Since 2010, badges—virtual recognition for learning in new ways, both in and out of the classroom—have sparked the interest of leaders in K-12 and higher education. We asked Erin Knight, senior learning director at the Mozilla Foundation, which helped spearhead the Open Badges movement, five questions designed to get the scoop on how these new credentials are changing teaching and assessment. Whether you need badges 101 or are already exploring badges with your students, Knight has some insights for you. (The following is an edited version of our conversation.)
Common Sense: Where in education are badges gaining traction?
Erin Knight: The obvious gap badges were filling from the get-go is in afterschool [programs]. Providence After School Alliance is one of the places youth can get high-school credit for work they do in afterschool.
A lot of universities and some K-12 districts are interested in rethinking the way that they work. Purdue University is a good example. They didn’t just decide to sprinkle a few badges here and there. They rolled them out across the organization.
A lot of the interest in K-12 right now is coming from teachers who want to build badges for their courses. A lot is focused on keeping kids engaged and celebrating moving forward. [For an example, see New York City’s Digital Literacies Course.] The other big pocket of interest is around competency-based, skill-based recognition connected to opportunity pathways like college and careers. So far the most successful badge systems balance the two. Badges are personally meaningful -- not just a carrot -- and they have a sense of accomplishment and a next step built in.
Q: How well do badges mesh with existing assessment strategies? Could badges push education to rethink assessments?
A: I don’t think standardized testing is going away any time soon, but I think badges could better represent a bigger picture of what kids know. There’s lot of ways badges can be issued. Peers can issue each other badges. I could issue myself a badge that’s endorsed by a teacher.
You literally could capture when somebody has demonstrated proficiency in a sub-standard and put that in the badge. That transfers across schools -- you can start to better understand what this youth has learned. Through badges we can better understand what teachers are doing, what’s working, what’s not, and redefine teacher excellence in a more bottom-up way.
Q: Badge proponents say that seeing the evidence kids have mastered a standard is better than looking at a transcript and seeing grades without knowing how those grades were determined. But digging deep into the evidence of badges seems pretty-time consuming. How can we make badges user-friendly for school staff trying to evaluate their worth?
A: That’s a really good question. The information is there that we usually don’t have. But the burden is on the consumer -- the person trying to evaluate the badge. We’re hoping a market emerges around this on the issuing side. We’re working on algorithms to help you compare badges at a glance.
Q. Can teachers earn badges, too?
A: A few school districts we’re talking to are looking to recognize teacher innovative practice. Connected Educator Month featured badges that recognize teachers’ digital literacy and innovative practices.
Last summer at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting, we announced a commitment to better two million lives of learners and workers in the next two years through badging. One of the big commitments came from the Fred Rogers Center -- they’re really working to define competencies and skill standards for early childhood educators.
Q: If there is one take-away you’d like teachers to keep from all this information, what would it be?
A. It’s not about inventing new ways of teaching or turning everything they know on its head. It’s just recognizing what they do already and celebrating and motivating more incremental types of learning and connecting it with something bigger than their classroom and their school.
Teachers also probably think it’s a ton of work. A lot of the reason badges are valuable is they represent the learning that’s already there. It’s just thinking about how you represent that learning a little differently.
Do you use badging in your classroom? Tell us about your experience by commenting below!