New eBook Examines Digital Credentials | What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badges for New Opportunities

New eBook Examines Digital Credentials | What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badges for New Opportunities

Irvine, CA, October 02, 2014 --( What do college degrees, high school diplomas and professional certificates have in common? They usually are fancy sheets of paper, proclaiming accomplishments: John Doe, registered nurse; Jane Doe, bachelor’s degree in history; and so on.

Can an employer or educator really know how much a person has learned and what he or she has mastered by glancing at that piece of paper? What if there were some other system that could more accurately reflect credentials, down to what courses were completed, what grades were received, what scores were earned on exams, etc.? Such a system is captured in open digital badges, or “simple tools that have the potential to change our current system of credentialing, creating ways to recognize more diverse learning pathways and opportunities for both learners and institutions for generations to come,” according to “What Counts as Learning: Open Digital Badges for New Opportunities,” the new eBook by Sheryl Grant.

Providing Impact

The director of social networking for HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory)/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition and a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, said her book “provides a building block for anyone interested in designing open digital badge systems, and also for educators, policymakers, technologists, humanists, scholars and administrators who have a stake in how badge systems might impact learning, assessment and opportunities for lifelong learners.”


Cathy N. Davidson, a leading figure in educational innovation and HASTAC co-founder notes: “We will never displace the Industrial Age invention of high stakes, multiple choice testing without a feasible alternative. Sheryl Grant helps us to consider realistic, workable options for the future.”

David Theo Goldberg, director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, co-founder of HASTAC and executive director of UCHRI’s Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, calls “What Counts as Learning” a “must read for anyone wanting to know about the ins and outs of badging, its benefits and challenges.”

Grant, he said, “has been at the center of work around digital badging as a critical technology for assessing, acknowledging and credentialing learning. She has now written a state-of-the-art report on digital badging for learning and on the nascent current research on the topic.”

Connected Learning Connection

The book's Chapter 7 looks at ways in which badges make “connected learning” visible for youth, throughout higher education, and for employers. Connected learning is an approach to education in the 21st century that takes advantage of today’s abundance of information and social connection.

“Badges are about making learning that is already there more visible, and connecting that learning across different institutions,” Grant said. “For example, imagine a 7th-grade math teacher looking at a roster of her students the first day of school. She reads down the list and sees that all but six students participated in the city’s Summer of Learning initiative in which hundreds of organizations served high-quality programs to youth. Over the summer, more than half the students earned three or more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) badges through local museums, libraries and community center camps. When she clicks on the badges, she sees that some programs aligned their content to math standards that her students will be covering during the school year. She takes a closer look at one badge in particular, earned by a student who was in her class last year. The badge links to a video demonstrating the solar-powered car built by the student, including a reflection about the steps followed to figure out how fast and how far her car could travel if she altered different features of the design. In this example, badges made visible learning that took place in another sphere, enriching the teacher’s knowledge about her student.”

“What Counts as Learning” is available for purchase online through various booksellers,, and is available for free download at It is the latest in a series of reports, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, published by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub and by MIT Press, and edited by Ellen Seiter, professor of critical studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Media Contact: Mimi Ko Cruz,, 949-824-4587

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