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Center for Educational Technologies projects have ended (except Challenger Learning Center) and are no longer funded.

Center Wins Mozilla, MacArthur Grant for Badge Program

Wed Mar 7 2012

Students will be able to earn digital "badges" for their online studies in robotics via NASA through a new program coordinated by the Center for Educational Technologies, the winner of a competitive grant from software developer Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation.

The Center for Educational Technologies is partnering with Project Whitecard, a software developer from Winnipeg, on Robotics and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Badges Using NASA Content, one of 30 projects chosen from a pool of 91 finalists in the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition. The center and Project Whitecard will split a $150,000 one-year grant.

The competition linked designers, entrepreneurs, technologists, and educators with leading business and industry organizations to build digital badge systems and explore the ways badges can be used to help people learn, demonstrate skills and knowledge, and unlock job, educational, and civic opportunities. The competition was held in collaboration with Mozilla and is part of the 4th Digital Media and Learning Competition supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC).

Badges are a way to capture people's accomplishments outside of more formal venues such as classrooms, said Dr. Meri Cummings, science resource teacher at the Center for Educational Technologies. Cummings, who also directs the annual West Virginia FIRST LEGO League robotics tournament and leads LEGO NXT robotics workshops and discussion forums on the NASATalk collaborative, will work with Project Whitecard in creating badging opportunities using existing robotics and other exemplary STEM resources from NASA.

"Badges are a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to show skills they have developed," Cummings said. "Traditional measures of achievement, such as high school diplomas, GEDs, and college degrees, don't always do a good job of capturing all the knowledge and skills people have. When students take part in a badging exercise online, they then earn a certification, or badge, that they can add to their resume and carry with them the rest of their lives. It's a formal acknowledgment of expertise or knowledge. And students are linked to additional activities that will further their goals."

Cummings will use her familiarity with NASA's variety of robotics learning opportunities to work with Project Whitecard and NASA educational developers in designating places where badging links can be added. Project Whitecard also offers its own online curriculum opportunities in which badging will be woven.

"Credit needs to be given to the NASA Robotics Badges Working Group that helped us all the way up to the time of our Stage 3 proposal pitch," said Cummings. "Bob Starr from NASA Education really contributed with his clever recrafting of the closing line, 'If you build it with engaging and exciting content, they will come—again and again and again!' "

Project Whitecard has received worldwide recognition for its success using videogame technology to spur learning. Its Robomath instructional game will reach more than 1.25 million students this year, making it the second largest distribution of a single learning software title in the world. The company specializes in 3-D visualization, conveying complex data and information.

In a news release from the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition, the NASA project was touted for its tremendous potential in engaging learners in exploring new STEM topics and creating a unique collection of digital badges for learners of all ages. Among the other winners were Disney-Pixar, 4-H, Intel, the Ohio State University, Carnegie Mellon University, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and Microsoft.

"The number, quality, and vision of competition applicants demonstrate the potential of badges to help us reimagine learning," said Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. programs at the MacArthur Foundation. "Organizations from across an array of industries see great value in developing a system that recognizes skills and competencies achieved over a lifetime. Badges are simple, easy, and, if done well, can change the way people share information about themselves, businesses make hiring decisions, and organizations support the acquisition of skills important to their mission or to the larger society."

To accelerate and support the creation of a badge ecosystem, Mozilla is developing an open source platform that will offer a "digital badge backpack" for learners to collect and display their badge credentials from youth through adulthood. The platform, called the Open Badge Infrastructure, was inaugurated in September 2011 to coincide with the competition's launch.

"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 any organization or learning 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."