Badging Systems For Learning at Global Kids

For over three years, Global Kids has been implementing a wide range of programs using badging systems to support youth learning, in school, out of school, in museums and libraries and more.

Badging systems, which also may include digital transcripts and portfolios, can motivate learning, provide scaffolding to support personalized, interest-driven paths through an organization (or across organizations), encourage meta-cognitive skills around one's learning process (to value what is being learned, have language to describe it, and understand in which contexts it is also valued), and offer an assessment that can be customized, peer-advised, and transferable to a variety of domains.

Do we need badges, specifically badges for learning? In recent years, the answer has been increasingly, if not exactly “yes” then something more like “we better find out before it’s too late.” The new interest around badges appears to have begun in response to a talk by Eva L. Baker, "The End(s) of Testing," her 2007 Presidential Address for the American Educational Research Association. Critiquing assessment within schools, she never actually used the term “badges” but rather, “qualifications.” The response by some academics and foundations soon converged with, as described to me by James Paul Gee, “people influenced by gaming that saw the motivating power of the ‘achievements’ built into games.” A lot of this work is nascent, but the most concrete was recently made public by the Open Badges Project. This project, being developed by P2PU and the Mozilla Foundation, is a technical approach, their goal being to build “an open platform that will enable anyone to issue, collect and display badges.” The goal? Their goals are understandably bold -- “Open Badges will help learners everywhere unlock career and educational opportunities, and recognize skills that traditional resumes and transcripts often leave out” -- but the new project’s website offers an impressive array of use cases from which we can all track and learn. It also offers great downloads, like the beautifully designed one-pagers that explain what makes badges so interesting.

This week we were delighted to attend the Digital Media and Learning Competition Announcement Event at the Hirshhorn Museum in D.C. It was a remarkable event, with folks like Arne Duncan, head of the U.S. Department of Education, and Charles F. Bolden of NASA both addressing the crowd, making the case for learning badges as the next game-changer. The event also announced an award for a badging system for returning veterans and, more substantially, the Fourth Digital Media and Learning Competition, offering a design competition on Badges for Lifelong Learning and a research competition on Badges, Trophies, and Achievements. Marc Surman, head of the Mozilla Foundation, highlighted our ecoliteracy badges for the American Museum of Natural History as one example of learning badges and, later, Robert Change of Remix Learning demonstrated, amongst others, three of our learning badges within his demo for Remix Learning (see photo).

Global Kids is watching this work very closely, and collaborating with these projects where we can. Our work implementing badging systems has occurred in a wide variety of settings:

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  • Badges in an after school program (Media Masters at the High School for Global Citizenship) (video)
  • Badges in a library (New York Public Library)
  • Badges in a K-5 School
  • Badges in a museum (American Museum of National History)
  • Badges within Global Kids (article)
  • Badges within Global Kids in a short video from the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Conference.
  • Badges overseas in Senegal based on Global Kids' work.
  • Badges for a serious game design certification program (link coming soon)

What's next for badging systems and Global Kids? We are currently working with a middle school in Atlanta to roll-out an innovative badging system across their 6th grades, and developing plans to bring badging systems back home: for all Global Kids Youth Leaders.