Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Evolution of Badges, DML-by-DML

image The DML conference over the past few years has been a key milestone in the badge work. This year we formally launched the production version of Open Badges and it was awesome. As I was standing on stage announcing the badge work, I looked around the crowd and saw many many familiar faces. It made me reflective (and maybe even a little nostalgic) about the DML experiences over the years and the progress we’ve made together in that timeframe. In fact, if we use the DML Conference as a marker, its easy to see how the badges work has evolved and how far we’ve come: 


(I threw in that last one because my team jokes that we can trace the lifetime of badges along with my son’s since they map quite nicely. I don’t know that that means but it makes it easy for me to remember how long I’ve been working on this stuff :)). 

Looking through this list, you can see that the conversation around badges has certainly progressed in many ways - we’ve moved from solely badges 101 conversations into meatier topics like badge validation, and we’re now talking to policy folks, school boards, mayor’s, etc. about big implications and potentials of badges. The Open Badges technical work has advanced in that it didn’t exist (or was just in prototype form on Brian’s laptop) in 2011 and now its in 1.0, includes the open standard for badges and already has a significant level of initial adopters (over 700 issuers!). The DML Competition around Badges for Lifelong learning wasn’t conceived of yet in 2011 and now we have 33 grantees all demoing high quality badge systems and tools that will push additional job relevant and credit-worthy badges into the ecosystem. The team has also grown with the increasing momentum and resulting workload. We’ve come a long way. 

There are places where we’re still spinning a bit. Mitch’s concerns echoed many of this thoughts last year, although I have to say that this year wasn’t anti-badge, but was more cautionary around ensuring that the badges represent learning and are thoughtfully designed. I’d have to agree with that wholeheartedly and in fact, have lots of ideas that I am going to pull into a separate follow-up blog post later this week. But it’s apparent that we’ve moved past the ‘what if' on badges and now really need to dig into the 'now what’. There is a great need for some knowledge sharing, research and toolkits around what ‘good’ badge system design looks like. A lot of this is already in the works, but we’ve got to make sure its accessible and actionable for folks. This has to be a community effort and the most valuable work will come from the people that are closest to the learning and assessment. Carla Casilli has stepped in on our side to help collect and curate this work, as well as put it into practice through our proof of concept badge systems like the City of Chicago and Webmaker. 

I’m proud and excited about the progress we’ve made and also fully aware that there is much more work to do. My favorite part of it all goes back to the beginning of this blog post - all those familiar faces in the crowd - we’ve really built/accumulated a tight community - a family, really - of early adopters, advisors, skeptics and thinkers that have helped us get here and will need to help us get even further by next year (wherever that may be, hopefully somewhere warm!)


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Open Badges 1.0 Launch

You may have heard but we launched Open Badges 1.0 on Thursday at the DML Conference. Here are some places to read more:

My version

Here’s what 1.0 means to me, pulled from the talk I gave at the announcement on Thursday:


A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned.

Open Badges takes that concept further, and allows you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through a credible organization. 

And because the system is based on an open standard, you can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of your achievements — both online and off.

Badge earners can display their badges wherever they want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.

So what does Open Badges 1.0 mean? 

Mozilla Open Badges is made up of two things: a technical standard that anyone can follow to make their own Open Badges and free, open source software for issuers and users.

How does it work?

Right now, Open Badges gives enables issuers to issue verified, open badges and connect their users into this broader learning ecosystem. 

It also gives users a way to collect, combine, and share their badges.

Finally, every badge is full of information: employers and others can dig into the rich data behind each badge and see who issued it, how it was earned, and even review the projects the user completed to earn the badge. 

Let me walk you through the process of issuing, earning, and sharing a badge.


This is the badge backpack, where you collect and manage your badges.


So to begin, users can create a backpack with just an e-mail


Here’s an image of an empty backpack - eventually we will have links out to possible badges to earn or things to learn here. For now, let’s show you how we earn and collect a badge. We’ll use a Mozilla Webmaker badge as an example.


Here our user is making a web page with Webmaker. On the upper right you see that they’ve been awarded a badge for the skills they’ve applied while making the project. This is a good place to remind ourselves that badges are just recognizers on top of the learning and assessment - that is the meat behind the badge. In this example, a learner is learning HTML and CSS Basics while they are building a webpage and earning badges in the process.


The user then sees detail of the badge, and can accept it and add it to their backpack.


Now the badge has been added to the backpack.



Earners will be able to organize their badges into different collections


They can then create a public-facing portfolio page with their badges, and add notes about what they’ve earned


You can also share your badges on social media. Clicking the Twitter link brings up a box to write and send your tweet.


And there it is in our user’s twitter timeline.


A plug-in for Wordpress built by a community member also allows you to display your badges right on your blog. There is much more to come here as well in the next few months.

All of this is powered by free and open source software that anyone can use. And Open Badges sets a technical standard that any issuer can follow, which means their badges can connect to and add up to more substantial recognition and opportunity.

Why does this matter?

We think Open Badges will change how people think about recognition and achievement — from traditional institutions to leading organizations — and connect lifelong learning to real results like jobs and additional opportunities.

On the jobs front, we’ve talked to many employers, and they all say the same thing: undergraduate degrees are a check box, but they tell you very little about the skills that the particular person possesses; resumes are difficult to verify; and it is almost impossible to get an understanding of a candidate’s social or ‘softer’ skills

Open Badges changes that, and gives us a way to tell a more complete story about who a candidate is, and what they bring to the table. 

What’s next

We are formally launching 1.0 but there are already hundreds of organizations working with Open Badges today - there are 600 orgs issuing badges and even more moving in that direction. Potential badge earners can now look for this symbol, which they’ll begin to display on their sites in the coming weeks. 


And there’s lots more to come with new features, more social integration (Fb), more tools for issuing, new partners, and new ways to earn badges. We’re here to continue the conversation and collaboration, and build the ecosystem around Open Badges.

Thank yous

I want to give a HUGE shout out to the Open Badges team, which is still a pretty small, scrappy team. These folks get up everyday believing in this stuff and trying to change the world and I am so lucky to work with them. This was a herculean effort, and I can’t thank them enough.

I also want to thank our communications team which pulled out all of the stops to add the polish to our work and get the word out broadly. 

Thanks as well go to MacArthur for the funding which is obviously important, but for also being an inspired thought partner on all of this work.

And last but certainly not least, we have to whole heartedly thank our community who works with us side by side to build and iterate on Open Badges. Through community calls, the mailing list and other channels, our community vets everything that we do and contributes to the broader conversation on a daily basis. They are also the ones developing high quality badges - we couldn’t do this or be to this point without them. 

I look forward to your questions and feedback. I hope you’re as excited as we are to challenge our outdated ideas about what should “count” toward education, and empower people to create their own paths to success.

A couple quotes to leave you with

With Open Badges, you don’t have to just tell the world about how awesome you are—-you can prove it. (me :))

The more incidences of an “unaffiliated” (term used loosely) third-party creating web standards for credential sharing…the better off education will be. No two ways about it. (Techcrunch)


Monday, February 11, 2013

An Open, Distributed System for Badge Validation


We’ve released a request for comments on a proposal for badge validation, specifically, an open, distributed system for badge validation.

Here’s the direct link to the paper:

Bonus Commentary

Here’s some extra commentary for all of you blog-loving folks:

There have been a lot of people that have claimed that badges could replace degrees. That collections of badges could serve as legitimate portfolios or pathways that tell the same story as a degree, and in fact tell a much more in depth story given that we can use badges to capture more granular learning and each badge is evidence-based. I get asked a lot if I believe that badges will replace degrees and it’s a tough question. It’s not what we are setting out to do necessarily, the use case for badges in informal learning spaces is a primary one since that learning is not currently recognized. But I know I do believe in the utopia where learners can craft their own paths across the many learning opportunities available - especially those that are free and accessible. Where on-the-job experience counts for you in a real way. Where all of the learning and experiences in your lifetime are connected and stitched together around your identity or identities. Degrees definitely do no do this for you, but badges could.

I guess I don’t really think degrees will go away anytime soon, but I do think that its possible for badges to function at that level for people. But in order to do so, we need some way to validate the learning behind the badge - to ensure it represents what it says it does. Another way to think about this is, we need to accredit badge issuers.

But remember that the point of badges is an open credentialing system. We want there to be lots of issuers of all shapes and sizes. We learners to earn badges across many different issuers and experiences. The one benefit of a monopoly - which formal education currently has on credentialing - is that you can super tightly control it. You can validate the learning from the top down and put the rubber stamps in the hands of a small group of people. This won’t work for badges, so how can we validate badges?

The proposal we have released relies on a similar model to current accreditation - standards, evaluation and evidence - but each piece is open and distributed instead of closed and top-down. It includes a set of technical requirements, as well as social requirements that cover:

  • Standards - encouraging badge issuers to align with open standards or competency frameworks and store that information in the badge metadata.
  • Endorsements (Evaluation) - allow third parties to review badges and sign them, or endorse the badge. This information then lives with that badge as additional valuation data.
  • Reporting and Analytics (Evidence) - ways to view usage and consumption data of badges so that we see which badges are getting which jobs, which standards are most used or accepted, etc. Surfacing those badges/standards/issuers that are bubbling to the top .

The goal is to create a highly efficient and effective way of validating, valuing and comparing badges

It might all come together like this:



Diagrams: All of the standards, endorsement (evaluation) and usage/adoption data (evidence) becomes more information that lives with the badge and travels with it across the web.

The paper goes into much more detail around each part of how they work together. Looking forward to your comments and feedback below, or even better, on the Open Badges mailing list.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Badges 101 Webinar Follow-up

Last Thursday I presented on a Badges 101 webinar run by HASTAC. The goal was to give some foundational information and answer questions about badges in general. It was well attended - over 200 attended and more weighed in with questions. 

You can see the recording here:

We were only able to address a handful of questions during the webinar since time was running out, but we are all currently weighing in on the great questions that came in and will be continually posting our responses via the HASTAC Badges forums. There were a few that caught my attention and I wanted to answer here as well:

Isn’t grade just another form of a badge I can post A,B,C,D, F on fridge, The internet just makes fridge bigger?

I love this question. The internet as a big fridge just makes me smile. But it is also a really good question. Are badges the same as grades? Aren’t we just reinventing the same system? I think this is exactly what we should avoid. Grades are a very limited and in many cases, ineffective system. A grade is abstract and often tells very little about what was behind the grade. Even for those situations where the criteria differentiating an A from a B is clearly defined, once removed from that experience, the grade loses all of that information. Even just looking at the system - 5 grades - imposed on everything regardless of what is being taught/learned, feels irrelevant and artificial. And then there is normalizing and grade inflation… 

A driving principle behind the badge work is that we will use badges to capture a wide, granular range of learning so that the skill, competency, achievement, etc. is explicitly expressed through the badge, and of course that badge carries with it all of the information needed to understand the badge, including the criteria/assessment behind the badge and potentially even a link to the learner’s work as evidence (an optional piece of metadata). Thus badges move us away from a standardized, artificial system and start to lay the foundation for an authentic, personalized system that captures and continues to communicate the learning and skill development that occurred. 

And returning to the fridge metaphor - in my childhood, only the papers, quizzes or homework that got the A made the fridge. Regardless of the work, when my parents saw an A, they implicitly knew what that meant and knew how my work compared to others’. Badges sets us up for a different, more personalized system where learners can collect badges for a wide range of skills and achievements. Badges can represent unique and individualized pathways of learning. It becomes less about comparisons to other learners, and more about personal interests and accomplishments. It becomes less about the rating and more about the work itself. This makes some people nervous - how will we make sense of it all if we don’t have the standardization? It will be a different system, that’s for sure. But what gets me excited is that it opens up the opportunity for so much more authenticity, flexibility and recognition. A learner’s collection of badges could be on that fridge but instead of just a few papers with A’s, and it would represent a much more complete picture or narrative around that learners achievements, strengths, interest and skills. 

Seems like the success of badges at least partly depends on educating employers and the public about their value?

Yes, there will certainly be a learning curve. We are starting something new here so it can’t be expected that HR departments are going to suddenly know what to make of badges on digital resumes or applications. But that said, we have talked to a bunch of employers and hiring managers and many are open to the idea, and beyond that, almost all (if not all) recognize a need for a new system. They are looking for a way to get more contextual information on applicants, including the evasive social or softer skills that are so important and relevant to employers and success as an employee. Badges can offer a way to present more granular and comprehensive information about a person, and that information is more than just something flat listed on a resume but instead is linked to information about criteria and evidence to validate the badge. So while, yes, as with any new system, there will need to be some initial education around badges, the potential is so huge that I don’t anticipate it will take much to tip folks in favor of a the new approach. But we’ll see!

There is a follow-up Badges 101 webinar on October 17th at 2pm ET so if you missed that one, or still have more questions - check that one out. Also, for questions specific to the competition details and instructions, check out this webinar tomorrow (10/11) at 3pm ET


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Join the Open Badges Team!

The Mozilla Open Badges Team is expanding! 

As you might have guessed, there is a lot going on in the Open Badges world right now. We recently launched beta1 of the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) and are hard at work on beta2 and 1.0 development and preparations. We are developing documentation and materials to onramp folks as seamlessly as possible to the OBI, but also want to provide channels for direct assistance to those partners that need it - whether that be through advising on badge system components, developing interfacing widget technology to assist with connections to the OBI or custom building technological components. We are working with the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC on their DML Competition to facilitate a set of high-quality badge systems and badges that will all be plugged into the OBI and thus, the wider badge ecosystem. We are also working on badges within various Mozilla programs, such as School of Webcraft and Hackasaurus, and are starting conversations about an even bigger Mozilla badge system that would extend across various projects and programs and create a consistent experience and pathway for Mozillians to participate and grow with us and through us. And more. As I said, TONS a’happening in Open Badges land. 

But all of this will not be possible without some really good people to help get us there. So we are currently hiring for 4 positions, with another one soon to follow. Please share these with your networks and if you fit the bill for one and are interested, please let us know! From my own experience, its a fun, chaotic, innovative and inspiring project to work on, so join us!

Open Badges Developer

Open Badges Partner Manager: Business and Design

Open Badges Partner Engineer: Tech and Support

Mozilla Badge and Assessment System Desginer/Specialist

  • Design and build a badge system for Mozilla that motivates and rewards participation, provides learning pathways through various programs and experiences and fosters the next millions of Mozillians to be involved in the open Web.

We are a distributed team - all positions are remote and flexible. All are one year positions with potential for extending based on our success together. So come on board!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

OBI beta1

Hey all - 

As many of you probably heard, we formally launched the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) last week in conjunction with the MacArthur/HASTAC Digital Media for Learning Competition focused on badges (more on my thoughts/reflections about this in the next post).

The OBI is an open infrastructure to support an alternative credentialing (badging) ecosystem where there can be lots of different badge issuers and any given learner/user can collect badges across those issuers, pull them into one collection that they control and manage, and then share them out as needed with various audiences, websites, etc. We are building the specifications/standards and core reference repository software to sit in the middle and make this ecosystem a reality. More on the OBI here and here and here

As of the middle of last week, we released the beta1 version of the OBI which is very exciting progress and means that there is now a there there. 

beta1 includes:

  • Reference Badge Backpack technology
    • Repository of all badges for a particular user
    • Unpacks the badges to provide user with a view into the metadata behind the badge
    • UI for management and privacy control
    • Grouping - ability to create groups of badges (and then share them out)
    • Coming soon - access to display sites that have registered with the OBI, so can share out groups of badges directly from the Backpack

  • Specifications/Standards
    • Metadata spec for badges - Badges pushed into the OBI from the issuer are simply JSON blobs, in other words, simply a set of metadata that defines the badge. This means a badge at any given time, carries with it all the information needed to understand the badge. Includes badge title, badge description, issuer, issue date, criteria to earn the badge (URL), badge image (URL) and optionally unique URL back to user work or evidence.
  • Communication channels/API
    • Issuer API (to push badges in)
    • Coming soon: Displayer API (to pull badges out)
  • Mozilla Baking Service
    • Service to embed JSON into PNG files*
  • Line-up of Initial Issuers
    • We are working with a number of initial issuers (around 10 so far), including Remix Learning, Open Michigan, P2PU and Parsons New School, to push their badges into the OBI. They will be rolling out badges systems starting next week, through the next month or so. beta1 is a ‘private’ beta meaning that we are working closely with the initial partners versus releasing it widely for public use. However, we are definitely still open to working with more beta partners so if you have a badge system and are ready to plug in, just let us know!

*More on PNG files

We have taken a somewhat unique approach to the badges themselves, based on some awesome ideas from the ever-impressive Dan Mills at Mozilla. Instead of badges existing as the raw data - JSON blobs - throughout the system, we are ‘baking’ (embedding) them into PNG files so that each badge becomes a portable, ‘tangible’ thing that can be exchanged more easily. This means that issuers could email them directly to users, and users could email/send them directly to consumers, etc. This approach gives users more control over their badges and creates a more decentralized system. Users can decide to forward badges onto the OBI, or they could store them in their own Backpack that they host or even store them locally. The one caveat is that the embedded PNG is fairly unreadable without some unpacking software - this means that the badge is a viewable/exchangeable image but the metadata behind it is fully embedded into the PNG and unreadable unless unpacked. There are several ways to access the metadata: the OBI Badge Backpack will unpack badges for users (so if they are stored there, users can see the data), some technically-able users may write their own tool or third party tools may emerge within the community. But the idea that the badge can be easily exchanged/stored and all the information needed to understand that badge lives with in means that ultimately, the PNG approach gives users and the ecosystem, more flexibility and control.

Why ‘beta1’?

What’s this ‘beta1' thing all about, why not just call it 'beta’? Basically because ‘beta' has come to mean something different than originally intended. Today we see a beta stamped on just about everything, sometimes for long periods of time. It seems to have come to mean, this is almost 100% but there may be a little flakiness or we may change a few things around from time to time. Our beta is much more in line with the traditional beta which means, its the step up from alpha that is critical feature complete, but there’s still a lot of tweaking, updating and building out to be done. Hence ‘beta1’.

What’s Next?

beta2: We are working to release the beta2 version later in October that will include the displayer side API and communication channels, enhanced Backpack UI, scalability considerations, etc. More issuers and the initial displayers will start to plug in at this point. We are also building a Facebook widget as the first displayer widget example.

Public 1.0 release: We will be releasing the fully functioning OBI as GA/1.0 in January of 2012. This will include documentation and materials to support issuers, users and displayers who want to use the system. At this point, the OBI is fully public and anyone can plug in on either end.

Where Can I Learn More About the OBI/beta1:


Many thanks and praise go first and foremost to our rockin’ technical lead, Brian Brennan, who architected and built the current version in record time. Additionally, again, thanks to Dan Mills and the Mozilla Labs folks who assisted and guided the work. And finally, we are incredibly fortunate to have a totally awesome advisory group made up of folks spanning academia, development, federal agencies, industry and the open source world. They have been with us every step of the way, helping us vet ideas (and many times kill ideas), think through assumptions, etc. Thanks everyone!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011