I came to badges through a few paths. One was a concern about the future of higher learning in the US. Like many other people, I was worried about growing bubble of student debt, billions owed and ever more untenable for our shared future. I wondered for a while whether we needed a national student union that could bargain for better loan terms. Another concern of mine, however, led me to badges, a more twenty-first century solution to these twentieth-century problems.
As I explored the state of university-based education, I stumbled on a bug in the system. Today, fewer faculty are tenured, more working part-time, some even teaching the same courses at multiple colleges or even online. I imagined two students who took the same class with the same instructor, but through two different institutions. These two institutions might even be accredited by the same governing body. While the two students might have learned the same things, the evidence of their shared experience was opaque, locked to a syllabus and transcript from each institution, closed and untransferable without permission, a fee, and a notarized stamp. The students invested their time and money, proved their advancement with tests and portfolios, but still did not own the evidence of their endeavor.
Our complex world enables and requires a lifetime of learning. The phrase “portability of evidence” might be an unsexy mouthful, but the concept is simple and essential. Badges represent this portability and Mozilla’s Open Badges makes it possible.
My first concern about the unmanageable cost of higher education can be addressed by Open Badges. Open Badges enables a new approach for the validation of learning. It can work both within traditional education and across a range of alternative spaces. This approach cultivates new forms of assessment, teaching, learning, and most importantly, the use of our learning to create new opportunities.