Tag Team Tech April 2013

On MOOCs and Badges


Joyce Kasman Valenza

April 2013


Whether we work with young people at school or in the neighborhood, librarians know a little about kids’ interests when they are not in the classroom.

We know a particular type of kid–the one who reads and explores incessantly and independently; the one who connects online more seriously than socially, the one who enjoys crowded (and maybe not so crowded) outline platforms.

For that particular student, and maybe a whole bunch of others, we need to be making some new connections. Just as we regularly connect young people with the right book or film or site or app, we can now support their informal learning by connecting them with the just the right MOOCs and badge opportunities.

 What’s a MOOC?

MOOCs (massive open online courses) are about open, participatory, distributed, networked learning. They are new sandboxes for independent, lifelong learners.

Libraries are about learning, too. We are all about connecting our patrons, customers, members and learners with learning opportunities. We have new opportunities to point to these new opportunities and perhaps to develop them.

MOOCs don’t necessarily lead to official certifications. They can reach tens of thousands of students of all ages, regardless of geography or social class. They have the potential to be equalizers and the potential to disrupt traditional education platforms. And experts predict they will.

Folks have been talking about and testing MOOCs since around 2008, as a concept often attributed to Stephen Downes, George Siemens, and Dave Cormier, who described the philosophy behind MOOCs in this video back in 2010.

But a dramatic proof of concept was a Fall 2011 artificial intelligence course that attracted more than 160,000 students, This was followed by the launch of higher education courses on the Coursera platform which now includes sixty-two universities, in twenty-four subject categories, in five languages, serving nearly three million Courserians. MIT launched MITx, Harvard launched edX, and other universities joined the movement.

#etmooc, the recent, well-received edtech and media MOOC, organized by Alec Couros and a group of course-conspirators, took place across a variety of platforms and engaged more than 1600 learners.

I participated in Google’s international Power Searching MOOC last summer and the Advanced Power Searching this fall.

Are MOOCs for teens? Do they have any relevance to K-12 learning?

Certainly, there is no stopping any interested K-12 student who wants to join a MOOC aimed at an older demographic.

Young people may sign up for any of the attractive array courses offered by Coursera, edx, and Udacity, as well as many of the larger grouping of resources that are part of the OER Commons and the open education movement celebrated recently during Open Education Week.

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Last November, the University of Miami Global Academy–an online high school sponsored by UM’s Division of Continuing and International Education. launched what may be the first free MOOC for high school students–a three-week test prep class designed to get students ready for the College Board’s SAT Subject Test in Biology.

Taught by UMGA lead science instructor Jennifer Taylor, an experienced online instructor, the course ran live via Skype, as well as on a course management system. Students were able to ask real-time questions, and sessions were recorded and available for review as archived videos on the website. The plan is to offer the course once a semester. If it works, UMGA promises that more high school MOOCs will follow.

Duke University currently offers Composition MOOC@Writing Commons. Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by Coursera, the workshop environment course offers a foundation for college-level writing valuable for nearly any field. Students will learn how to read carefully, write effective arguments, understand the writing process, engage with others’ ideas, cite accurately, and craft powerful prose.

I believe high school students will take advantage of free test prep, as well as all those opportunities for learning beyond the test. I also believe that, moving forward, librarians will be influential in connecting the right kid with the right MOOC.

But the jury is still out on the effectiveness of MOOCs. MOOCs may vary widely in their pedagogical approaches. Even fans of the concept admit they can be overwhelming.

In Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate in Higher Education, Ry Rivard explores the research on why the vast majority of students fail to finish free online classes and who is signing up for the classes.

Karen Fasimpaur’s recent Massive and Open: MOOCs Are the Next Big Thing in Online Learning in Learning and Leading with Technology, describes a couple of MOOC subgenre relating to scalability–cMOOCs are deeply participatory connectivist courses–and xMOOCs are newer, truly massive MOOCs, like those offered by Udacity and Coursera, focusing on those academic areas best suited to independent study.


Another, perhaps less controversial, alternate opportunity for learning comes in the form of the digital badge.

Perhaps in response to measures of achievement that don’t really measure, well, real achievement.

Perhaps in response to the notion that not all learning has to take place in the school building during school hours.

Perhaps in response to the notion that young learners deserve to have some ownership of their own learning, digital badges recognize outside skills and accomplishments and may broadcast further, louder and with more detail than letter grades on academic transcripts.

Badges have been staples in gaming and social networks to display achievements. They now legitimize learning in multiple spaces.

Badges can recognize those other-talented students who don’t get recognized for their touchdowns or AP scores.

Encoded with metadata, badges follow learners beyond the school setting and when they leave the K–12 system, to describe specific skills and achievements, as well as who issued the badge, how it was earned, and perhaps links to projects created. By collecting and sharing their earned badges, learners may market themselves for future career and learning opportunities.

Mozilla’s Open Badges 1.0 offers free software and an open technical standard with which organizations may create, issue, and verify digital badges. Badges are now available from more than 600 leading organizations.

The Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition, supported by the MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with Mozilla’s Open Badges project and a variety of impressive partners focuses on badges as a means to inspire learning, confirm accomplishment, or validate the acquisition of knowledge or skills.

The Open Badges backpack offers an organized strategy for collecting badges and displaying them across social networking profiles and other platforms.


DigitalMe leads the Open Badge movement in the UK. The group recently offered young people a Safer Internet Day Badge in exchange for an effective digital story. This video shares how young Digital Leaders feel about earning and displaying badges.

Where can kids get badges?

Millions of girls can now earn digital badges for app building in the Girl Scouts’ My Sash is an App project. NASA and Carnegie Mellon offer badges for robotics.

The Smithsonian Institution recently launched Smithsonian Quests, a digital badge program for kindergarten through college, designed to connect and reward learners of different ages and in different regions as they learn through discovery and collaboration. The program combines project-based learning with regularly scheduled live online conferences, to engage participants in civic action, research investigations, and creative expression. Among the earlier badges were Community Historian and Portrait Reader.



While learning opportunities are often independent, large urban school districts are getting badgy too.


A city-wide Chicago initiative joins the forces of the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla to create a Summer of Learning. The initiative using Mozilla’s free Open Badge platform, for students to earn following the completion of a range of learning activity, from field trips to experiments to team projects.



Students in Providence, Rhode Island may participate in the nonprofit Providence After School Alliance and earn badges for out-of-school learning experiences. Their badges are recognized by the school system, displayed on the PASA site, and may be posted by students on social-media sites to share with potential employers or college admissions offices.


As a blended learning initiative this past school year, the New York City Department of Education offered its DIG/IT course to 40,000 at-risk students using Learning Times’ BadgeStack system. The course is designed to empower and encourage students to master real-world life skills and knowledge while engaging with and learning from peers in an online community.



Universities, like Purdue, offer classroom apps in which professors may award students digital badges recognizing mastery of skills.


YALSA has been developing a badge project to recognize library staff skills in addressing the Competencies of Librarians Serving Youth in Libraries. According to Past President Linda Braun, participants will earn badges by creating such content as video elevator pitch skills, social media policies, advertisements for e-collections, and Pinterest or Learnist boards that promote library collections for teens.


Want to know more about badges?

Recently HASTAC released a cross-disciplinary, annotated Badges Bibliography of more than 160 badging resources, as an attempt to organize the universe of knowledge about digital badges. They hope this bibliography will come to represent a cross-disciplinary approach that inspires questions, perspectives, and approaches to badges that reflect the inherently collaborative nature of badge systems.


Valenza headshot, used with permission Joyce Kasman Valenza loves her work as the librarian at Springfield Township High School (PA)! For ten years, she was thetechlife@schoolcolumnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Joyce is the author of Power Tools, Power Research Tools and Power Tools Recharged for ALA Editions. (PowerTools Remixed is currently in progress.) She currently blogs for School Library Journal. Her NeverendingSearch Blog (now on the SLJWeb site) won an Edublogs Award for 2005, was nominated in 2008, and won again in 2009. She was awarded the AASL/Highsmith research grant in 2005. Her Virtual Library won the IASL School Library Web Page of the Year Award for 2001. She has won her state’s PSLA Outstanding Program (2005) and Outstanding Contributor (2009) Awards. Joyce is active in ALA, AASL, YALSA, and ISTE and contributes to Classroom ConnectVOYA,Technology and Learning, and School Library Journal. Joyce speaks nationally and internationally about issues relating to libraries and thoughtful use of educational technology. She earned her doctoral degree in Information Science from the University of North Texas in August, 2007.Resumé.Full C.V.Contact Joyce at joyce_valenza@sdst.org


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