Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Badges: Show What You Know

Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Badges: Show What You Know

Article excerpt

Badges for learning are digital credentials that recognize a person's skills and achievements. (1) We often associate credentials with degrees or diplomas, but credential means a "fact, qualification, achievement, quality, or feature used as a recommendation or form of identification." (2) In other words, credentials provide a way to vouch that we are who we say we are, and have the qualities we claim to have. Traditional credentials like degrees are critical to meaningful employment, and yet when we find ourselves wing with 200 other candidates for a single job, we begin the age-old practice of fluffing up our resumes. We may add a list of skills like HTML, CSS, Microsoft Excel, or Dreamweaver. We add work experiences that hopefully convey our leadership qualities, our project management skills, and our ability to connect with youth. After we land the job, credentials start to go stale, so we update our resumes with lines of text about new things we can do. Digital badges do the same thing as credentials, but they do a little more. To unpack what badges for learning can do and why they matter, consider where they come from.

In 2011, Secretary Arne Duncan of the U.S. Department of Education introduced digital badges to a national audience for the first time. During a live-streamed event in Washington, D.C., Duncan told a crowd, "Badges can help speed the shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure competency." (3) Together with the MacArthur Foundation, government agencies, corporations, and nonprofit organizations, Secretary Duncan launched the "Badges for Lifelong Learning" initiative and started a national conversation about learning, assessment, and opportunity, the core of what digital badges represent. "Today's technology-enabled, information-rich, deeply interconnected world means learning not only can--but should--happen anywhere, anytime. We need to recognize these experiences, whether the environments are physical or online, and whether learning takes place in schools, colleges, or adult education centers, or in afterschool, workplace, military, or community settings. In short, we must begin to see schools, colleges, and classrooms as central points--though still very important ones--in larger networks of learning." (4)

Learning does happen anywhere, anytime, but recognition of that learning does not. The learning we do in museums, libraries, and on the Web can and does enrich us, but the knowledge and skills we gain are rarely recognized. Badges for learning are designed to change that.

Why Badges?

In the "technology-enabled, information-rich, deeply interconnected world" that Duncan describes, badges are found in peer networks and game environments that pervade our highly social Web. Predating the Internet, badges were used to signal rank and membership within a group, whether literally affixed to a uniform or figuratively evoked to symbolize the status, achievement, reputation, or membership within a social class. (5) Badges provided social proof for desired attributes, and functioned as both incentive and reward while rapidly conveying important information about identity. In today's networked digital environment, badges function the same way, whether in video games or social media marketing campaigns. Today, they do all that and more, as tokens that represent goal setting, instruction, and reputation. (6) As the Internet evolves into a seemingly limitless site of learning, new forms of assessment have emerged, driven largely by the tools and social practices we use to rate, rank, recognize, and reward the contributions and participation of others online.

Assessment, a form of evaluation we often equate with school, is actually an "integral part of all human learning" that arises whenever social groups seek ways to mentor and police participants. (7) We tend to think of assessment as something that happens in classrooms and on tests because school is traditionally where learning gets counted. …

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