This last week I flew to rainy—but warm—Orange County, California, to attend a workshop for all the winners of the Digital Media and Learning Competition. Sixty or so representatives from organizations all over the world working to design, develop, and implement digital badge systems spent the majority of our two days together showing off their projects, getting critical feedback from experts and each other, and preparing for the 2013 DML Conference in Chicago, where each team will officially present their work.

So what are digital open badges, exactly? They’re a method of alternative credentialing that acknowledges learning that happens outside of the classroom—because a good education that equips young people with 21st century skills can happen anywhere. It can happen at museums, while playing computer  games, on the soccer field, in a Girl Scouts troupe, while making movies in an after school program, on smart phones, and more. And since efforts to reform the struggling American public education system and its heavy reliance on standardized testing have been largely unsuccessful (so far), thought leaders in the future of learning like MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla have chosen to focus on promoting blended learning that takes advantage of students’ natural curiosity, new tech innovations, and the nearly limitless resources of the Internet.

Lunch Time

Can’t revamp education without frequent snack breaks.

Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. Programs at MacArthur, kicked off day one of the workshop with a dynamite proclamation—the national conversation about digital badges education leaders have been longing for is finally beginning to happen, and the wall between formal and informal learning is beginning to crumble at last. In the last few months the mayors of Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia all expressed an interest in launching badges systems to help motivate and reward student learning over the summer.

And so our job, as organizations pioneering the use of badges, is to talk to each other, share our mistakes and successes, and above all implement badge systems that are trustworthy and delightful to use. Because if we do, more students and life long learners will have the opportunity to discover their interests and pursue their passions than ever before.

No pressure, right? Right.

the unconference

The un-conference, where the participants decided for themselves what they’d like to talk about.

To give you a good idea of the different kinds of badges systems being developed, below you’ll find links to a bunch of the teams that presented their work at the workshop and a little blurb about their ambitions.

  • My Girl Scout Sash is an App – featuring App Boot Camp—a program that teaches young girls the basics of app development using the MIT App Inventor, presented by Charles Perry of MentorMob, (that’s me!) and Ashley Smith, STEM program manager at Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.
  • Moodle as Issuer, Mahara as Displayer – featuring badge integration with Moodle—the open source LMS boasting millions of users—and Mahara—an E-Portfolio management system hosted in New Zealand, presented by Yuliya Bozhko & Simon Coggins.
  • Earthworks - featuring highly interactive (and Facebook integrated) badges showcasing knowledge of Native American history, presented by Gary Leatherman & Michelle Aubrecht.
  • Computer Science Student Network  - featuring hundreds of “micro badges” that recognize simple proficiencies and serve as progress points leading up to big badges that recognize larger, more complicated proficiencies, presented by Ross Higashi & Sam Abramovich. (This team also had conducted research into how their badge system motivated both high performing and low performing users, and will be sharing the results soon. Huzzah!)
  • Youth Digital Filmmaker Badge System - featuring film-making badges aligned with common core curriculum for students, presented by Harvey Chism from the Philadelphia Youth Network and Simeon Schnapper of  Youtopia.
  • BuzzMath – featuring bronze, silver, and gold digital badges that reward and motivate math skills and incorporate designs that are so friendly and slick Chris McAvoy at Mozilla Foundation wanted to “lick ‘em,” presented by Jean-Philippe Choinière & Carl Malartre. (They’ve also already clocked in 2 million page views.)
  • NASA Perspective on Digital Badges - featuring a number of projects aligned with LRMI, including a computer game where users can pilot the Curiosity Mars Rover, and a soon to be released MMO called Starlight, presented by Khal Shariff, Robert Starr, and Daniel Laughlin.
  • Badges for Vets - featuring a website where perspective employers can see how a veteran’s military training translates into skills that make for high quality civilian employees, presented by Robert H. Sparkman and Eric Burg.
  • Microsoft as a Partner in Learning Network Badges - featuring (I’m not kidding) a serious conversation about assless chaps, and my favorite quote of the workshop: “Microsoft and Mozilla (and all the teams working on badges) are working together to build a certification layer on top of the world.” Just Press Play is just one example of this ongoing work, presented by Donald Brinkman.
  • Digital OnRamps – featuring a system that encourages blended learning by including badge work in the accreditation process for community colleges, presented by Tivoni Devor and Vivek Reddy.
  • Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis – featuring a fully integrated system for teachers and undergraduates that facilitates learning, moderation, documentation, and assessment, presented by Joana Normoyle.
  • Sweet Water Aquaponics - featuring a curriculum that promotes urban farming, sustainability, and STEAM skills for underserved students in Chicago and Milwaukee, presented by Jesse Blom.
  • Providence After School Alliance - featuring interest driven learning activities for students that provide a pathway to a brighter future, presented by Damian Ewens and Kerri Lemoie.
  • BadgeStack – featuring the ability to build badge systems for other institutions, BadgeStack’s programs focus on equipping high risk kids with highly employable skills through a structured community system, presented by John Walber. Supporting organizations include the YMCA, Credly, the NYC Dept of Ed, and the HIVE in New York and Chicago.
  • P2Pu - an online learning platform featuring its third iteration of digital badges, presented by Vanessa Gennarelli.

As I’m sure is obvious, A LOT of information was presented, discussed, and critiqued over the course of the two workshop days—and I didn’t even get to experience everything because multiple seminars happened at the same time. (So apologies if I accidentally left somebody out!)

All in all, it was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I’m looking forward to our next meeting in Chicago with great expectations. Just hope the weather’s better this time around.

sad pool

Didn’t even have the chance to get sunburned. Boo.