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.
The Evolution of Badges, DML-by-DML
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!)
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:
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.
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.
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)
Webmaker Badges Roadmap
It’s roadmappin’ time again, folks. I’ve shifted my focus a bit to zero in on making badges a success and that has two pieces:
- Web literacy badges
- The Open Badge Infrastructure and wider badge ecosystem
This roadmap covers the web literacy badges plan for the rest of the year. Look for the OBI roadmap to follow shortly.
WEB LITERACY BADGES
Objective #1: Build the web literacy standard.
I’ve written about this before and done a bunch of thinking about it sense. This is a different spin on the work we’ve done so far to define the skills that we think are the core pieces of being web literate, or having those literacies. The goal is to co-create and maintain a learning standard with a bunch of partners - and then for us all to align to that standard and work together toward this common goal of creating a web literate planet.
We don’t yet know what the ‘product’ for the standard looks like, but we’ll be digging into that more deeply over the next few weeks. If you are interested in learning more, we’re hosting a virtual meeting next Thursday, Feb 7th. Join us!
Objective #2: Build more web literacy badges.
We rolled out the first set of web literacy badges last November through Webmaker, that covered some basic web competencies like HTML and CSS. Obviously, that is a small slice of our vision of web literacy and we want to expand the badge offering to cover more skills - ultimately to provide learning pathways and badges for all of them.
Objective #3: Build assessment pathways.
This is the fuzziest of our objectives because we could do it in lots of different ways. Ultimately, we want to give people a way to demonstrate the web skills they have, regardless of where or how they learned them, and get assessed and earn recognition (badges) for those skills. This could manifest as a mechanism for submitting a link to something you built to the Mozilla community to assess and then earning one of our badges. Or it could involve building mini assessments aligned with each competency/skill that you can come back to us to demonstrate your skills, or you could take those assessments and build them into your own curriculum, etc. Lots of things to decide on but lots of exciting potential directions.
Objective #4: Launch the New Backpack.
This is where the two roadmaps intersect a bit. The Backpack in the Open Badge Infrastructure is a repository and management interface for each badge earner. Right now, they can use their Backpack to collect badges across issuers, create groups and publish them and share out badges. It’s the, as we like to say at Mozilla, minimal viable product of what people could do with their Backpacks. We have lots of ideas of expanding on that to include dashboards, goal setting, discovery of other learning opportunities and finding mentors. We will most likely build this for Webmaker first and then role it into the broader ecosystem solution.
What Success Looks Like:
These are sort of cheating as far as success metrics go, but its still early and just want to give an idea of what we’d feeling like celebrating:
- Launch the learning standard for web literacy
- Have lots of other orgs and people aligning with it
- Offer learning pathways and badges for all of the competencies/skills
- See lots and lots of people earning and sharing these badges
How We Will Get There:
Tons of work to do and here’s how it will roll out over the year:
- Web Literacy Standard kick off and launch
- Early prep / prototypes for more badges
- Launch second wave of web lit badges
- Launch peer assessment
- Continued standard iteration and partner recruitment
- Launch larger Mozilla-wide badge system
- First prototypes of assessment pathways
- Additional integration in Webmaker
- Launch full set of web literacy badges
- Launch assessment pathways
- Launch Dashboard / New Backpack
Let me know what you think!