Cloth and metal badges have long been worn by boy scouts, soldiers and others to show off their accomplishments.
Now the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation is putting millions of dollars into a competition to spur interest in a new type of badge — one that people can display not on their clothing but on a website, blog or Facebook page while they are looking for a job.
The badges would not replace résumés or transcripts, but they may be a convenient supplement, putting the spotlight on skills that do not necessarily show up in traditional documents — highly specialised computer knowledge, say, or skills learned in the military, in online courses or in after-school programs at museums or libraries.
“The badges can give kids credit for the extraordinary things they are learning outside of school,” as well as being a symbol of lifelong learning for adults, said Connie M Yowell, director of education grant-making at the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.
“The badges are another way to tell the story of who you are and what you know,” Yowell said.
“What people are learning in school is often not connected to the world of work,” she said. “Badges can fill that gap. They can be a kind of glue to connect informal and formal learning in and out of school.” If valued, they might also inspire students to accomplish new tasks.
To create prototypes of these alternative credentials, MacArthur has started a ‘Badges for Lifelong Learning’ competition that would culminate in March 2012, when the foundation would award a total of $2 million to several dozen winners, Yowell said.
In addition, the federal departments of education and veterans affairs would jointly award $25,000 for the best badge concept and prototype that serves veterans seeking jobs.
In preparation for the contest, MacArthur has also given $1 million to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation to develop a common standard or protocol for the badges.
Developers would use this protocol so that their badges would work across the web on various platforms, no matter which organisation is awarding them, just as e-mail works across the internet regardless of the particular program used, said Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation in Mountain View, California.
“People will be able to take courses at a dozen places, and then put the badges from these different places on their website,” he said.
The badges can be verified in several ways. For instance, a badge can include a verification link that makes it possible to check with the issuer about authenticity and status, should the badge have an expiration date.
The Mozilla Foundation supports the development of free software that can be used throughout the web. It owns the Mozilla Corporation, creator of Firefox, the open source internet browser.
Many organisations, including NASA, Intel and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, are collaborating with MacArthur in the competition, providing information about their programmes and activities that could be the basis for badge awards, said Cathy N Davidson, a professor at Duke University and co-administrator of the competition.
NASA, for example, has educational programmes in robotics for young people that might be suitable content for badges. Designers have tinme until January 12 to submit their ideas for badge prototypes. Design winners would be paired with content providers to compete for the final awards, Davidson said.
Independent of the MacArthur contest, one company, TopCoder, in Glastonbury, Conn., has been awarding its own version of digital badges for several years. It holds online programming competitions that offer cash rewards, said Mike Lydon, its chief technology officer. Many of the programmes become commercial products that are sold or licensed to customers like IBM.
TopCoder competitors who do not win cash awards can still obtain a useful credential, Lydon said — a digital emblem that, when clicked on, gives statistics about their prowess relative to others. Competitors use screen names that let them preserve their anonymity, but also share scores with prospective employers when the scores are ones they are proud of.
It is an extremely helpful badge to include in job searches, Lydon said. “Rather than saying ‘look me up,’” he said, “people have this transportable widget at their website.”
©2011 The New York
Times News Service