Erin Knight, senior learning director of the Mozilla Foundation, and Liz McChesney, Director of Children’s and Young Adult Service at Chicago Public Library, discussed the concept of badges and how they were implemented for a summer of learning (not just reading).
Learning has a different look in the 21st century. Lifelong learning is a must-have, whether you have a “tech job” or not. New ways of obtaining credentials that help us capture and communicate learning are needed -- the old ways aren't flexible enough.
One example of this is the Stack Overflow answer site - you earn badges if your answers are valuable in different categories, or if you have good “customer service” skills. In the web sites Careers 2.0 section, employers can check who has which badges.
Mozilla created Open Badges to be granular, evidence-based, and transferrable. One can be explicit about what skills are important and create a map of learning. Learners can earn badges across many experiences at many locations over a lifetime - work, online, library etc. A storage area called a “backpack” is controlled by the learner. Mozilla has a standard for badges- it must be easy to "read" who the issuer is, who the learner is and what the criteria is. There are currently 900 issuers and 100,000 badges - a tenfold increase from a year ago. Organizations issuing badges can create them themselves using the free open-source architecture of Open Badges, or Badgestack will do the work for them for a fee.
The Summer of Learning at Chicago Public Library was a collaboration with the library and the Museum of Science and Industry, although every cultural institution in Chicago became a part of the program. In addition to reading 300 minutes, youth were encouraged to come to programs, do summer brain games, learn online, and create art. It was designed based on the Common Core Standards of learning,
The badges were: Read, Learn, Discover, Create, Achieve, and Volunteer.
Chicago Public Library trained all children's librarians three times -- Badging interns were brought in using a grant from Mozilla. Librarians would ask kids questions about their reading based on the Common Core Standards. Explaining the process to the parents and kids was the most time-consuming part of the program.
In addition to the Summer of Learning, Chicago Public Library issues badges in their Makerspace for equipment mastery. Badges are ideal for informal learning like makerspaces -- you can attach photos as evidence.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that learners who don't do as well in traditional learning do better with badges. Also, role-based badges such as “mentor” encourage people to learn more. Badges are a way to deal with the complex learning needs of the 21st century.