Mozilla's Open Badges Project

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This morning, I saw a tweet from @aaronesilvers on today's announcement of Mozilla's Open Badges project. The Open Badges project's goal is to build an ecosystem where badges can be offered for skills, abilities, and achievements in ways that traditional certifications don't allow for. Thus, someone who discovers and learns a particular skill through informal learning contexts has a way to show they've got that skill even when they haven't taken a "course," as such.

Thumbnail image for meritBadge.png
Interestingly, I had David Stong help me make a badge in 2008 to signify that I'd attended the TLT Symposium. While that badge indicated attendance rather than a specific skill, it was kind of cool to display as a marker that I'd gone that year. 

For this project, and like Boy and Girl Scout badges, these emblems indicate some level of accomplishment; some skill. To me, this is a really exciting concept for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the idea of learners being able to more adequately express their skills and abilities in ways that haven't been possible before. It represents movement in the direction of acknowledging informal learning, and a real change in the academy--something I have thought we've needed to do for a very long while. 

  • As outlined in the Open Badges for Lifelong Learningwhite paper, "the concept of a 'learning environment' no longer means just a single classroom or online space, but instead encompasses many spaces in broader, networked, distributed, and extensible environments that span time and space" (p. 4). Given this, we need new ways to exemplify what folks can do and what they know. And the badge framework as it has been proposed (including badges, assessment, and infrastructure for the system) has immense possibilities.

First, let me list some of the reasons I am excited about this, and the possibilities I see in higher education:
  • Students could earn badges for skills and abilities obtained through student organizational involvement. For example, a student at Penn State who organizes and runs a committee for the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, can show more clearly to future employers the project management and budgeting skills they learned through that experience if they earn a "committee leadership" badge. 
  • Courses that offer theoretical knowledge as well as concrete skills can more clearly outline what that course offers in terms of a student resume. For example, an IST course called Introduction to Computer languages that actually teaches Java could offer a "Basic Java" badge. If a new language is taught down the line, then the badge could become "Ruby on Rails" or "C++".
  • Clusters of badges could be pulled together to signify some grouping of skills. Much as a curricular map should map out the skills and abilities of a graduate of a program, clusters could also indicate some specialization within your major. For example, a literature major could receive badges in "early English literature," "American literature," "African-American literature," etc., which further delineates the experience of the individual. 
  • Students involved in volunteering or charitable organizations can better express the skills and abilities they obtained through such activities. A "fundraiser" badge for the local food bank, or even a "charitable organizer" badge for organizing a fundraising activity such as a walk or run would clearly and visually show this.

Are there problems with badges? Sure. Here are some questions that spring to my mind:
  • How do external people people "know" a particular badge has been properly awarded, and not just "given?"
  • Does this downgrade the educational experience, given that it feels a bit like a Foursquare-type game? 
  • Will there be too many of the same kind of badge, confusing those who wish to use them in the hiring/promotion process?

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts, questions, and ideas going forward. If you're interested in the Twitter stream from the announcement this morning, you can go to the Twapper Keeper archive.  A shout-out to @Robin2go for the information on Twapper Keeper, as well. Thanks, Robin!

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I'm skeptical of this badge system. You might read Alex Reid's thoughts on this whole badge craze:

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