Forget the Harvard Sheepskin, Give Me My Online Badge

Really interesting piece in the College 2.0 column at The Chronicle of Higher Education on the rise of online badges as rewards for completing various education learning objectives. From the article, ‘Badges’ Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas:

The spread of a seemingly playful alternative to traditional diplomas, inspired by Boy Scout achievement patches and video-game power-ups, suggests that the standard certification system no longer works in today’s fast-changing job market.

Educational upstarts across the Web are adopting systems of “badges” to certify skills and abilities. If scouting focuses on outdoorsy skills like tying knots, these badges denote areas employers might look for, like mentorship or digital video editing. Many of the new digital badges are easy to attain—intentionally so—to keep students motivated, while others signal mastery of fine-grained skills that are not formally recognized in a traditional classroom.

At the free online-education provider Khan Academy, for instance, students get a “Great Listener” badge for watching 30 minutes of videos from its collection of thousands of short educational clips. With enough of those badges, paired with badges earned for passing standardized tests administered on the site, users can earn the distinction of “Master of Algebra” or other “Challenge Patches.”

Traditional colleges and universities are considering badges and other alternative credentials as well. In December the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that it will create MITx, a self-service learning system in which students can take online tests and earn certificates after watching the free lecture materials the university has long posted as part of its OpenCourseWare project.

MIT also has an arrangement with a company called OpenStudy, which runs online study groups, to give online badges to students who give consistently useful answers in discussion forums set up around the university’s free course materials.

The article goes into difficulties such as forgery (people lie on their resumes all the time so I don’t know what the concern is) and also the question of knowing what a degree or a badge really represent.

Interestingly, the article goes into ‘gamification’ a bit exploring how and why people earn badges for performing tasks online. One example provided is an Australian college student that helps people globally with their biology homework on MIT’s open courseware — kind of a voluntary online TA — the student has earned a Hero Badge from OpenStudy for her helping efforts.) From the article:

That’s just what OpenStudy’s designers hoped for. One of them, Preetha Ram, argues that “massively multiplayer” online games like World of Warcraft do a better job exciting players about learning complicated controls and fictional missions than professors do motivating students in the classroom. “We’ve been called a massively multiplayer study group,” she says with apparent pride at the comparison. Ms. Ram is no gamer herself, though—she has spent her career in academe, and she is on leave from her job as associate dean for pre-health and science education at Emory University.

The entire piece is worth reading as it highlights a number of traditional institutions, such as USC and the National Science Foundation, that are exploring the learning badge space. Good read.

via ‘Badges’ Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas – College 2.0 – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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