Mozilla Releases Long-Discussed Software to Offer ‘Badges’ for Learning

A good grade in a class or a degree on a wall can’t always tell the whole story of what a student has learned. A journalism degree denotes that a student graduated from a journalism program, but not necessarily that she excels at finding sources through social media, for example.

Now, after two years of development, Mozilla has released Open Badges 1.0, free software that allows for a new way to recognize learning: digital badges.

Similar to Boy Scout badges that represent pitching a tent or riding a horse, the digital badges denote specific skills that employers might look for, like community service, social networking, or experience with HTML. Some professors at institutions such as Indiana University at Bloomington and Purdue University have already been experimenting with badges, awarding them to students for class participation or for mastering certain sections of a course.

With Open Badges 1.0 software, developed through a partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla hopes to offer an open standard for using those kinds of badges to verify and recognize skills students can learn that may not always be obvious with a degree.

Such badges could come in handy with massive open online courses or other forms of open education in which providing evidence of what students learn remains difficult without class credit, as well as for skills learned on a job after graduation.

The badges are issued by participating organizations and have built-in information showing employers why each badge was issued, by whom, and what projects enabled the holder to earn it. The badges can be stored in a digital “backpack” that can be displayed on résumés, job sites, and social-networking profiles.

More than 600 organizations are already participating in Open Badges, according to Mozilla. Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Empire State College of the State University of New York all offer badges through the software, as do organizations like NASA and the Smithsonian Institution.

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