Digital achievement badges for people of all ages

By Anne Collier

Unlike the Girl Scout/Boy Scout ones many of us grew up earning, these merit badges – though just as visually appealing – are digital, for people of all ages, and will go into Facebook pages, blogs, and resume Web sites. They’ll spotlight skills and achievements not necessarily acquired in traditional environments like school, adding graphical credentials to people’s digital resumes and portfolios. “Prospective employers could click on an e-badge awarded for prowess in Javascript, for example, and see detailed supporting information, including who issued the badge, the criteria and even samples of the work that led to the award,” the New York Times reports. But think of how great this new kind of credential helps kids and teens developing professional and artistic cred outside of school. I think of 17-year-old professional cinematographer Mark Klassen in Ontario, mentioned in a TED Talk by educator Will Richardson, app developer and high school student Blake Copeland in Texas and 12-year-old app developer Thomas Suarez, whose TED Talk my ConnectSafely co-direct Larry Magid linked to at

These “Badges for Lifelong Learning” are a multi-million-dollar project of the MacArthur Foundation, which funded the three-year-long, multi-researcher Digital Youth Project that resulted in the MIT Press book Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. “To create prototypes of these alternative credentials, MacArthur has started … a competition that will culminate in March 2012, when the foundation will award a total of $2 million to several dozen winners,” the Times reports. Collaborators include the US Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs, NASA, Intel, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “MacArthur has also given $1 million to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation to develop a common standard or protocol for the badges.” Because these credentials need to work everywhere online, regardless of browser, device, or site used. This is a budding trend worth watching, I think. It’s also model grantmaking – helping to build out the infrastructure for civic engagement in today’s participatory media environment.

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