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.

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Wherever you go, there you are.

I may have missed the boat with a TEDxNYED reflection being that it is going on Wednesday and several others have already gushed about the day.  If you had paid attention to the stream of one-liners that was flying from stage to twitter during the day, you would have heard some gems like these:

Now we could donate more than just money, we could donate our skills.  Location did not matter anymore.  It is  “The Death of Distance” (Andy Carvin)

Volunteerism has been redefined and we are the ones redefining it. (Andy Carvin)

Media are not just tools, they mediate relationships.  When media changes, relationships change, and thus we change as a society. (Michael Wesch)

Teachers who are most successfully are the ones who share most successfully with the most people. (David Wiley)

A parade of rainbow sparkle ponies. (David Wiley)

The role of new media should be to increase our capacity to be generous and open.  Let’s get away from static artifacts of learning, and more towards openness and discourse and discussion. (David Wiley)

And that was before lunch had been served.  It was a day where it was easy to get caught up in the gravity of what was being spoken about, or to take what you heard and scream out an “Amen” or two.  For the last few weeks, I had been looking to this as the one big change in thinking I was needing.

It wasn’t.

The event was so well-planned, and so well-thought out by the organizers.  The speakers were right on and I took a ton out of each of them, and it would have seemed that the stars were aligned for a truly transformative event for me.  I’d built it up to that in my mind, and was really trying to make it happen as the day unfolded, but I got to a point where I just stopped it and let go.  It was at that point to that two things happened.

First, I ran into George Mayo, who I hadn’t seen in two years, and whose solid work with students has had a great impact on my thinking over the last few years.  George and I met three years ago at SLA during one of Steve Hargadon’s pre-Classroom 2.0 learning sessions.  Will Richardson spoke for about the necessity to open our own learning and the learning our colleagues and students.  Looking back, that day, meeting those people (Chris Lehmann, Robin Ellis, Cory Pepler, and Christian Long were all in attendance), it’s clear that it changed the course of my career.  From that point, the metamorphosis that’s occurred in my beliefs, my energy, and my learning has been truly astounding.  So seeing George was a clear reminder of that journey, and that was welcome.

Second, I relaxed and let the day come to me instead of placing it on a pedestal and putting immense pressure on it.  It didn’t have to be a milestone day like that day back in 2007 was, and expecting a day like that would surely ruin whatever it was I was going to take from the experience.  Yes, there were some amazing thinkers and doers in the room, but one can’t expect osmotic learning to occur.  The ideas were flying around and I was doing my best to capture them in my notes and in my thoughts; however, it’s what comes next that will prove to be the biggest difference from TEDxNYED: the changes I bring about.