Badges and Validity

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Of key interest to many right now is badge veracity - how do we know a badge is valid? What do we mean when we ask that?

In a recent lunch session hosted by Mozilla, this was the topic of discussion.

(BTW - these opens sessions are offered most every Wed. from Noon to 1 PM at https://openbadges.etherpad.mozilla.org/openbadges-community-2 . For audio, the Conference Number is: 800-503-2899, the Secondary Conference Number is: +1 303-248-0817, and the 7-Digit Access Code is: 5435555# )

Carla Casilli, the Project Manager of the Mozilla Open Badges Project, started this conversation back in May on her blog (http://carlacasilli.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/badge-system-design-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-validity/). You should read her post as it lays down some basic concepts relevant to any ongoing conversations here. However, here were her basic questions concerning validity:

  • Does a particular badge represent appropriate learning?
  • To whom is the badge meaningful?
  • Does the issuer have the authority to issue a particular badge?
  • Does the earning of a badge indicate that the learner has learned?
  • Does the earning of a badge indicate that the earner has been accurately assessed?

Added to this in the Wednesday conversation are questions about validation goals:

  • What is the goal of validation?
  • Who benefits from it?
  • What role does context play?
  • Are there standard metrics for successful validation? Should there be?
  • Who should decide the metrics?

Also included in the conversation were questions about uses, successes, failures, and challenges. Too much for this post, but under challenges are some interesting questions:

  • Is our current system something we should build on or should we rethink what validation might be?
  • Does validation need to come from a recognized source?
  • Does validation need to come from an external source or can issuing organizations provide their own internal validation?
  • What does a validator need to have/do in order to be viewed as a reputable source?
  • How do we build trust in a new system if that system challenges existing standards of recognition?
  • What challenges will new forms of validation experience?
  • Who guarantees the validity of validators, i.e., who watches the watchers?

Now I certainly do not have the answers to all this, but I do have a start on ways badges can be validated. You need the ability to:

  • view the issuer's credentials
  • view any artifacts the badge holder created to earn the badge
  • view the rubric/assessment that was used by the issuer to determine if the holder earns/does not earn the badge
  • "vote up" a badge for a particular badge holder. Example: If you hold a badge for being a good team member, people who have participated w/you on a team should be able to vote up your badge.
  • "vote up" a badge issuer, so high-quality issuers emerge over time and gain credibility.

Basically, you need to verify the issuer, verify what the badge holder did to earn the badge and how s/he was assessed for some types of badges. For other types, you may need to leverage social networks whose individuals can vote a badge up. Or perhaps you need both types of validation for some badges. Here's a best-case example:

I take a course on project management and receive a badge indicating successful completion. The badge indicates from whom I received it with a URL to their site, and URLs to the papers, planning documents, etc. that I created in the process of earning the badge. The badge is left open to voting so, after time has passed, people with whom I've worked as their project manager can vote on my ability in this area.

The viewing items are baked into the badge metadata as URLs to sites or documents that assist the viewer of the badge in determining badge validity. The ability to do this currently exists in the Mozilla Open Badges Project. The voting mechanism is not something in existence at this time within Open Badges, but really needs to be added. In theory, one could do so now with some cloud provider that is linked to the badge via a URL.

I don't think any badge can or should do more than that. At some point, it's up to the badge viewer to make a judgement call. Consider issuer validity. If Penn State were to issue a badge, I believe most people would be OK with the validity of the issuer. The same is true to a lesser degree with badges issued by an individual instructor. A badge issued by an organization/individual unknown to the academic community holds little or no validity.

Enough for now. One thing is certain - the consideration of badges in an educational setting will force us to examine our current practices surrounding assessment, credibility, and veracity of the entire teaching and learning system.

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What I'm hearing is that badges are primarily social. I can see them as encouragement to those who value that, but I'm still having trouble seeing them as useful for motivating intelligent, thoughtful people. Discussions I hear are often of an "us" and "them" nature: badges are good for undirected, misguided, or unmotivated people- not me. So who are we aiming at? Do faculty earn badges for publishing a blog? Do doctoral candidates earn badges for getting assignments done on time? I'm having trouble seeing value much outside of K-12. Are Masters degree candidates interested in badges? People who have declared a major?

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