Friday, August 26, 2011

Badges: Level Up your Webmaking Skills

Badges are huge topic in the digital media and learning world and something that I have been working with in some form ever since I have entered into the realm of educational technology. To be honest, I have struggled with my feeling towards badges, that is to say, assessment for skills that you aren't always given credit for.

The Mozilla Open Badges Project describes badges on their wiki:
Badges give you public recognition for your skills, achievements and learning beyond the classroom -- unlocking job and educational opportunities.
The reason that I struggle is that I am concerned that badges allow you to formalize something that is blissfully informal. One example of my fear around this was when I was in Barcelona at the Learning, Freedom and the Web festival. My colleague Jack Martin and I participated in this local learning incubator where we told a story with twitter. It was a fantastic and fun day and we loved what we made just as much as we did making it. However, after the activity was over, a learning assessment team came over during our presentation of our story and gave us badges for our story. It somehow cheapened the experience that Jack and I had and sort of reminded me that, yeah this was about learning and grading-not the fun experience.

Ok, now that I have that off my shoulders- I find the idea of using badges to assess web design skills intriguing. Many web designers and developers learned webmaking skills in informal settings- hanging out with friends, navigating the web on their own, tinkering with blog sites. However, theses skills equate to real life work competencies that often need to be proven in some form when you are applying for work (for example). What if there WAS a way to say, bring along some form of street cred and accreditation into your interviews along with your portfolio?

So with all of this enthusiasm, and mild trepidation- I started to look at the learning objectives for Hackasaurus and, with the help of Matt Thompson and Atul Varma, started to answer the question: if Hackasaurus had a system for badges what would the badges look like?

Essentially I came up with 5 core badges and then 3 "level up" badges. The level up badges are really geared towards refinement and mastery, whereas the core badges are a compilation of hard and soft webmaking skills. These badges can be mapped to a structured and scaffolded curriculum, or be achieved in a more organic (non-linear) way. What will be an interesting mechanic for the project is the dissemination of the badges. Right now, we are thinking that a learner can acquire a badge physically in a design jam or online through some sort of self guided experience

The badges I came up with are described here. It's just a barely baked idea, and Atul, Matt and I are really just starting to tinker with how badges could support the learning experience. We won't be actually implementing this online for a little bit, however, I would love to hear your thoughts on how this maps to the learning outcomes and if you have any other ideas. The Tuesday Hackasaurus community call will focus on badges. Join us if you have the time.