Presenter Jonathan Finkelstein, founder of Learning Times and Director of the BadgeStack project, noted that, "not everything needs to add up to a final grade anymore." Digital badges can be helpful as we:
- Engage in career development and job search activities. LinkedIn, for example, was described as "a canvas looking for digital badges." Consider how we might visually present our career achievements in badge-form to demonstrate what we've accomplished and experienced, and present our qualifications to potential employers.
- Participate in learning communities. The process of earning badges can encourage participation, relationship building, and exploration of community-based resources, especially when structured around a game that features levels, and points earned for completing activities.
- Continue to learn in formal and informal ways. Displaying digital badges in our online profiles can help to convey our interests and initiative as lifelong learners to our peers in learning communities and instructors in courses.
BadgeStack is one of the latest platforms available to help us track learning that takes place both in and out of the traditional classroom. As mentioned in the session, badges can recognize different kinds of achievement from basic participation to advanced skill mastery and ongoing professional development. This project has emerged out of the HASTAC MacArthur Foundation Digital Badge Competition and the Mozilla Open Badges project.
Digital badges can be developed by a wide range of organizations and can have specific qualities, such as expiration dates. The possibilities seem endless and this creates some big challenges moving forward, such as establishing standards of learning assessment, validating the badge-earning process, and maintaining badge systems.
Earning My First Digital Badges
The Learning Times presentation was a pre-session of the Technology, Colleges, and Community (TCC) Online Conference taking place this week, April 17 through 19. I have attended this conference in the past and will be there again this year. One of the new features for 2012 is that all participants have the opportunity to earn conference related badges. Networking is one of the benefits of attending a professional conference, but it can be difficult to connect with other attendees in a virtual environment. The use of badges is a way to encourage community and relationship building through:
- Recognition of our participation during this virtual event on various levels and in multiple conference roles, such as participant, presenter, volunteer, and student ambassador.
- Encouragement to explore the conference experience through not only the scheduled sessions, but also online discussion forums, blog posts, social media, and resource sharing.
- Incentives to engage with other conference participants in the online community spaces and through nomination of others for badges that recognize excellence in visual design, research, critical thinking, innovative ideas, and more.
The BadgeStack platform is Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) compliant, and TCC is the first conference with OBI badges, so participants can maintain earned badges in their own badge accounts, extending the experience beyond this event. So far I've received "Participant" and "Presenter" badges, and am exploring some of the proposed conference "quests." As I earn digital badges at future events I can add them to my badge backpack. (For more information about how the systems work together, check out the BadgeStack architecture and connection to open source ecosystem diagram.)
BadgeStack in Action
In addition to the TCC Online Conference you can find BadgeStack in use by a range of organizations and education institutions. Take a look at examples from the New York City Department of Education's DIG/IT program focused on college and life planning and digital literacy, and the Smithsonian Institution's online conference and nature badges.
Higher education badges are also a possibility with this platform. The University of Wisconsin-Stout's graduate course "Using Games for Learning and Assessment" recently deployed the system with students. The BadgeStack project hopes digital learning badges will work as a complement to formal learning opportunities (i.e. certificates, diplomas) not as a replacement.
More About Digital Badges…
Exploration of the value of digital badges for learning has just begun. Continue to follow the work being done by Learning Times, BadgeStack, and Mozilla Open Badges, as well as potential opportunities available for you to experiment with badge-based learning through your school, professional organizations, and other educational resources.
If you've had the opportunity to earn a digital learning badge, let us know more about it here! Would you recommend the experience to your peers?