Badges and the Role They May Play

Tonight I had the unique experience of listening in as Steve Hargadon from the Future of Education, interviewed Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, with the focus being a joint venture between Mozilla, HASTAC, and the McArthur Foundation.  The Open Badges Project is an idea based on lending credence and credibility to the learning that takes place outside of traditional learning spaces, and providing a means for people to illustrate their competencies outside getting a diploma.

It’s an intriguing idea that relies heavily on a slew of other elements.  For example, the issuers of such badges would have to do so based on very defined characteristics.  Meaning that those badges that were most difficult to get would carry the most reputational weight.  My first question upon entering the Blackboard room was centered on the actual types of tasks or projects one would have to do to earn a badge?  Since Mozilla is a partner in this, my first inclination was that one would have to contribute in some capacity to a project like those that Mozilla participates in.

Surman confirmed that, saying that Mozilla looks at this to help infuse web skills into the populace.  However, he did say that depending on the issuer, the task may be tech-based, but it may also be based on much softer skills.  The participants, and the dialogue that paralleled Steve’s interview, were fantastic, and several ideas for incorporation into educational settings percolated.  Among them were:

  • creating badges for skills not measured by the standardized curriculum
  • using badges on student and teacher portfolios to demonstrate mastery of non-traditional competencies.

Also, questions abounded about the significance of several existing “badge” type systems in education including things like Google Certified Teachers, Apple Distinguished Educators, or DEN Stars.  Did these qualify as badges under the model that Mozilla, et al, are working on?

It’s a wait and see now with the project being in the early stages, but my guess is that you’ll see much more of this discussion, especially within progressive education circles.  I know I am going to play with this idea as well.