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can be linked to actual evidence of experience, a badge
has the potential to bestow a credential that can truly
validate a skill set or a level of knowledge mastery."
In other words, says David Theo Goldberg, director
of the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Research
Hub at the University of California, Irvine, and co-
founder of HASTAC, unlike a grade or even a diploma,
a digital badge has the ability to identify what a student
has learned along the way. "If you say, 'I passed Phys-
ics 101,'" Goldberg says, "the question remains: How
much do you really know about physics? What did
you actually do, learn, or master in that class? [Digital]
badging can answer that question in a way that a grade
or, ultimately, a certi cate or diploma cannot."
Grant adds, "You don't often see actual proof of learn-
ing attached to a résumé, but you do with a badge. You
can click through and actually see the curriculum. You
could see the rubric, the multiple-choice test, a detailed
portfolio. You can show a learning pathway. And there
are a lot of different types of assessment you could
tuck into a badge. It doesn't have to be tied to anything
that we are already familiar with. This technology is giv-
ing people an opportunity to ask, 'How are we sure that
we are truly assessing learning?'"
Of course, no one expects badges to replace diplo-
mas or résumés any time soon. But this still-evolving
technology has the potential to drive the development
of new ways of assessing K-12 students. Grant says.
"We seem to be assessing knowledge, but are we really
guring out how people are learning? And that they're
doing a good job of learning?"
Badges are currently being used in K-12 schools pri-
marily in two ways: as motivational tools (like gold stars),
and as evidence of pro ciency (like merit badges). Hala-
vais is worried about the former application, but thrilled
about the latter. "I'm very skeptical of the use of badging
for motivation," he says. "That could produce a nega-
tive outcome. If acquiring the badges becomes the goal,
then they become this extrinsic motivator that nobody
really wants. The people who are designing these badg-
es have to think very seriously about whether they are
recognizing authentic learning, or just giving people a
gold star, which we know doesn't work in education."
According to Goldberg, "We've seen much more evi-
dence of innovative experimentation and development
in the extended K-12 space, starting largely outside for-
mal institutions, edging their way in good part through
the [MacArthur] competition initiative into the formal
schooling space." And therein lies what is likely to be
the most signi cant impact of badging technology on
K-12 in the long run: its ability to allow certi cation to
come from somewhere other than a school.
Connecting Two Worlds
Among the winners of the MacArthur competition is a
good example of what Goldberg is talking about. Cre-
ated by LearningTimes, the BadgeStack project is a
set of plug-ins for the popular open-source WordPress
content management system. The plug-ins allow any
organization to design and manage its own badges.
Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of digital credential provider
Credly and director of the BadgeStack project, says,
"The question we all seem to be trying to answer right
now is, 'How can we make it possible for learners in the
K-12 age range to tap into learning experiences that
happen outside traditional classrooms and use badges
to connect those two worlds?'"
Current users of the BadgeStack platform include
the Smithsonian Institution, which began employing it
last year to develop badges for its new Smithsonian
Quests program, an offshoot of its SHOUT environmen-
tal education program. Lynn-Steven Engelke, director
of programs for the newly renamed Smithsonian Center
for Learning and Digital Access (formerly the Center for
Education and Museum Studies), says the Institution
uses badges to enable people to "drive their own learn-
ing experience with our resources."
"Badging works perfectly for this," she says. "Stu-
dents work at their own pace, and they choose what
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