Badges? We might need some stinkin’ Badges

It’s odd to think that the session that struck me most deeply at ISTE12 is the one I haven’t blogged about yet. I suppose that’s the thing about new learning. Everything else I saw at ISTE can probably be categorized into my zone of proximal development. I saw some new things, but nothing I hadn’t run into in some form or another, and a number of things I thought I could probably present on with as much expertise as the session host. Then late on the second last day of the conference, at a time slot where most had decided to move toward a dinner venue, rather than a final session, I attended a Birds of a Feather session held by Dr. Kyle Peck entitled Badges: The Killer App for Technology in Education.

For those of unfamiliar with the Birds of a Feather format, the hope is to facilitate conversation, rather than provision a lecture, so the initial activity was an invitation to introduce yourself, provide context for your experience with badges, and explain your current role. Finding myself somehow closest to the front (out of virtue of setting up camp close to one of the few wall outlets to charge up), I had the opportunity to be among the first to introduce myself. This is when the hubris of thinking I knew what this session was about was a downfall. I spoke about our HWDSB Commons Social Learning Network, and my hopes to integrate the Achievements app into our install to provision badges to students for participating in the community. I thought what we were about to talk about was the gamification of education. I thought perhaps someone would mention Class Dojo or some other form of reward system. I spoke with authority about wanting to discuss the idea of provisioning rewards for participation. I had no idea the breadth and depth of the topic. I was out of my zone. Luckily others followed suit with similar misapprehensions, but I still feel silly looking back on my answer.

Dr. Peck started by quantifying this “Killer app for Technology in Education” statement. The killer app is really individualized learning, and badging is an important part of that. He spoke about the badging movement, and a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, won by Mozilla, that resulted in the Open Badges Project. He spoke about badges being digital, clickable representations of lifelong learning. How they link out to the organization that provided the learning, administered the badge, and provide background and information about the type and depth of skill sets achieved.

The idea is that the students are earning badges in continuous ways instead of being assessed only three times a year. This makes customized learning traceable, and acknowledges that provisioning of knowledge — in an internet age — is decentralized to the degree that traditional schooling, from K to Post-Secondary, has a changing role as only one of many pathways to the diversity of learning available. It acknowledges the availability of services like Codecademy, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) cropping up on the internet, and the open courses now being offered by institutions like Stanford and MIT. Badges provide a way to recognize the acquisition of knowledge through these venues, and provide accreditation for lifelong learning that happens beyond the doors of our schools, beyond the post secondary realm. People know a lot about a number of things that aren’t traceable or recordable on a resume. Our diverse set of skills are not properly recognized. Micro-certification of these diverse skill sets help to create a better picture of our worth to an employer, and give value to all types of learning, not just the kind that happens within a publicly funded desk, or paid for by tuition.

The MacArthur Foundation has funded Mozilla to build an open badging protocol for lifelong learning. It’s here, and there are entities forming that will help provision badges. As an emerging technology there will be struggles. Just as we have learned to respect certain institutions more than others, we will learn that not all badge providers are created equal, and some badges may be earned through mail order forms available on the back of comic books. This has always been a threat. The Internet did not invent lying on a resume, and we will need to recognize this new facet of accreditation.

Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure.

What will it look like:

Instead of telling, we will facilitate the path to understanding and provide the certification.

Think in terms of Professional Development, and where PD comes from, and how we can show accreditation of that.

Badges allow for students to chart their own path through schools, and to be acknowledged for the passion-based learning they do on their own.

Badges allow for teachers to assess beyond the set path traditionally laid out in schools.

What problems will there be:

We must be mindful of the difference between reward and recognition. Reward is dangerous. If it’s easy, it is reward; if it’s difficult, it’s recognition. It needs to be hard. It needs to be worthwhile. The badge needs worth. We cannot reward a badge for successfully keeping a seat warm for a set amount of time.

I’m thinking very carefully about how this all fits with our current infrastructure, our current pedagogy. Badge as Learning Goal. Success Criteria as the measure of whether the badge has been earned, and for onlookers, a list of what was necessary to earn the badge. I’m sure I’ll be writing more on the subject as I work to introduce the concept in our schools. Most of the conversation so far as been focused on the post-secondary realm, but I think the idea is just as relevant in our K-12 framework.

Dr. Peck has written a few posts over at the Evolllution blog.

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There is an #OpenBadges hashtag on twitter.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about Open Badges, I’m sure it will not be the last.