Credentialing with Digital Badges

A new movement in credentialing has been growing over the past few years: the digital badges movement. Digital badges are a way to display skills learned both in and out of the classroom. They were described in as “electronic images” earned for a demonstrating skills in “multiple learning spaces, including after-school programs, summer workshops, K-12 classrooms, and universities. And once earned, the badges could follow students throughout their lifetimes, being displayed on websites or blogs and included in college applications and résumés.” They are also often used to show independent learning and skills in service and volunteering, online learning and computer skills, and job skills or work experience.

This video describes badging well.

The Mozilla Foundation has created a powerful new way to coordinate and standardize badges: “Open Badges.” It is a common system for issuing, collecting, and displaying badges earned on multiple instructional websites. Badge issuers can align tasks for badges they wish to offer with community-defined standards.  From either the Open Badges site or local agency sites, learners are referred to provider content: for example, a form to fill out or learning modules connected to assessment. Once completing a task, a learner is awarded a badge, which is then stored in the Badge Backpack, a webpage that serves as a transportable portfolio to be shared with employers or other stakeholders who need to know a learner’s skills and experience.

We’ve decided to badge our Northstar Digital Literacy Assessments, online interactive assessments that low-literacy youth and adults can take to prove their skills and find out where they need more study and practice. “Open Badges” is an ideal means by which the NSDL assessment test takers can keep a record of assessments they have passed. Through the badges system, they also have a connection to additional learning opportunities. For example, the Mozilla Web Literacy Standards offers opportunities to learn and demonstrate skills reflecting skills just above what is tested in the NSDL assessments. In this way, Open Badges provides a pathway for skill attainment, documenting learning that happens outside of the classroom, making it perfect for many of the nontraditional adult learners that are attracted to NSDL.

The badges approach to credentialing reflects the flexibility of learning opportunities afforded by the Internet. It is recognition that much learning happens outside of formal education. It is a new perspective on documenting learning and is supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, HASTAC, the American Education Research Association, and the US Department of Education.


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