MacArthur Foundation competition winners use Mozilla software to supercharge learning

March 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Cross-posted from the Mozilla Blog

The Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition winners were announced yesterday at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in San Francisco. The winners—awarded grants ranging from $25,000 to $175,000 —will use Mozilla’s new free and open source “Open Badges” software to issue, manage and display digital badges for learning across the Web.

The competition brought together Web developers, designers and technologists with educators, online learning innovators and collaborators that range from NASA, the U.S. Department of Education and the Girl Scouts of America to Intel, Disney-Pixar and Motorola.

The goal: explore how digital badges can provide learners of all ages new ways to gain 21st century skills, harness the full educational power of the Internet, and unlock career and learning opportunities in the real world.

And the winners are…

The Competition was held in collaboration with the Mozilla, and is part of the Digital Media and Learning Competition supported by the MacArthur Foundation and administered by HASTAC. Winners include:

  • NASA’s Robotics and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) System will engage learners in exploring new STEM topics and create digital badges for learners of all ages.
  • The Disney-Pixar Wilderness Explorers badges will engage youth in nature-based explorations, offering ways to learn about and become advocates for wildlife and wild places.
  • The Manufacturing Institute’s National Manufacturing badges will recognize the range of skills and achievements workers need to be competitive in today’s advanced manufacturing workplace.
  • The Young Adult Library Services Association’s Badge Program will help librarians develop the skills they need to meet the needs of 21st century teens.
  • A complete list of all 30 competition winners is available here

Why digital badges for learning?

Learning today happens everywhere and at every age. But its often difficult to get recognition for learning that happens online or outside of school.
“We believe digital badges have the power to unlock the full educational potential of the Web,” said Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla.

“Our goal is to provide a free and open infrastructure that today’s award winners—and any organization or community in the world—can use to easily issue and share badges across the web. This will empower learners to take charge of their online identity and reputation, gathering badges from any site on the Internet, and combining them into a single story about what they know and what they have achieved.”

Learn more about Mozilla Open Badges for learning

Mozilla seeks designers to supercharge learning in digital badges competition

January 5, 2012 § 6 Comments

Design digital badges for NASA, Intel, Disney-Pixar, the U.S. Department of Education and other leading organizations in the “Badges for Learning” competition. Deadline for entries is January 17.

Help the world level up with NASA, the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla

Mozilla is seeking designers and developers to participate in the $2 million “Badges for Learning” competition. Participants will have the chance to design digital badges for more than 60 different leading organizations, all aimed at providing recognition for learning that happens on the web or outside of school.

Winners will receive funding from the MacArthur Foundation to make their designs a reality, plus the opportunity to collaborate with Mozilla and other leading organizations in education, industry and government.

The goal: supercharge 21st century learning by building a free, open source badge system that helps people around the world use the web to gain new skills and level up in their life and work.

Why digital badges for learning?

The web provides revolutionary new ways for people to learn, but it’s often difficult to get recognition for learning that happens outside of school.

Mozilla’s Open Badges project aims to help solve this problem, providing software that makes it easy for any organization to award digital badges for learning and achievements that happen online, outside the classroom, or just about anywhere.

Organized by the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC, the “Badges for Learning” competition provides an ideal opportunity to test this software and approach in the wild, gathering leading organizations, designers and technologists to build badge systems together, all using Mozilla’s free and open source Open Badges Infrastructure.

Collaborators in the "Badges for Learning" competition

From robotics and digital literacy to botany and the environment

As part of the competition, more than 60 badges for learning projects are now open for your design and technical ideas on the competition web site. For example:

Design digital "Robotics Badges" for NASA

Who should enter?

Anyone with an interest in design. Graphic designers, web designers, product or industrial designers, educational technologists, digital humanities majors. What’s important at this stage of the competition is visual and conceptual creativity.

All of the badge projects will ultimately plug into Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure, but it’s not necessary to possess the technical chops to implement at this stage.

All you need is to provide some early visual designs, plus a written description of how your badges will help participating organizations meet their requirements. Visual representations can include a video, diagram, screenshots, napkin sketches or anything that helps get your ideas across. (See the competition web site for complete details.)

Design "Wilderness Explorers" badges for Disney-Pixar

How to get involved

  • Choose a badge project from this list on the competition web site. (These are “Stage 1” winners and collaborators seeking your ideas for the “Stage 2” design and tech portion of the competition.)
  • Then submit your proposal here, with early visual ideas and a written description of how you’d tackle it.

You’re free to enter as many proposals as you’d like — but act quickly. The deadline for submissions is January 17, 2012. Winners will be announced March 2, 2012. Good luck!

Shakespeare goes social: Mozilla Popcorn in the classroom

December 8, 2011 § 4 Comments

What light through yonder Popcorn-powered window breaks?

What can “social video” do for learning?

The hyper-talented Kate Hudson (co-founder of, learning lab shepherd for the Knight-Mozilla project, and a designer on the Mozilla Festival data journalism handbook project) has made an outstanding “Popcorn Shakespeare” demo that highlights the potential of Mozilla Popcorn for learning and education.

I think we’re seeing the birth of a new genre of interactive film — “hyper-video,” “social video,” or pop-up video on steroids — that will revolutionize multimedia in the classroom, and maybe even the lingua franca of learning in general.

Using the web to blend moving images, interaction and context

“Popcorn Shakespeare’s” ingeniously simple user experience: watch video of a Shakespeare performance, then move your mouse away at any point to pause the playback and get help with specific terms or passages you don’t understand. (e.g., “What does ‘Hie thee hither‘ or ‘the golden round‘ mean?”) You can also dig deeper into context or notes from your instructor or peers.

But its more than a glossary tool. You can also navigate the video by clicking directly on portions of the the text (similar to Mark Boas’ work with hyperaudio). Specific terms and passages also get their own URL, so you can skip directly to specific scenes for further study — and begin to “quote” and link to video as easily as you quote text.

Morning Session

Kate Hudson at the Mozilla Festival in London last month

Delivering context and metadata only when you want it

In Tuesday’s weekly Mozilla Web Maker call (which are open to all — please join us), Kate explained that the demo was inspired by seeing other students struggle with the language in Shakespeare’s plays, and the difficulty of looking up every word in a glossary as it occurs in performance. What makes her demo so ingenious is the way she solves this problem with dead simple UX: mouse away and the video stops, mouse back and it seamlessly resumes.

That simple touch helps make the surrounding tools and context timely and relevant, avoiding the “everything but the kitchen sink” problem of many early Mozilla Popcorn demos. Instead of overwhelming viewers with too much information, Popcorn Shakespeare gives you metadata only when you want it.

Turning “lean back” couch potato-ism into “lean forward” learning and interaction

For me, Kate’s demo speaks to the larger potential of social video in the classroom: turning a formerly passive activity (video watching) into an interactive and social experience. This can allow educators to speak the multimedia language that’s native to most learners, while at the same time making it a more engaging, “lean forward” experience than sitting in a darkened room watching some one-way film.

It’s way beyond the educational videos of our youth — transforming video into a canvas for making, learning and playing with moving images and light.

Making your own social video

And of course, the goal is to make it easy for learners to make these social videos themselves, not just consume the work of others. Kate used the more developer-focused and heavy lifting Popcorn.js to produce her Shakespeare demo.  But the more user-friendly “Popcorn Maker” — which just shipped version 0.1 — aims to make it easy for non-developers, filmmakers and youth to make their own social video mash-ups as well, transforming reformed couch potatoes everywhere into web-made movie makers.  “O brave new world, / That has such people in’t!

CBS Moneywatch on Mozilla’s Open Badges project

October 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

CBS Moneywatch just called digital badges for learning and Mozilla’s Open Badges project “a thrilling and much-needed development that could shake up the monopolistic higher-ed world.”

The traditional college degree may not be as necessary in the future if the concept of so-called digital badges takes off. People who earn digital badges signify to employers what their skills and knowledge are regardless of whether or not they possess a degree.

The digital badge endorsers, including Mozilla, which is involved in the effort, envision that badges could be awarded by online and open-courseware providers, companies, community organizations, professional groups and even colleges. 

Making assessment work like the web

September 29, 2011 § 6 Comments

From the book jacket to Cathy Davidson's Now You See It

Cathy Davidson‘s comment on my last post about Open Badges — and her recent op ed in the Washington Post — get to the heart of an exciting shift taking place in learning and assessment. A shift where assessment is no longer seen as separate, standardized and external (first you learn, then you externally measure it). But instead, where assessment and feedback are baked right into the learning process, in a much more transparent, social and participatory way.

Assessment that’s social, transparent and participatory

Cathy’s view is that the process of collectively deciding what’s worth measuring — whether for learners, communities of peers, or organizations — represents a crucial learning opportunity in its own right, “as an exercise to engage all an institution’s members in thinking about what it wants to credit and why.”

It’s a fantastic exercise, in other words, in institutional self-reflection, self-evaluation.

My big “Now You See It” lesson is that, until we go through this preliminary step of thinking deeply together about who and what we are, who we want to be, what matters to us, and why it is important to know who contributes to our network and how, then we cannot even think about moving forward in open, innovative new directions.

The problem with an inherited system — whatever that system is: it comes with parameters already defined. To me, the most important thing about this badge experiment is it is an opportunity for a community to explore and understand what its own parameters are.

Media literacy badges from Global Kids

Assessment as a social act

This suggests that the process of deciding what “counts” towards a given goal, competency or achievement is, essentially, a social act — something decided on by communities of people, rather than by some top-down cathedral or gatekeeper. And that peer-to-peer assessment is a vital 21st century skill in its own right.

Standardized testing and other pre-defined yardsticks — which typically offer assessment models that are opaque, hard for many to fully understand, and handed down to you in advance, without discussion or community goal-setting — deny us this learning opportunity. And in many ways, are out of touch with a world where working collaboratively — which includes tactfully evaluating the work of peers, and assessing how well that work relates to larger shared goals — is increasingly important.

Excerpt from iRemix's badge framework

Peer-to-peer evaluation as a 21st century skill

We often talk about the need to assess and recognize “21st century skills” — competencies and achievements difficult for traditional institutions to recognize, because they’re new, reflect changing literacies, and evolve at a rapid rate that’s hard to capture.

Cathy’s point suggests that getting good at “social assessment” and peer-to-peer evaluation — helping to collaboratively set goals and translate them into metrics, being a fair judge of others’ work, collectively defining mastery, understanding nuance or levels of proficiency, designing processes and social mechanisms to work all this stuff out  — is an important 21st century skill in its own right.

Here at Mozilla, for example, we use “code review” to assess the quality of a given community member’s contribution. It’s important that the process is transparent (the criteria are clearly stated and understood), participatory (in that anyone can participate, and *everyone* is subject to code review — there’s no free pass for senior staff or the specially anointed),  and social (in that these reviews are done in the open by recognized peers, rather than some inscrutable gatekeeper).

What drives this approach is not naive idealism or some commitment to kumbaya values — it’s a form of assessment that’s agile, pragmatic and effective. Without these social and transparent elements, our global community would wither and our software would break.

Screen grab from Mozilla's beta1 "Badge Backpack"

“Gatekeeper credentialing” vs. “social proof” that you know what you know

For me, this emphasis on the social aspect of recognition and assessment — assessment as a social act — is crucial. It shifts us from the cathedral (a certificate or credential handed down from on high) to the bazaar (social proof that you know what you know, backed by communities of peers and shareable artifacts.)

In a fantastic online discussion with educators and ed tech innovators organized by Bryan Alexander, this point came up in the context of whether or not badges represent the “commodification” of learning — the reduction of complex human abilities into standardized little bits and pieces that can be plugged into the vagaries of “the market.”

It’s a question that is probably deserving of another post in its own right. But the social dimension of assessment that Cathy and others talk about seems key to me in this regard. The outward piece of badges you can see — the “display” layer, showing what you know — may ultimately prove to be only the small, visible tip of a much larger and more important iceberg: a paradigm shift in assessment. A shift that embraces more social, transparent and participatory models as a vital compliment to (or eventual replacement for) the standardized models we’ve inherited from the industrial era.

Breaking down the barrier between doing and evaluating

We’re seeing an explosion in this kind of assessment, whether it’s stealth assessment, portfolio-based assessment, peer-based assessment, micro-credentialing, or even (shudder) gamification — which done badly, represents gimmicky attempts to sugarcoat or apply simplistic models of human motivation. But as Cathy points out elsewhere, done properly, we can learn something from the best games — where doing and evaluating are not separate, they’re one and the same. When you’re playing a game, you don’t play for a bit and then stop and measure what you did, as a break from the action. Evaluation is woven seamlessly into the experience. Through constant feedback and heads-up displays that are clear, granular, and allow for continuous improvement and self-correction.

Similarly, learners at the School of Webcraft, for example, or iRemix may be earning recognition from their peers for being a great collaborator, team player or communicator — without even knowing it. Rather than teaching or learning to a test, they’re just doing it — working on projects, tackling specific challenges together, and producing shareable artifacts where the social proof is in the pudding.

Prototype community and peer badges from Mozilla and P2PU's School of Webcraft

Assessment that works more like the web

As Cathy’s book details, the old standardized systems of measuring ability — like multiple choice and IQ tests — were never originally intended to play the massive role they currently play in our educational system, and were shaped by a dominant technology: the assembly line. Now that we’re in a new age, with new technological and social paradigms, how can we adopt forms of assessment that tap our full human potential and bear greater relevance in the real world? If badges help accelerate that kind of experimentation and innovation, they’ll form the tip of a much larger and more exciting iceberg.

Mozilla’s Open Badges project: What is it? How does it work?

September 15, 2011 § 7 Comments

Those are the questions Mozilla’s Mark Surman took up in Washington, D.C. today, as part of a launch announcement that showcased Mozilla alongside NASA, the U.S. Department of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and many others. Mark presented Mozilla’s Open Badges infrastructure and showed how it can help reinvent the way we recognize and reward 21st century skills and achievements on the web and beyond.

Open Badges presentation slides

Here are the Open Badges presentation slides:

Good Magazine: Badges will unlock higher-education alternatives

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Is higher education broken?

Good Magazine cites a growing gap between what learners want and what they’re currently getting. Take stats like this from the U.S.:

  • 57 percent of respondents in a recent Pew Research Center poll said they believed that college “fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend.”
  • From 1982 to 2007, median family income rose 147 percent — while college tuition and fees grew a massive 439 percent.
  • For 67 percent of students, that means getting a four-year college degree requires going into debt.

The result is a tough choice:

Buy into an expensive higher education system you believe to be hugely problematic, or suffer the consequences of trying to earn a living without a college degree, which studies consistently show increase a person’s earning power?

Accreditation is the key to making alternatives work

How do we do better and create a “new ecology of learning?” Good’s article lists a range of emerging alternatives, from Mozilla’s collaboration with Peer 2 Peer University to MIT’s free OpenCourseWare initiative, iTunes University and Knext.

But what’s interesting about the piece is the way it seizes on the value of new approaches to assessment and accreditation, like Mozilla’s Open Badges project, as the key to realizing the full potential of efforts like P2PU:

What sets P2PU apart from things like iTunes U is accreditation. Because unless alternative-education users have an official way to present their merit to potential employers, people with traditional degrees are going to continue dominating the labor force.

The Mozilla Foundation and P2PU are developing “badges,” notifiers to potential employers that a person has completed coursework and is capable of doing what they say they can. “Imagine people could earn badges for their learning, skills and achievements regardless of where those occur or how they are achieved,” Erin Knight, a badge and assessment specialist for P2PU, writes me in an email. “And the collection of badges could serve as a living transcript for each learner, telling a much more complete story about that person than traditional degrees or transcripts.” She later adds, “I think this is the future.”


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