Digital badges could help measure 21st-century skills

2. The research competition: Badges, Trophies, and Achievements (awards from $5,000 to $80,000) focuses on online networks, digital resources, and gaming environments that provide rich opportunities for demand-driven, learner-centered learning. Projects must include knowledge communities, online tutorials, and other digital resources for wide-ranging learning needs. The deadline is Nov. 28.

According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Obama administration, a digital badge system could revolutionize education across the country.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said during the MacArthur Foundation’s announcement: “We’re excited that … this competition will serve as a catalyst to advance the potential of digital badges. Badges can help engage students in learning and broaden the avenues for learners of all ages to acquire and demonstrate—as well as document and display—their skills.”

Duncan explained that digital badges could help speed the shift from seat-time credentials and help support “anytime, anywhere” learning, or experiences gained in online or physical environments, schools, adult education centers, and community settings.

Duncan also pointed out that “badges empower students and teachers to play an even stronger role in their own learning and development—to seek out the right tools among many resources available, and in their fields of interest—and build a record of what they have mastered.”

Teachers, said Duncan, could use badges to help advance their careers and mark capacity-building milestones. The badges can “support American’s new and veteran teachers, and help them achieve the professional growth we know they seek,” he said.

Duncan also praised TopCoder, a company that serves as an online virtual community of more than 300,000 software developers and “digital creatives” around the world.

TopCoder, an adviser for the competition, currently has a badge system for its community members that validates digital skills and competencies, and it serves as an example of how ratings and stats in a competitive environment can work at the highest level.

Computer programmers can demonstrate skills in different company-based competitions through TopCoder’s community platform, qualifying them for “good jobs with high-paying salaries at fast-growing companies like Google and Facebook,” said Duncan.

“Everything we do in terms of work and activities is based on competition and metrics,” said Jim McKeown, director of communications for TopCoder, in an interview with eSchool News. “When a competitor participates in an activity, be it for fun or money, a range of metrics is captured at different stages of the competition—and is publicly available for all to see in what is essentially a digital baseball stats card.” (Click here for an example.)

McKeown explained that the most “telling” information on the member’s card is the member’s rating, which shows his or her overall standing in the community across various competitions as an individual. “This is the essence of the TopCoder badging system,” he said.

Meris Stansbury

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