New Digital Badges Systems Aim to Recognize Learning Outside the Classroom

March 22, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Common Sense News, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Out-of-School Learning

Earlier this month, the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC announced the winners in the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition.

The competition is designed to link designers, educators, and technologists with leading industry organizations in order to build “digital badge systems” and explore how these badges can help people learn, demonstrate skills, and unlock new opportunities.

According to Vice President of U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation Julia Stasch, badges are simple and will hopefully become a tool for everyone to use. “There is much more to learn,” she said, “and we expect that this competition will contribute to developing a badge system that could change the way people share information about themselves, businesses make hiring decisions, and organizations support the acquisition of skills important to their mission or to the larger society.”

The objective of Badges for Lifelong Learning is to create a digital and portable system that recognizes achievement and learning that takes place outside the classroom. According to a  press release (pdf) by the Mozilla Foundation, HASTAC, and the MacArthur Foundation – the innovators behind the badge system – traditional measures of achievement do not adequately convey the full range of knowledge and skills that students and workers master. Badges can present a more nuanced picture of an individual’s accomplishments. The idea is to create an extension of one’s resume that recognizes the skills and understanding individuals pick up in out-of-school contexts and that are not currently recognized. Other organizations currently developing badging systems include NASA, the Walt Disney Company and the Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the Department of Education.

Several of this year’s winners focused on creating badges that teach digital literacy and citizenship. We were pleased to see our parters at MOUSE on the winner's list. We've been working with MOUSE to bring digital citizenship education to students in New York City. Mouse received funding to support their "MOUSE Wins!" digital badge system that helps kids build computational, digital, and workplace literacies.

"MOUSE is a great example of how compelling and valuable informal learning opportunities can be, and a perfect use case for badges," Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning at Mozilla said in a release (pdf).  "Foundation Learners are already building legitimate skills and badges can help them carry evidence of that learning back to school or apply them toward higher education and career opportunities."

The Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, was one of several awardees in this category. YALSA’s badges program, “Preparing Librarians to Meet the Needs of 21st Century Teens,” aims to fill a knowledge gap in the field and help educate librarians in areas of new media. According to YALSA’s proposal, they will develop several badges focused on digital literacy, which can be widely applied beyond library sciences as well.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded the badge program “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” to motivate at-risk middle and high school youth to stay in school, graduate, and prepare for college and careers. The CPB aims to use digital education programs to develop “21st century skills,” such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and communication through digital media platforms.

Thirty winners were selected out of a competitive pool of 91 finalists and were awarded grants ranging from $25,000 to $175,000.  They have one year to complete their work and, throughout this time, will receive support and training from the Mozilla Foundation, which is developing the platform to showcase badges. The end goal of this project is to form a dynamic community with a flourishing badge ecosystem.

Plus, Want to know more about Badges?   Mozilla’s Open Badges project is making it easy for anyone to issue, earn, and display badges across the web via an open-source infrastructure. Check out these real-world examples of how badges could be used, or read this handy FAQ.