Are digital badges the new ‘disruptive’ technology?

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The digital badge infrastructure

“Digital badges are essentially credentials that may be earned by meeting established performance criteria,” said Angela Elkrody, a doctoral fellow at Eastern Michigan University for Leadership and Counseling. “The vision of a digital badging ‘ecosystem,’ that is, a loosely connected framework of badges designed by various authorizers for different purposes, is moving forward to realization.”

Elkrody notes that digital badge momentum has occurred due in no small part to significant  technological and developmental support in the past year through Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) and the Digital Media and Learning Competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning, supported by the MacArthur and Microsoft Foundations.

Mozilla’s OBI provides a centralized collection and distribution point for badge authorizers and developers, permitting them to register digital qualifications. A critical design point of the OBI, says Elkrody, is the metadata—descriptive information embedded into the digital badges that provides data describing the badge issuer, date earned, criteria for earning the badge as well as assessments and links to products which demonstrate learning.

For example, one high school (the badge issuer) may decide to provide a badge to high school seniors who demonstrate competency in Advanced Placement (AP) science by completing a series of projects designed by the school and a local business, explains Expanding Education and Workforce Opportunities through Digital Badges, a new report by the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) and Mozilla.  The successful completion of each project, based on the assessments predetermined by the school and local business, represents an achievement that can be individually badged and, taken together, demonstrate that the student has acquired a specific competency related to the AP science course.

“It is critical to have an open badge standard that ensures that all badges contain the same information, including criteria and evidence, and allows individuals to earn badges across various issuers, manage them in a collection, and display them across the web,” notes the report. “To this end, the Mozilla Foundation has created the ‘Open Badges’ standard. Badges aligning with this standard go beyond just digital badges, and can operate at an ecosystem level.”

Badges for Lifelong Learning: An Open Conversation

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“Using the proposed open [software] architecture, badge authorizers will be able to design software ‘widgets,’ or plug-ins, to interface directly to the OBI, sharing performance criteria and issuing digital badges,” explains Elkrody. “Badges may then be viewed through a ‘digital backpack,’ displayed through digital transcripts or on social media pages. Access to these web-based credentials will be controlled by privacy settings and authentication processes.” (See the Mozilla Wiki Badge FAQS.)

As web-based “open” credentials, Elkrody believes digital badges, “for perhaps the first time,” may provide unique assessments. For Elkrody’s thoughts, see “The Future is Now: Unpacking Digital Badging and Micro-Credentialing for K-20 Educators.”

(Next page: examples of student and educator badge implementation)

Meris Stansbury

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