Why are Badges for School-Age Learners Different?

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I just finished watching the video of the fantastic second live session for the MOOC Learning Beyond Letter Grades.  The panelists Sheryl GrantJonathan Finkelstein and Sunny Lee present an excellent introduction to Open Badges and the reasons that we at Forall Systems are so enthusiastic about the Open Badge movement.  The panel got me thinking about some of the ways that badges are different for school-age learners.

For most learners, the main focus of Open Badges is to “Get recognition for skills you learn anywhere.”  Inherent in the idea of getting recognition is the assumption that badges can open up opportunities and the viewer/evaluator of a badge will be a potential employer, a university or colleagues.  In developing ForAllBadges, we have been interested in thinking about badges for kids as a tool for supporting learning.  In a perfect world, learning opportunities are not a limited resource and children don’t have to compete for access.

During the live session, I jotted down some of the ways that thinking about badges as a tool for learning changes how badges are designed, issued and displayed.

  • The most important evaluator of badges for learning is the learner themselves.  Badges can provide the framework for learners to reflect on their learning experiences and plan for future learning activities. Teachers and parents can use the badges to help support learning, but ideally the learner takes ownership of their own learning process.
  • Authentic assessment and the evidence associated with the badge is often more important than the badge itself.  A video of a science fair presentation or an essay often has more value than the badge or evaluation rubric associated with it.
  • Badges for learning are inherently lifelong.  For a seven year old, their third place finish in the 2nd grade science fair at their elementary school is an accomplishment to be proud of.  Ten years later, when they’re applying to university, the badge itself isn’t worth much.  However the evidence associated with the badge provides an opportunity for the young adult, in writing their application essay, to reflect on their lifelong interest in ecology and include a quote or video from their 7 year old self.  In many ways, these authentic assessments become more valuable as life goes on.
  • Badges can provide the structure for effectively reflecting on progress.  Fundamental skills are often a lifelong pursuit.  For example, writing well is something that all of us can always improve on.  By presenting a timeline view of badges that are aligned with the Common Core Anchor Standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1, learners can reflect on their progress over time in learning to write strong arguments.  The badge and the standards alignment provide the structure to display the authentic writing samples in a meaningful way.
  • Badges can provide the structure for discovering learning opportunities.  A badge displayer such as Badgopolis can provide a view of learning opportunities that relate to the learners previous interests and also present information about how to access those opportunities.

Of course this approach of designing badges for learning is not only applicable to school-aged learners and is a perspective that can also be valuable in other circumstances. If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading my thoughts!  Please share your you ideas too.  This is a  fascinating topic and is only just starting to be explored.

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21st Century Badge Pathways

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The  website for the 21st Century Badge Pathways project is up!  The project will be officially announced in November at the Association of California School Administrators Leadership Summit.  At that time, 21st Century Badge Pathways will also be available as an open source project.  We’re looking forward to sharing the outstanding work Corona-Norco USD has done in designing Passport to Success: College and Career Readiness.