Guest Post: On Digital Badging

This post comes to us from Cara Scharf, Program & Communications Manager at the Wagner Free Institute of Science. If you are interested in contributing to, please send an email outlining your idea along with a writing sample to phillyemp[at]


Recently, my colleagues in the children’s education department at the Wagner Free Institute of Science asked if I was interested in attending an event called the “Pennsylvania Digital Badging Summit.” Naturally, my first question was, “What is digital badging?”

After some thorough Googling, I learned that digital badging is a 21st century way to recognize a person’s accomplishments. Much like girl scouts and boy scouts earn physical badges for mastering skills (think baking, camping, identifying plants, etc.), now you can earn digital badges that indicate you have mastered certain tasks. You can attach these digital badges to your online presence, say on Twitter or Facebook, or on your website or online resume. The badge is attached to “metadata”, which is essentially information embedded in the badge by the badge issuer that says how you earned that badge, when you earned it, etc.

Badges earned using the Wells Fargo Museum's app

Badges earned using the Wells Fargo Museum’s app

Currently, most buzz about digital badges comes from the education sector, but digital badges have a broad array of uses that relate to museums in interesting ways. In the educational realm, some museums are using badges to recognize the informal and formal ways visitors learn inside the museum. At the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, teens can earn badges when they participate in workshops and activities hosted by the museum.

At Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, badges are used as incentives for educators. The Smithsonian Institution has created a whole badging program, called Smithsonian Quests, that does not directly tie into physically visiting their museums but does further their educational mission and branding.

One of the badges that can be earned through the Dallas Museum of Art’s digital badging program

As the person in charge of marketing for my museum, I was also interested in how museums might use badges for engagement purposes and not just educational purposes. For instance, the Dallas Museum of Art, which recently did away with their entrance fee, has established a DMA Friends program that allows visitors to earn badges and incentives for engaging with the museum in specific ways (more here). And the newly opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum created a digital badge to recognize supporters and visitors (more here).

As I read all of this, I can’t help but think that digital badges are a great idea in theory, but are they worth the effort of a small, free museum like the Wagner? Maybe digital badges have to be implemented on a large scale to have any real value and impact. This is happening in Chicago with the Chicago City of Learning project that, thanks to support from the MacArthur Foundation, rewards students with digital badges for learning that takes place outside formal classroom settings. Many Chicago organizations are partners in this endeavor as badge issuers, including museums.

My purpose in contributing this blog is to see if and how digital badges are being used in museums locally, and if, perhaps, the Chicago model could work here in Philadelphia. So: is anyone using digital badges in their museum and how? Education? Engagement? Both? Do you feel this has been a worthwhile venture? Do you think a city-wide model could work here?


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