When I was a teenager, I was intrigued with the merit badges proudly worn by my friends who were in the Scouts. (I never became a Boy Scout because the pressure was too great–my older brother had already won every badge possible…and my father was the Scout leader).
While I have been hearing about the McArthur Foundation’s efforts to encourage digital literacy, I didn’t fully understand the potential of the program until today’s New York Times put it in perspective. Novelties column writer Anne Eisenberg explains icon “badges” can supplement a resume, blog site or Facebook page by visually calling attention to an individual’s digital capabilities. A potential employer can click on the e-badge to determine the individual’s digital experience and see examples of his or her work. I envision individuals with highly specialized computer skills becoming the equivalent of an Eagle Scout.
The program is getting considerable attention from business, government and the nonprofit world. And the McArthur Foundation is putting millions behind the program, which includes the “Badges for Lifelong Learning competition”, a contest to create credential prototypes. McArthur also gave the Mozilla Foundation a million dollars to develop universal standards for the badges. In addition, the U.S. government is supporting a program that will establish a badge protocol for job-seeking veterans.
This isn’t your ordinary contest that generates some quick hits for an event or product. The McArthur initiative has the potential to significantly advance digital literacy. Many influential organizations and corporations such as Motorola, Intel, Time Warner Cable and Microsoft are supporting a universal digital badge system. Becoming digitally savvy will take on even greater significance since this program will turn up the heat on those who have been resisting all things digital.
I look forward to seeing the final product of this intriguing initiative. Perhaps it will create an opportunity for me to earn my first merit badge.