Digital badges could help measure 21st-century skills

TopCoder, an adviser for the MacArthur Foundation’s competition, currently has a badge system for its community members that validates skills and competencies.

How can schools accurately measure and categorize a student’s 21st-century skills? The MacArthur Foundation hopes to solve this problem with a new competition that calls on participants to create what is known as a “digital badge.”

Digital badges and the digital badge system would, advocates say, help define the skills and knowledge students pick up in an informal way, such as through internships, online courses, open courseware, competitions, and much more.

Mozilla, which is partnering with the MacArthur Foundation to announce the $2 million Digital Media and Learning Competition, said the badge system “will let you gather badges from any site on the internet, combining them into a story about what you know and what you’ve achieved. … This sort of badge collection may eventually become a central part of [one’s] online reputation, helping you get a job, find collaborators, and build prestige.”

The competition calls for leading organizations, learning and assessment specialists, designers, and technologists to create and test digital achievement badges and badge systems. It will “explore ways digital badges can be used to help people learn and demonstrate their knowledge … [and] open new pipelines to talent,” the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement.

The competition is supported by a MacArthur grant to the University of California, Irvine and administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC). It will be split into two competitions:

1. The badges competition: Badges for Lifelong Learning (awards ranging from $10,000 to $20,000) is designed to encourage individuals and organizations to create digital tools that support, identify, recognize, measure, and account for new skills, competencies, knowledge, and achievements for 21st-century learners wherever and whenever learning takes place. The deadline is Oct. 14.

Meris Stansbury

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