This past Friday, Catapult Chicago played host to this month’s Educelerate Meetup, where audience members got the chance to hear from thought leaders in education and technology on the subject of digital open badges.

The four person panel, moderated by Educelerate founder Chris Nyren and organized using MeetUp, was composed of:

  • An-Me Chung, Associate Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation
  • Simeon Schnapper, founder of Youtopia
  • Jeff Dunn, Education Technology R&D Director at DeVry
  • and Charles Perry (that’s me!), Communications Coordinator at LessonPaths

The variety of organizations represented by the panel illustrates just how excited people are about badges at every level of educational innovation—from the foundation level (where the research and investment happens), to established universities (where online accreditation precedents are getting set), to disruptive startups (who have the freedom to experiment with wildly new educational models).

An-Me started off the conversation by talking about the universal appeal of badges. When the MacArthur Foundation began exploring badges about seven years ago, they were surprised and delighted to discover just how many institutions were hungry for them. After all, if job seekers can display skill sets in a trustworthy way—especially skill sets that aren’t specifically fostered in secondary education but are highly prized in the job world, like creativity and project management—employers and employees both benefit.

Simeon and I then discussed how we are approaching badges from a startup’s point of view. Youtopia is pioneering a way for people to receive public credit for doing good (volunteering, giving blood, contributing to a food drive, etc.), and LessonPaths is helping life long learners organize free online content into top notch “Learning Playlists”—so both projects consider themselves prime candidates for badges, which can:

  • Motivate and encourage the completion of tasks and lessons
  • Serve as a record keeping tool for participants
  • Advertise a badge earner’s accomplishment publicly
  • Identify trustworthy programs and curriculum

Jeff then completed the conversation by fleshing out what badges mean for current online coursework, and how  they can showcase knowledge gain that risks being unrecognized otherwise. Diplomas are certainly in no danger of losing their importance, but the argument can be made that a potential employer knows far more about a job seeker who has earned several well designed badges than one with only a diploma.

I had a great time participating in the discussion, and I hope you’ll join us for the next Educelerate Meetup!

Panel Members Charles Perry, An-Me Chung, Simeon Schnapper, & Jeff Dunn