Open Badges Get Boost from Former President Clinton

A new credentialing method for showcasing talents and learning expands.

Open Badges is getting a big boost from former president Bill Clinton. Speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America in Chicago on June 13, Clinton announced the initiative’s intent to, by 2016, help 2 million students and workers use Open Badges to document their learning and advance their careers. We were excited to be in attendance to hear the next stage plans.

Spearheaded by the Mozilla and MacArthur Foundations, and with support from the Department of Education, NASA, and the Department of Commerce, Open Badges are a method of documenting learning in many forms—in school, in the community, on the job, or online. CGI America focuses on solutions for economic recovery, and Clinton sees potential in badges to improve the futures of U.S. workers.

As digital worlds expand the opportunities for people young and old to continue learning beyond the classroom, we need to find new ways of documenting that mastery.

Open Badges is one way to spotlight skills that may not necessarily show up on resumes or in transcripts, whether documenting the skills picked up experimenting with computer programming or skills that veterans sharpen while deployed.

The badges are not simply “feel good” blue ribbons. They are awarded only after an individual successfully completes a predetermined set of steps and is deemed proficient in that skill. Employers, for example, can click on a Javascript badge and see detailed supporting information on the criteria of the badge, who awarded it, and the progression of learning.

To make the badges portable, the Mozilla Foundation developed a common standard or protocol for the badges, which allows badges to work on various web platforms, regardless of who is awarding them. “People will be able to take courses at a dozen places, and then put the badges from these different places on their website,” Mozilla Foundation’s executive director Mark Surman told the New York Times.

More than 40 universities, massively open online courses (MOOCs), high-tech employers, and K-12 programs already use badges to certify skills. The Information Technology Industry Council, which is the leading policy and advocacy organization, and DePaul University, the largest Catholic university in the nation, have each pledged to incorporate badges in their credentialing, hiring, and admissions processes.

Locally, several projects are already using badges to support learning. The Robotics Academy at Carnegie Mellon has implemented badges for computer science learning through the Computer Science Network project. Workshops hosted by Teen Tech Zone at the Carnegie Library of Homestead also award badges for the skills learned, including the always popular music mixing. Organizations that are a part of Hive Pittsburgh will also be using Open Badges for their programming as the sites develop.

Dustin Stiver, a program officer at The Sprout Fund, participated in a working group at the CGI conference along with Executive Director Cathy Lewis Long.

“We are particularly excited about the prospects of applying badges in ways that support teens as they navigate Pittsburgh’s cultural locations, early childhood education providers as they work to increase their digital media skills, and aspiring workers as they strive to make their transition into the workforce,” Stiver said.

Rita Catalano, executive director of the Fred Rogers Center, and a member of the Kids+Creativity Network, also attended the conference. She said the Fred Rogers Center is particularly interested in badges as an opportunity to delineate pathways to learning and digital media literacy for early childhood professionals, and other adult learners.

Catalano said learning in informal environments like libraries and museums are important because “they are settings in which adults (parents and other family members, educators) can engage in and extend learning in playful and perhaps less structured ways, especially for young children. Acknowledging what children learn in these environments recognizes the importance of developing the whole child while also reinforcing strengths and talents of each individual child.”

Published June 27, 2013