The idea of using digital badging is not new. For the last several years I have seen blog posts on the topic, and at online learning conferences seen speakers talk to the possibilities of using badging in education. It is a conversation that I have not given a lot of attention. It seemed to be one driven by digitally passionate teachers in select schools, and did not seem to be growing. It also seemed one more focused at post-secondary than in K-12. And from a cursory look, I thought we might really be talking about digital ribbons and trophies – and I didn’t think we needed those.
As a background, Erin Fields describes these next generation of Girl Guides or Boy Scout badges in the world of education as:
Badges are a digital representation of a skill, behaviour, knowledge, ability or participation in an experience. What makes this digital symbol unique is the attached metadata. The metadata of a badge is “baked-in”. The “baking-in” process allows issuers to provide information about why the badge was earned that is then attached to the badge image. This information, or metadata, attached to the badge will include the criteria for earning the badge, the issuing organization, and evidence of earning.
I found it interesting that Digital Badging made the front cover of last month’s School Administrator Magazine – a magazine targeted at Superintendents and other district leaders across North America. The cover story was written by Sheryl Grant, the director of alternative credentials and badge research at HASTAC at Duke University. She argued:
Kids today build their reputations in a much different world. They move seamlessly between offline and online networks, some with dozens of virtual peers who share similar interests, often spending hours together as they learn and share new skills. They create websites, produce movies and play video games where they earn badges and have followers and friends they may never meet face-to-face.
In the same issue of School Administrator, Amanda Rose Fuller from Aurora Public Schools in Colorado wrote about badges as micro-credentialing and as a way to expand access to post-secondary workforce readiness credentials to all students. She said:
The digital badging program has supported many students throughout their academic journey by providing credentials to open doors. As students develop 21-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, invention, information literacy and self-direction inside and outside the classroom, they have the capacity to earn evidence-based credentials.
It is with some of this recent reading that timing was interesting, as this past Friday I was asked to be a speaker and “Instigator” at the BC Open Badges Forum – which featured a cross section of people ranging from curious to passionate in the use of badges throughout education and outside of education in “the real world.” The notes from the day (HERE) and the conversation at #BadgeBC on Twitter are both useful to see the thinking of the group.
As I often have written, it is an exciting time in K-12 education in BC, and one of change. We have revised curriculum from K-12 which focuses on big ideas and is less about minutia that dominated curriculum in the past, there is a commitment to core competencies throughout the system, including having students self-reflect, there are districts looking at new ways of communicating student learning to students and parents, and notions like capstone projects or passion projects are becoming more the norm in both elementary and secondary schools. There is also a genuine commitment from those inside the K-12 system to find better ways of recognizing the amazing learning that students do outside of school, but is part of the package of their learning.
It is in this context that I wonder about the place of open badging and the opportunities going forward. I don’t think a collection of badges is going to replace a traditional report card or transcript, but I do think there are possibilities that if our learning partners like the library, community centres, museums, sports clubs and others looked at badging as a way to share what students have done, we could find a way to recognize it inside our system. I know our very forward thinking public library, the West Vancouver Memorial Library, is already beginning to think about this. We want students to have portfolios that are rich in information from their school experience but also their larger learning experience, and maybe badges have a role to play.
We have long found ways to give “credit” for students who reach a certain level of Piano, or make a Provincial Soccer Team, or earn a trades credential – but there are so many other areas that are part of learning but marginalized as part of a student’s learning record.
Two months ago, if asked I would have said digital badging in K-12 felt like a bit of a fad, and maybe something for a very small small group of teachers and students. My thinking is shifting. If those working with youth can begin to create micro-credentialing in the digital world, and do so in an open-source way that allowed others to do the same, I think we could begin to find meaningful ways of including it in our work.
I am curious to hear the experiences of others in the badging world.