A movement is underway with the help of businesses and organizations, such as Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, to promote “open badging.” The Badge Alliance, a network of 700 organizations, has formed to work on the initiative.
You remember badges; they were the physical representations received in scouting or athletics or other youth organizations to recognize accomplishments. You may also remember “lettering.” Letters are sewn on a jacket, or the badges on a sash, and carried by the recipient.
A digital badge is similar in that it represents a skill a person has gained or an experience or lesson they’ve had, except that it’s online. Open badges add something more to digital badges. According to the Badge Alliance website, they allow one to verify skills, interests, and achievements through credible organizations and attach that information to the badge image file, hard-coding the metadata for future access and review.
Did you catch that?
Put another way: An open badge is a new way of thinking about and capturing a credential and a person’s learning path with concrete evidence. For example, a student learns something, he is given a badge for the learning by a teacher, who signs off on it, and the student puts it in his digital backpack along with other badges for other learning or skills or experiences. Then, if the student moves to another school, he carries the backpack along with him, digitally, and shares it with his new teacher.
The same concept is currently being applied to courses that teachers are asked to take for their professional development; that is, a teacher receives a digital badge for each course, which is then approved or vetted by an instructor or organization, and puts it in her digital backpack. When it comes time for evaluation, she shares the backpack with the badges to show the courses she’s completed and conferences she’s attended.
In addition, those who earn the badges can display them on the web through social media, however they choose. Plus, the badges can be linked to a portfolio or body of work, so that when the owner shares a badge the person looking at it can go see the substantive evidence of learning or the work behind the badge.
Open badging seems like a good, innovative idea, but educators and parents need to look
at the development carefully and ask about unintended consequences. One question might
be: Will such a system create more social stratifi cation among students, between the
haves and the have-nots?
Badging is said to be good for a student’s reputation and to help students have more self awareness and confidence as they collect badges. However, we should ask if they could have the opposite effect for some students; that is, could some feel less confident and be made painfully aware of inadequacies because of badges?
Another question: Will open badging compromise the security of students’ data in any way? Currently, the badges are tied to email addresses, or to a parent’s email for students under 13. Yes, that is 13; so for teens between the ages of 14 and 18, a parent might not have any idea what is happening on the student’s badge site.
Mozilla, which helped start the open badging movement, is working to make sure that security is a priority. Even so, as an ecosystem is created among organizations and school districts and cities and more, negotiations about student data and who gets what will have to take place. It’s up to parents and educators to protect student data, even when the data are badges that are supposed to give positive information about students.
A couple of examples from classic American literature speak directly to this concern: The Scarlet Letter and The Red Badge of Courage. The former is a negative badge, and the latter
a positive badge. Is there any way that a student could be branded for life in a negative way by badging? Also, could someone break into a digital backpack and mess with badges, perhaps making one very negative instead of positive? Or, might someone push them out wrongly and
An open badges technical panel, known as the Backpack Federation, is working on such security questions, particularly for the process of pushing badges from one backpack to another. They are also hoping to create more value to the badges. There are also sociological issues to consider.
Open badging has been called a constellation model for social change, and 16,000 organizations are issuing badges. This begs the question who decides what social change is required? Also, do parents, teachers, and administrators get to agree or disagree with the social change, or is it simply an agenda of elites in academia?
Questions to do with education instruction can’t be forgotten. Handing out badges may help
define skills for early learning. Is that a good thing? Who gets to decide which skills are
important for public education and when a student has earned a badge?
On the positive side, open badging offers an innovative way to motivate students and to capture learning that might never be counted or recognized otherwise. The working document, “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning,” written by the Mozilla Foundation and Peer 2 Peer University, in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, sums it up:
"…[W]e are living in an age of opportunity for learning, specialization and innovation like none ever seen before. But we are not fully capitalizing on the potential. The time has come to connect interest-driven learning, as well as new skills and literacies, to a broader ecosystem of accreditation and recognition to enable each learner to capitalize on the learning experiences that they are already having, or to inspire and help them to seek out new ones, as well as to communicate their achievements and skills to necessary stakeholders. To do so, we must not only recognize that people learn across many contexts in many different ways, but also find a way to capture that learning, collect it across the contexts and communicate it out. Thus, a badge ecosystem is a critical and missing piece to achieve connected learning for diverse learners across the Web, and to translate that learning into a powerful tool for getting jobs, finding communities of practice, demonstrating skills or seeking out further learning.
Parents and educators should keep an eye on the open badging movement and ask some tough questions as it develops. For more details, check out the website by going to www.openbadges.org .