Digital badges aren’t gold stars for the Web
A national conversation has been brewing on the topic of alternative digital credentials. The media and members of the education community often use the shorthand “badges” in reference to graphic representations awarded digitally for skills earned through a learning experience. But the term can be a hindrance — especially if you have some personal experience with, for instance, Brownies or Boy Scouts — if your goal is to understand the more serious potential of new credentials, beyond cute graphics.
Badges can have all kinds of uses and instantiations on the web. A year after we started issuing our first badges at MOUSE, I came home to my then 3-year-old son angry over a software glitch on the iPad that was keeping him from seeing a badge on his profile in Chuggington, a popular Disney app. In that instance, badges appeared like gold stars, a mere indicator that a task (or level of the app, in this case) had been completed. You couldn’t use that badge to look back on his performance, it didn’t carry metadata to help understand more about the context in which it was earned, and importantly, he had no agency to curate the badges in a shareable way that might help him demonstrate what he knows to others.
It’s important to get past the idea that “badging” is merely the gold star of the web. Train your mind to supplant patches with portfolio data. Wonder to yourself what it might be like to give your students new ways of demonstrating digital-age and workforce-ready skills. Dream a little about school models like IowaBIG, where students receive school credits for answering the question, “What is something that you hate?” with projects that impact their local or global communities. Consider new ways badges can help students provide evidence of their skills and knowledge future colleges and employers.
Badges offer great potential and opportunity for today’s schools. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Marc Lesser is the senior director of learning design at MOUSE, a New York City-based organization that trains under-served youth to become digital media and technology experts.