Best Practices
July 30, 2013

Badges for a Changing World

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Maybe you look back fondly on your Scouting days, when you sold cookies instead of stocks and trudged through the woods instead of piles of paperwork. Maybe you still have a soft spot for that little sash covered in all the badges you earned over the years. Or, perhaps you have long since repressed those memories. Either way, badges are no longer a thing of the past. Mozilla’s online initiative to recognize and verify learning, Open Badges, is gaining popularity and support across the country.

Much like the Scouts program, the badges a user, or learner, earns through Open Badges signify achievement and interest. There are badges that declare technical skills such as computer programming, show completion of online courses, and recognize committed community service, to name a few.

As a learner earns badges, he or she begins to compile a badge backpack. The backpack can then be displayed on various social media sites, from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn. This new method of accreditation provides an incentive for continued learning and puts the pride and accomplishment reminiscent of our childhood Scouting days back into learning. It also encourages the pursuit of what Mozilla calls “outside learning.” A cornerstone of the Open Badges project is the belief that not all learning happens in the classroom, and not all learning can be documented and represented by a transcript or diploma.

To maintain the integrity of the program and badges, Mozilla emphasizes the importance of verification and validity to its badge issuers. Issuers are expected to take steps to avoid the devaluation of their badges by including proof that a learner has completed a certain task or satisfied specific criteria and has indeed earned the badge. Additionally, all badges link back to the individual issuer, further encouraging accountability and authenticity. For this reason, Mozilla boasts that badges are an even more reliable source of information for potential employers than the traditional résumé.

Several universities have taken to Open Badges as well. At the forefront of postsecondary supporters is DePaul University, which recently decided to integrate badges into its admissions decision-making process. This provides an opportunity for non-traditional students, who may not have the typical proofs of achievement and competency, to become competitive in the application process.

With its initial release a mere four months behind us, Open Badges has already secured support from the likes of NASA, the New York City Department of Education, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, all of whom have committed to developing badges for the Open Badges interface.

Open Badges is revolutionizing the way we present ourselves and our accomplishments in the public domain, and in doing so, is creating an atmosphere that nurtures both personal and educational development.