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Put a Badge on It

Susan Brenna

Drawing by MozillaWiki -- https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges

Some of our most useful learning–like how to persist despite obstacles–happens outside any classroom. We learned that the first time we fell off our bikes and got back on our again, right? Documenting the learning is another matter. For example, no one has yet developed a widely accepted way to record the competencies developed by a high school student who self-publishes a magazine, or a group of middle schoolers who lobby City Hall to improve their broken-down neighborhood park.

But what if kids could earn–and display on their Facebook pages–digital badges that document their skills and accomplishments beyond traditional classrooms? What if they could store their badges in online backpacks they could unpack for college applications? Could we get beyond test scores as the measure of a well-rounded education?

The Mozilla and MacArthur foundations are onto something significant in prodding organizations like TASC and our partners to quantify and capture the learning that happens outside traditional classrooms. Together with NASA, the U.S. Department of Education and other big thinkers, they launched a $2million grant competition this week aimed at helping educators, technologists and assessment experts expand “ways digital badges can be used to help people learn; demonstrate their skills and knowledge; unlock job, educational and civic opportunities; and open new pipelines to talent,” to quote from the press release.

They’re challenging us to–let’s admit it–do the painstaking and iterative but exciting work of developing a system of badges that will capture what kids really learn through sports and arts and other activities. If enough of us jump into the badge-issuing business, today’s middle school park-saver would potentially have a gorgeously decked out digital report-card-for-life to show a college admissions officer or potential employers.

Many organizations are working on badging, all doing their own thing. We’re excited to see what happens with Mozilla’s Open Badges Project, intended to create an infrastructure where all these badging systems can talk to each other and coalesce into one system that works for all.

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