September 21, 2020

Alternative Certificates: Digital Badges

I recently read two articles that jogged my memory back to writing by the past president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker.  He described how schools could function more like merit badges in scouting. Defining what a learning outcome or performance should be would then allowing students to work toward completion in ways and pace that worked for them. A scout who takes twice as long as another to complete the requirements for a badge receives the same badge and wears it with the same status as the one who earned it more quickly. As a teacher who always struggled with grading because “time was up”, his idea made lots of sense to me.
In the October 10, 2011 Education Week, Allen Collins and Roy Pea wrote a commentary, The Advantages of Alternative Certifications for Students.

Adults and students are acquiring knowledge and skills outside the traditional school or classroom but if they fail to enroll in a school or college program they receive little credit for their accomplishments.

Students could prepare for certification exams by taking online courses, listening to lectures or demonstrations online, reading books, getting tutored face to face or via the internet, or playing engaging games designed to support disciplinary learning and reasoning.
An exam system would publish “what’s needed to pass,” and learners could decide how to prepare.
What kind of options and motivations for learning could alternative certificates create? What if students could complete assessments when they were ready? Can we give students the chance to “test out of “units or whole courses because of independent learning?
Lynn O’ Shaughnessy wrote a blog titled Digital Badges Could Significantly Impact Higher Education.

Badges are earned through skills and knowledge gained in a variety of ways including informally, through one’s workplace, open courseware and other online classes, and even traditional colleges. The badge system would let you gather badges from any site on the Internet, combining them into a story about what you know and what you’ve achieved….This sort of badge collection may eventually become a central part of an online reputation, helping you get a job, find collaborators and build prestige.

So-called digital badges could end up breaking the stranglehold that traditional colleges and universities have enjoyed in awarding credentials. Digital badges could give Americans who earn them the kind of impressive credential that a college degree has conveyed without having to go through the time and considerable expense of earning one or more diplomas.



John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, HASTAC and Mozilla  announced a $2 million Digital Media and Learning Competitionfor leading organizations, learning and assessment specialists, designers and technologists to create and test badges and badge systems. The competition will explore ways digital badges can be used to help people learn; demonstrate their skills and knowledge; unlock jobs, educational and civic opportunities; and open new pipelines to talent.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the digital badges a “game-changing strategy”: “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.



Technology can empower learners, We need to design the assessments and documentation strategies to support that empowerment.

Hopefully, a first step might be finding ways for teachers to demonstrate their ongoing learning rather than collecting “hours” for recertification.

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