© The Tree Maker, 2011
I’m currently on holiday so shouldn’t even be logging on, but I want to capture an important development that needs to be carefuly followed and assessed.
This is Mozilla’s Badges project. The idea itself is relatively simple. You learn something and some agency issues you a badge for learning it (remember stars for good work at school?). You collect all your badges and display them on your Facebook page, blog, or whatever. Mozilla, working in partnership with P2PU, is developing open source software protocols/standards and offering to ‘host’ (or perhaps more accurately, manage) the badges in the cloud. It is up to agencies issuing badges to decide the basis on which badges will be issued.
I’m refraining from commenting on this at the moment (no, that’s a lie – see below. I’m refraining from commenting on it after a lot of consideration). In fact, the whole project is still in beta stage but Mozilla hopes to launch in January (2012). All I want to do is draw attention to what is happening, because it is at the design stage that basic assumptions are made that become difficult to change later. For a thoughtful analysis of this project at this stage, see Bud Hunt’s post: Digging Out My Sash.
I believe that Mozilla’s Badges has the potential to be an important development. At a minimum, it could provide a way to accredit (recognize is perhaps a better term) non-formal or informal learning activities.
But I have so many questions about this project, starting with ‘why?’ and ‘who?’. The why stems from the contradiction between informal learning and assessment (however it is done). Isn’t the point of informal learning is that it IS informal and it’s the informal learner herself who makes her own assessment of its value? (I suppose there’s nothing to stop learners issuing their own badges, of course)
The ‘who’ is perhaps an even bigger worry. The team developing badges is rich in software engineers and PR /communications staff, but poor in educators (I didn’t see anyone I could identify as a professional educator on the list on the Mozilla Badges site). Pretty good for innovation, but shouldn’t somebody be in there asking some hard questions, such as those being aired by Bud Hall? Or is this another attempt, such as learning objects, by computer software engineers to decide what’s best for education?
On the other hand, we could just sit back and see how it develops. Let the market decide – after all, all those people couldn’t possibly be wrong, could they?
Lastly, you should be aware of my inherent, unreasonable objection to badges. I am actually one of the very few people in this world banned from the Boy Scouts, following a paint-gun raid on a local Cubs’ band by my best friend and me when I was 10 years old, so you could say I am suffering from a bad case of badge envy. It won’t stop me though coming back to this topic at a later date.