Collectable badges that students gather online promises new opportunity for education. Mozilla, creator of Firefox, is a leader in this new field. Their open source materials, available online at http://openbadges.org/ is one example of the contemporary trend.
Educators from primary school to the most renown academies are adopting badges to compliment their current curricula. This system of badges rewards creativity and self taught exploration. The system also requires some creativity on the part of the proctors.
A better future requires better education. Everyone agrees. However throwing money at the problem and creating quotas hasn’t solved the education problem. New strategies might be the answer and “open badges” is the strategy of the day.
The new part is the process, not the idea. The idea is giving students verifiable badges in a virtual environment for their educational successes. For anyone under the age of 30, the simplest way to explain what is going on is to say, “It’s just like achievements or trophies for video games.” For anyone over 50, the best way to explain what is going on is to say, “It’s just like merit badges in the scouts, only it’s on the computer.” It’s important for everyone to know that badges aren’t replacing letter grades or college diplomas, at least not yet.
One special distinction open badges have is their “metadata.” Options, like Mozilla’s Open Badge system, would encode ".png" format badges with information about where, when, and how the badge was earned. This concept would neutralize the practice of padding your resume. In theory, potential employers could instantly verify your accomplishments. This could mean anything: graduating “magna cum laude,” demonstrating technical skills, or even having read a certain book.
These new badges also have something in common with the old scout merit badges, though, “granularity.” Granularity means individual, specific goals are targeted. This adds weight to accomplishing individual tasks. The hierarchy of badges achievements remains flexible to the program and needs of the badge author.
The easy knock on badges is that is seems silly. Perhaps the video game model which seems so apt a comparison is also inconvenient at times. Similar debate has already been going on over the so called, “flipped classroom.” New technology like electronic boards and projectors were initially met with resistance, too. The game of badges need referees and rule makers which ultimately falls to teachers.
The requirements for obtaining a badge, as well as the number of badges offered, as well as hardware used to manage the badges are all questions to be answered. There is another minor element that may make a huge impact on a badge system’s success. This is the design of the badges themselves. Students are at the mercy of their teacher’s requests, but the visual appeal of badges is definitely important. The more appealing the badges and the badge scenario feels to the user, the better.
DML Central in conjunction with the MacArthur Foundation have a wealth of resources available for those interested in learning more about the future of badges in education.