My two weeks of vacation conveniently ended with a fun, relaxing week with my team in a remote oceanside town in Northport, Maine. Not sure there’s a better way to get reintegrated after vacation.
The retreat, affectionately called Badge Camp, was focused on reflecting on the Chicago work, as well as digging into the core features and directions ‘next’. We all stayed in an old inn where turns out we had limited internet, no cell connectivity, one semi-working refrigerator and a barn with a DJ machine - all of which were unanticipated, and only one of which was a happy surprise (hint: karaoke!) Sounds like the makings of an incredibly UNproductive week, right? Not with this crew. We capitalized on the opportunity for uninterrupted facetime to take planning walks, hold paper prototype demo sessions on the front porch, make new prototypes with felt and glue guns, huddle over meals with project teams and host mini focus groups over the camp fire.
Before Badge Camp, we had broken people into core project teams and had them brainstorm for 3 weeks, and everyone arrived with solid thinking and prototypes. In addition to feedback and (of course) a much deeper dive on the overall ideas and details than anticipated (but most welcome), we ended with roadmaps from now through MozFest for each project (some artistically written with glitter glue and construction paper (soon to be transcribed into a digital format). Unsurprisingly, the team was eager, serious and excited about the next phases for us - we’ve all been anxious to get back to the core product and features for the broader badge ecosystem. All-in-all, we made some significant progress in our plans and thinking on key projects and features, most of which will be coming through blog posts from the team, but I’ll summarize and highlight the core areas here:
Production Backpack: cleaning up code, fixing bugs, finalizing 1.0 features that need more love, knocking off the low hanging fruit want-to-have features and ux improvements. Also includes building some acceptance tests, which will significantly improve our ability to monitor and test our stuff, but also hopefully give the community more insight into what features we have with each release and help them help us understand what’s not working the way its supposed to be, etc.
Prototype Backpack, or ‘Backpack 3.0’: the bigger vision for the Backpack including more tools and features for the earners. More to come on this as the thinking develops.
Federation: Allowing many Backpacks to exist across the ecosystem and still work together at the ecosystem level. This will require a standard for a Backpack and APIs for ‘registering’ Backpacks, all as seamless as possible to the end user.
Open Badges Badges: Wait, we’re the Open Badges team and we aren’t issuing badges?! Blasphemy! Don’t worry, Open Badges badges are on their way and they will not disappoint.
CSOL: Continuing to support and push CSOL through the end of the summer.
Endorsement: Endorsement is allowing third parties to sign badge classes to formally endorse the curriculum and assessment that they represent. This is in the P2s not because it isn’t as important, but it relies on some pieces from the projects above, namely Federation and Prototype Backpack that this extends from. We’ll be kicking off some user testing and research on this in the meantime.
Productizing CSOL: We now have a pretty solid ‘tool stack’ for issuing, including the Badge Studio, OpenBadger and Aestimia (peer assessment). We also have some really cool new Backpack features like recommendations and COPPA-compliance. But these were all really built and customized specifically for CSOL. So we want to go back in and make all of this stuff accessible, useful and available to the wider community and ecosystem. This is also very important but will most likely be something that gets more dedicated time through additional use cases and projects that we take on.
Community Site 1.0: Last May we launched a mini community site, meant to be a placeholder for a bigger, more community driven repository for examples, resources and celebrations. The latter clearly needs to be designed with and through the community so we’re looking forward to kicking that off soon.
User Research: We are kicking off a new approach to our work, that includes more user research from the beginning! How revolutionary of us! :) We’ve always tried to loop the community in from early on and get feedback along the way, and that works great for the issuing side of things, and we will continue to do that, probably even more targeted. But we also need to talk to other audiences that we don’t usually reach on an everyday basis like earners and employers, so Emily on our team, is stepping up to map out our research process and bake it into all of the projects outlined above.
Partnerships: This could also be called adoption, but its working with issuers to build and issue awesome badge systems, and with employers and institutions to use badges on the other end. We’ve been doing this since day 1 and will continue to make this an ongoing priority. We’ve now got a powerhouse team to help us drive this side of things, including a set of key emerging community leaders who are owning these conversations within particular sectors or locations. +1 to this.
Marketing + Documentation: We’ve got a firehose of inbound demand, with almost no marketing efforts. I can’t imagine that will change significantly given that we are grant-based, but there are definitely things that we know we can do to make things more accessible or approachable, and Meg has joined the team to whip us into shape here.
What’s Next / How to Get Involved:
- Let us know if you have feedback on this list, including what’s missing. Best place for this is our mailing list.
- Watch our blogs for more info on each project. (btw: Planet Open Badges is coming back soon, which will be a one stop shop for all of our individual blogs, in the meantime, we repost most at the Open Badges blog)
- Come to the community call this Wednesday at noon ET to hear more about the outputs of Badge Camp and weigh in through conference call and etherpad magic
Badges Have Gone Global
If you’ve ever been to one of the many educational conferences in the US, you will hear a lot about North American-centric issues and proposed solutions. While making change in our country/continent is important, we often fall into the trap of only building solutions for our particular context and miss bigger opportunities for global collaboration and scale. This is why I’ve been happily surprised at the upswing of interest and adoption of badges outside of the US. Badges are flexible enough to be used in many different ways, to solve many different problems, and we are seeing that in action as they are being adapted and implemented across the UK, Italy, Australia and more.
I’ve just returned from a quick, but power-packed trip to Milan, where we met with our innovative colleagues from the Hypermedia Open Center (HOC) Lab at Politecnico di Milano. They invited us to Milan to talk about the badge work in North America and kick off a national conversation about badging in Italy. I was impressed at the reception and interest from the many Italians in the room - not only to explore badges for their own schools and workforce, but also across countries in the EU. There were handfuls of initial pilots that attendees signed up to lead on the spot. There is real opportunity and momentum here.
(that’s me on the right with the translation headphones :))
At the same time, just a few countries and only one hour time difference away, badges are booming in the UK. Together with, Doug Belshaw, our resident UK spreader-of-the-badge-word, Tim Riches and the folks at DigitalMe have built a significant community there already exploring badges. They are doing really interesting things with badges because they are more tapped into the schools and really pushing buy in from the top. They recently launched “Badge the UK" which is a campaign to get organizations and institutions to issue and accept badges across all of the UK. It’s incredibly exciting and we are learning a lot from one another.
We’re also seeing interest emerge from Australia, China, Estonia and more.
We are excited about the globalization of badges and one thing that is a high priority on our end is a solution for localizing badges. Good news is that all of our tools are open source, so countries or organizations can set up their own, localized Backpacks relatively easily (although we still have a bit more work to do to make them easily localizable and federated). But there will be, and already are, badges that are meant to be used across languages or learners that span several localities and languages, and so thinking through how the badge and the metadata become localizable is important and top of mind.
Would love to hear other ideas on how to best localize the badging experience, as well as places you’d love to see badges expanded to.
Why the Chicago Badges Work Matters
We recently formally launched the Chicago Summer of Learning badge work. This has been a pretty big undertaking for us, to say the least, we started early conversations back in January and for the last 3 months, my team has been almost solely focused on it. The all-hands-on-deck was because the scope of work was so big (and ever-growing), but also because of the potential weight and impact of the work. I’ll detail each below to help explain why CSOL matters for us, for Chicago and for the world.
What We Built:
The Chicago badge work started as a ‘simple’ statement of work - overlay badges on top of all of the amazing programs and learning content that local organizations and cultural institutions already provide across the summer. The goals were:
- Help every kid in Chicago, or even visiting Chicago, learn something and have evidence of that learning (i.e. get a badge)
- Provide pathways and encourage kids to learn more (i.e. discover and motivate more learning through the badges)
- Communicate the learning back to schools and local businesses in the fall (i.e. show the badges are worth something)
The Mozilla contribution to the project was mainly two-fold. While we played a role in project management, we mainly focused our attention on 1) designing the overall badge system, including all of the organization-level badges and 2) building all of the technology components.
1. Chicago Badge System:
The Chicago badge system design was no small task. We had over 100 organizations all teaching different things in different ways across various age groups, some online and most face-to-face with limited connectivity. We needed flexibility in the badges to ensure that they reflected each unique organization and their offerings, and yet were still seamlessly connected for learners. We needed to make sure the badges were worth something and met some level of standards. And oh yeah, we need to have all of this defined and designed in 3 months time. No problem.
- All badges mapped against the core theme of CSOL which was STEAM (STEM + Arts)
- City-level set of badges that were standardized and controlled. These were the City of Chicago Scientist, Technologist, Engineer, Artist and Mathematician badges.
- Organization’s had flexibility and freedom to design badges that reflected their programs and learning. We did the work to help them ensure the badges were robust, and then mapped them against the STEAM categories.
- We reviewed all of the badges and came up with a taxonomy of levels - participation (not assessed, earned through attendance), skill (assessed badges, aligned with a particular skill or competency) or achievement (bigger assessed badges, combination of several skills or accomplishments, typically take longer to earn)
- We then developed the algorithm to unlock the city level badges based on the available badges. It ended up being a fairly simple algorithm - 3 ‘points’ for the city level badge, participation were worth 0, skill 1 and achievement 2.
- Once youth get the city-level badges, they unlock access to city-level challenges where they can use their new skills/role(s) to complete projects and learn/earn more.
- The summer ends with a celebratory Summer Faire, where youth are displaying the work they achieved over the summer.
- All of the badge information is then connected back to schools in the fall so that teachers can have a better understanding of the work over the summer and in some cases, award credit or other advancement.
The (outdated) internal diagram for how this works:
The prettier, external napkin sketch:
(it’s worth noting that Carla Casilli built this thing from the ground up, including working through each of the 1000+ badges. She’s awesome. We also had tremendous input and support from Nichole Pinkard, Caitlin Martin and the rest of the DYN crew. Well done, team!)
The CSOL work had some complicated technical requirements, including servicing badge definition and issuing from representatives from more than 100 organizations; supporting kids 13 and over, as well as under 13 in collecting badges across experiences, with required parental controls where necessary; suggesting pathways and more learning opportunities; sharing badges with schools and social networks; and providing the end user ‘site’ to find learning, badges, track progress, etc. It was really multiple systems that we needed to build in parallel, and yet again, still needed a seamless experience for all of the participants over the summer. Oh yeah, and 3 months, something something.
- Advanced OpenBadger tool to support badge definition, design, awarding and posting to the Backpacks
- Aestimia, mentor assessment tool that allows for badge pledging, assessment and awarding
- New and improved Backpack with recommendation system
- Custom authentication
- COPPA compliant Backpack for kids under 13
- Organization / program / badge listing, search, filtering
- Playlist functionality allowing kids to build a set of projects that they wanted to complete or badges they want to earn over the summer - their learning playlist for the summer
- CSOL site: chicagosummeroflearning.org as the front face of all of this
Why It Matters:
- This is the first badge system at this kind of network level. Badges that connect across organizations, across the city. Badges that define pathways and push youth into deeper learning. Badges that truly connect learning of all kind. We learned a lot about how hard this is, but also landed on a model that we feel can be replicated fairly easily in other communities or networks, so that’s really exciting.
- These badges mean something right away. We’ve been working at the ecosystem level for a long time and despite lots of progress, there is still a long way to go before there are enough badges to truly capture your skills and learning. But with something like Chicago, that is local and self-contained and comprehensive, in just 2 or 3 months, we’ll see the full value proposition of badges in play. Youth will earn badges for all of their learning and that will lead to advancements and opportunities in school and with local businesses right away.
- All of the pieces we’ve built are open and replicable anywhere. We’re set up to roll this out in many cities, networks and communities. Our tools and documentation are open, we’re working on publishing toolkits and experiences to support other groups pursuing things at this level, and our services as now veteran advisors/consultants on these types of projects are available. We could see a huge set of real badges effecting real lives in a very short amount of time.
- Chicago is innovating and leading the way with this. Despite some of the tough times Chicago is experiencing, they are fighting back by embracing their local organizations and their youth. The Chicago Summer of Learning is a celebration of what Chicago has to offer, through its organizations, cultural institutions and people. It’s a celebration of their youth and the opportunities available to them. More than a celebration, its about starting to unlock possibilities for youth that were not available or discoverable before.
Many thanks to my team and the extended CSOL team, including the City, DYN, MacArthur, Hive Chicago and more.
And thanks to our Open Badges community for your patience and support as we’ve focused in on this important endeavor. We are excited to get back to the core infrastructure in a big way. But I hope you’ll join me in congratulating the team, and congratulating Chicago for building something special.
2M Better Futures
President Clinton just stood on stage and told the world how important and ‘good’ the work on badging is. It was surreal. It was awesome.
We are at CGI America and he was announcing the commitment to action that we made with the MacArthur Foundation and UC Irvine, to drive 1 million jobs and 1 million education opportunities in the next 2 years through open badges. That means connecting individuals to real things - jobs, school credit, admission, etc. - through badges.
The commitment is super exciting because it’s open and welcoming to organizations and partners to plug in and help us get there. (Join us!) From the conversations at the first day of meetings alone, I don’t think its going to be hard to reach. Help us blow past 2M! Let’s go for more!
CGI is also an exciting stage to launch this on because this meeting includes over 1000 organizations that are zeroed in on workforce development and jobs. They are the movers and shakers. They have the pull and reach to really connect badges to real opportunities.
I need some champagne.
Open Badges Values
We’ve been doing some strategy and planning work for Open Badges and the general badging work, and one thing that became clear was that we have some implicit values and principles that we have carried and/or want to carry with us into the future work.
We decided to write them down and turns out, that process alone was valuable for our strategy work. They have already been useful as a guide on our strategy and a litmus test for possible directions or opportunities. And that’s after just throwing them up on the fly. We want feedback and thoughts so that we can refine and agree on these, and in the process, set a direction that we can all work towards together.
Open Badges Values / Principles:
- Empower the learner. The end game is about helping learners improve their lives, get credit for what they do, and give them the data/ammunition necessary to do the things that they want to do. There are other ways we’ve talked about this - redefining learning, rethinking accreditation, but ultimately its about putting the learner in the driver’s seat.
- Agency. This is similar to the above and is specifically about control. The learner should control their data. They should control the interactions around that data. They should be able to collect and share any badges they want, even “smaller” or social ones that might mean something to them. They should decide who sees badges or what stories they want to tell about themselves (through the badges).
- Open. This is a loaded word, but its important in every meaning of the word. Badges should remain open in that anyone should be able to issue them. Many ask to restrict what can be badged so that its easier to establish equivalencies but that means we are restricting the possibilities for learners. The onus is on us to figure out how to make sense of that data. There should also be tools to support badging that are free and open source. As mentioned before, no proprietary or closed system should control the badges, the learner should. Open, open, open.
- Interoperable. A single badge might carry some value in some contexts, but a group of badges that tell a more complete story about a learner is so much more powerful. Especially when those badges are earned across experiences. This requires that badges be interoperable. This requires that badges align with the open standard. If we can have consensus at that lower level, then anyone can build tools on top of badges to make them more useable, more shareable, more valuable, etc.
- Distributed. We are working towards a more distributed ecosystem of recognition. That means each touchpoint in the ecosystem should be distributed - issuing, validating/endorsing, sharing, using badges, etc. Badges should be and go where the user is, and the badge information and value should follow.
- Credible. We think badges can be the real deal - can lead to real results like jobs and credit and advancement. We need to continually think about what gets badges to these standards without squelching the other features of badges. I have some thoughts on that here.
- Flexible/Innovative. (or “Weird.”) At the same time, we need to “keep digital badges weird”. We shouldn’t force all badges to be a one level or for one particular goal, we should build tools and frameworks to allow for innovative uses for badges.
- Community-driven. The community is gold. We can’t do this alone, you can’t do this alone. We are stronger together and a community that shares resources and findings, vets ideas and builds this stuff together is the community that wins. Our community is the lifeblood of the badges work and we need to codesign our future together. (*hugs!*)
- Something we are proud of. We are those feel-goody people that want to be proud of what we do. This means both not being evil, and also producing high quality stuff. On the former, I think we’re doing pretty well already but there is real risk of closed solutions segmenting or threatening the ecosystem and we should fight against this. On the latter, from the conceptual framework and the whitepapers, to the software and technical framework, to the toolkits and implementations, we want to walk away proud. There is a lot that we are proud of but turns out that this is pretty challenging to do all the time when there are so many moving pieces. But its a standard that we should all hold ourselves to and find ways to get there together.
What are we actively working against?
This list looks like the opposites of all of the above, but a few highlights:
- Data about the learner not for the learner. In our recent offsite, @iamjessklein had a revelation that most, if not all, of the data about learning out there is not for the learner. That’s really broken.
- Spy-ware. There’s a surge of attention around scouring the web to determine things about individuals or ‘score’ them, and then selling that information to employers. The individuals probably have no idea that this is happening. There is certainly some value in some cases, like the one in this recent NYT article, where some unsuspecting individual is rewarded for previous work or interaction with a job offer. But in most cases, its just spying and making decisions about people without giving them a chance to have their say. Badges should be all about giving people their say - letting them tell the story that they want to tell, but in an evidence-based, verified way.
- Replicating accreditation. A centralized system or body for judging or OKing badges would be bad for badges. If we are embracing open and distributed, as I hope we are, we need to find and open and distributed way to build trust and assurance into badges. I’ve written more about this here [referenced above].
- Closed and siloed. If badges do not meet the open standard or are stored in a system that is closed, we lose the real power of the ecosystem. To empower the learners, we need to let them have access to the broader ecosystem, craft their own pathways and write their own stories without predetermining the set they can work from or the constraints they are under.
We have a real opportunity for change and impact with the badges work, but we feel that the values/principles are important pieces for realizing that opportunity. As you can see from the list above, these principles do not define the solutions - there are still a lot of things to answer or figure out, but knowing the guiding principles can in some cases make those answers easy or keep us on course as we start to tackle them.
I’m sure the list is too long - maybe 3-5 is the magic number. Let us know what you think. Comment below or join us on the community call tomorrow to dig in.