Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BadgeKit, the Why


Just back from MozFest, where we announced BadgeKit, an Open Badges tool stack that will support the key pieces of the badging experience. This includes defining/designing, assessing, issuing, collecting/managing, sharing and using. BadgeKit will consist of open, lightweight tools that can snap together or be used alongside or within other sites or systems. Sunny and Jess both respectively wrote about it in more detail, but I wanted to dig into the “why”. 


Why BadgeKit, why now?

We’ve been pretty good about explaining the WHAT of our work, but I think we can be better about explaining the WHY. Often the WHY is because of feedback we’ve gotten from you, or because of a risk to ecosystem, etc. The WHY is always tied to our values. But I don’t think we talk about it enough. So, I wanted to take a second and jot some of my thinking on the WHY for BadgeKit down for folks to start that conversation:

[] Despite the progress we’ve made with interest and buy-in with badges, the gap between I get it and I have it is way too big. Platforms have emerged that are big, closed and expensive, and there is a huge risk of segmenting or closing large chunks of the ecosystem. Despite us promoting the ‘open’ part of Open Badges, its increasingly EASIER to build a closed system because of the limited availability of tools. We need to fix that. The ecosystem needs simple, easy, open options to move quickly and do so in a way that benefits the entire ecosystem. 

[] And building from that, we need to bake our values into the core so that it is easy to build badges and systems that are open, interoperable, transparent, learner-centric, etc. By offering a set of tools to scaffold badging, we have a chance to support our values even further. For example, we care a lot about the open standard (and in fact think that’s the most important piece of all of this), so we should make it REALLY easy to build badges that are aligned with that standard. Easier than building badges that DON’T align with the standard. 

[] But that’s not all. This isn’t a new idea out of nowhere, this is actually WHAT WE BUILT FOR CSOL, but more standalone, more complete, and more valuable to the broader ecosystem. We actually ALREADY HAVE BADGEKIT - we have all of the foundations. We are now really working to build out these tools in a way that makes them easy and accessible. 

[] Oh yeah and there are TONS of other organizations, cities and groups that want to do what Chicago did or something similar. Networked or ‘connected’ badges are the future - that’s the secret sauce that badges provide but we need the systems to support it. There are so many variables with these badge systems, that it seems to make sense to try to have some shared pieces to help minimize the burden and maximize the speed and efficiency of these roll outs. Plus, a shared technology infrastructure makes for easy sharing and leveraging across these networks. And if that technology is open and extensible, we all win.

[] Finally, we don’t have a bottom line. Building tools in a way that works well with other tools, and invites - even welcomes - competition, is not what any VC would recommend or support. Our priorities are ease of use, but also extensibility, interoperability and playing nice with others. We want to spend the time defining common interfaces so that you can use our issue tool with an assessment tool from somewhere else. Or pick up our build tool and make it better. We want more and better tools in the ecosystem, but the key is that they all work within the same open ecosystem. I don’t say all of this to be snobby, I think its a luxury that we can work this way. But also an obligation. That’s what makes Mozilla Mozilla, and I think we need to step up and build these foundational pieces to increase access and help everyone, including other open tool providers, thrive.

On the why now piece, the demand really speaks for itself. But above and beyond that, I’ve been reflecting back on this entire wild ride. In late 2010 (2010!), when badges was merely a few months old, there was a lot of pressure internally and externally to build an issuing platform. Brian and I, the only Open Badges employees at the time, resisted this at the time because we were afraid that if we did that, we’d too greatly influence the development of the badge ecosystem. We didn’t have a really solid idea of what a good badge looked like or how badge systems could work at that point. And whatever decisions we made and built into the platform would have heavily weighted the ecosystem out of the gate. We showed this diagram (below) all the time and repeated over and over that the stuff in the boxes (with the big blue lines around them) was independent of us, by design. We wanted to build the necessary pieces to support and not confine innovation at the edges, where the learning was taking place.


 And yet here we are building issuing tools. But I really think things are different now. We’ve seen a ton of badges and badge systems. We’ve built a ton ourselves. We’ve seen a market emerge around the tools, some done the right way, and some done the wrong way. We also know how to build more neutral systems, and our role in protecting and promoting the open standard. I still think that was the right decision initially, but also think that we’re really primed to do this now. 

When BadgeKit?

BadgeKit is already available for select partners - we’ve used it to support Chicago Summer of Learning, Connected Educator Month and Open Badges badges to date. We’ll continue to build out instances to support specific partners and campaigns that engage with us, but are aiming to release a free, open public beta of the standalone offerings in early March 2014. 

We really do need feedback from folks on this direction, as well as the specifics of BadgeKit. We keep saying “simple” and “easy” but need some help defining exactly what that means to people, what they need. We will need help prioritizing all of the potential features as well. And more. So look for more from us, and in the meantime, reach out and tell us what you think.


Monday, September 30, 2013

CSOL - How Did We Do?

The mornings are crisp and the leaves are turning rich colors here (you should come!)…it’s officially Fall. We’ve wrapped up the Chicago Summer of Learning and have had some time to reflect on how it went. 

It was helpful to start the debriefing process with a look back at what our original goals were back in what feels like years ago, but was only February of this year. Looking at the numbers through that lens has helped us start to thoroughly evaluate this summer. We, of course, want to supplement the raw numbers with more real feedback from youth and organizations and research, all of which is forthcoming.


  • Challenge all Chicago youth to learn over the summer
  • Call on all youth serving organizations to collaborate and support learning initiatives over the summer
  • Highlight opportunities in the city related to STEAM

Internally, we also aspired to:

  • Reach as many youth as possible, especially low-income or minority kids, get them to earn at least one badge (goal: 100,000)
  • Provide pathways for youth to encourage additional learning and ‘leveling up’ (goal: 1000 kids leveling up)
  • Get as many participating orgs as possible (goal: 100)
  • Make the badges ‘worth something’ (goal: avoid all ‘participation’ badges, engage CPS and local institutions to recognize badges)


The CSOL numbers:

  • Total orgs issuing badges: ~125
  • Total of badges available for earning: >1000
  • % badge types: 3% participation, 92% skill, 5% achievement
  • Total badges issued: ~150,000 (note: number includes some badges that are still in the process of being issued)
  • Total badges claimed to date: ~50,000
  • Total badges wish listed: >5000
  • Gender breakdown: of reported 53% Female, 47% Male
  • Race breakdown: of reported, 56% african american, 7% white, 6% asian, 29% latino/hispanic, 2% other
  • Age breakdown: of reported 26% under 13, 60% 13-17, 9% 18-24, 5% over 24
  • Average time on site: ~6 minutes
  • Total youth who earned city-level badges: ~600
  • Total youth who completed challenges, or successfully leveled up: ~300


What Went Well

When I look through these numbers, the initial reaction is wow. We can go down the goals and check them off across the board. Over 100 orgs and 1000+ badging opportunities represents not only a lot of coordination and collaboration that I am still shocked that we all could pull off in just a few months, but also an incredible coverage across the city and a heck of a lot of learning opportunities. The badges themselves were really great - with only a few orgs issuing badges simply for participation*, but most badges focused on skill development with robust assessment and criteria. The Chicago organizations really stepped up and came into this summer and this new concept of badging with open minds and a dedication that was astounding. Huge kudos to all of them - they are the ones with the content, experiences and relationships with youth that matter. The badges are just the recognizer on top of that learning. That said, the badges were very strong and DePaul University has already stepped up to say that they will accept some of the badges for credit in their institution, and CPS is working to define rewards and advancement that they can offer for the badges.

(*Note: this is not to say that participation badges are *bad*. There are many reasons why rewarding someone with an initial participation badge could be valuable, including motivating additional work, recognizing time commitment, etc. But we wanted to hold ourselves to a goal of having the majority of the badges tied to a deeper assessment, which they were)

Orgs issued over 100,000 badges this summer - that represents a lot of learning and a lot of youth. And there is diversity among those youth. Time on the site shows that youth (and parents) were spending time searching for things to learn or digging into the self-paced challenges that were available for youth on the site, and the wishlisted badges show that some youth were setting goals and into learning more.

Even though we had set a goal around 1000 youth leveling up, I was pretty worried about this one given the fact that many programs started later in the summer and often required multiple weeks of participation and learning before a badge was issued. In order to level up, kids had to not only earn a badge, but earn several within the same category (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts or Math). This most likely involved doing a combination of local learning programs and online self-paced challenges. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost 600 youth got to the city level badges and had access to the challenges, of which almost half of those completed challenges, which were not easy and required commitment and hard work. 

What Could Have Gone Better:

The part I am less wowed by is the disconnect between the badges issued and the amount that have been claimed. This number is less stark as it looks but only about 50% of badges issued were claimed and added to Backpacks. To explain this a bit, badges were issued one of two ways: 1) through an issuing tool built by Mozilla called OpenBadger that had an admin interface for org representatives where they could issue badges to youth emails, the youth or their parent had to click through the link in the email to accept the badge and have it show up in the youth’s backpack.  2) Organizations with offline learning experiences could also hand out paper badges with unique claim codes printed on each. The earning youth then needed to log on to the website and enter the claim code to see it in the Backpack. 

There is still some research to conduct, including some surveys and focus groups that folks are conducting to learn about what worked and didn’t work for kids this summer, but its likely that the lower number of badge acceptance most reflects breakdowns in the overall user experience. Many youth haven’t checked their emails, or didn’t click through links of the original, text-only emails. Some might not have had access to a computer at all to claim or accept the badges. Others may have lost the paper badges - its likely there are lots stuffed down in corners of physical backpacks - before they could claim them. Another option is that kids just didn’t care about the badges, or didn’t understand the value, so that’s something we’re exploring more. 

While, as I mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of kids leveling up, we did not hit that initial goal of 10% of kids. Some of this can also be attributed to user experience design, some of this was the relatively short amount of time to learn and earn and level up. I also think there is an opportunity to design and promote challenges in a way that even more connects directly to youth interests and real opportunities. I’d love to see more challenges next year that show youth completing real projects for their neighborhoods or the city of Chicago. Or developing skills that are directly tied to career pathways, jobs and internships.

In general, the numbers were again, impressive, but I think we can do more. Through a combination of improved tools, better user experience design, more and better training and more marketing and communication, I think we can bring more organizations on board, reach more youth and see more accepted badges.


There is a big assumption in that last statement: that we are doing another CSOL in 2014. I think there was a resounding consensus in a recent meeting in Chicago that the results of this year’s summer were compelling enough to demonstrate the value and promise of this work. So there will be a CSOL 2014, and in fact, maybe something more on the lines of CYOL (Chicago Year of Learning or something like that). Lots of details to work out on the goals, roles and specifics for that work, but given that we are building from a foundation and set of findings, as well as starting those conversations in September instead of a few months before launch, to me, means the possibilities are enormous and exciting.

We’ve learned so much this summer about what it takes to build a badge system at this level, how we can better the tools, who to invite to the table from the get-go, and more. Lots of work to do to get to a 2.0, but there are a lot of pretty clear marching orders. Look from more blog posts from me and the team on these lessons learned and thoughts for moving forward on our pieces.

Also, turns out that Chicago is and will continue to be a hub for innovation and advancement with badging, but another exciting development is that more cities are interested in building something similar to CSOL in their neighborhoods and I think we’re going to see not only more geographical reach, but also a significant amount of more learning and youth impacted in less than a year.   



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

(More) Reflections on the Badge Summit

My last post on the Badge Summit was more of a ‘here’s what happened’, but wanted to follow that up with some of my own reflections and inspirations. 

Distributed leadership: We talk a lot transparency and community-driven development at Mozilla, and certainly within Open Badges. Our aspirations are so high, that it would be impossible to begin to even start to meet them without a movement, without markets, without more and more people not just involved, but driving things forward. We want to build a new system for credentialing and accreditation, we want to redefine learning - there’s no way one, or even three, organizations could do that. We need the full ecosystem fully realized and fully empowered. But one thing that became even more clear at the summit was that we are well on our way. I was awed by the leadership and work that folks in the room represented. There is so much that other people are already doing and contributing, we just have to make sure we are coming together from time to time to swap stories and celebrate the success. 

Exemplars: The word of the day(s) at the event was “exemplar”. There were a few that even threatened to start a drinking game. But whether it was in the conversations about marketing and communications, or in a group focused specifically on higher education or workforce, it’s clear that the most critical way forward is to have working proofs of concept for each of the stories that we need to tell or use cases that we want to show. Exemplars allow us to scope and focus in on building something specific quickly, that then can be a model that other similar groups or organizations can follow. They also can also function as a laboratory where were are advancing the tools and experiences, while also learning a significant amount about what works and what doesn’t. CSOL is a great example of an exemplar because it includes a bunch of ‘new’ stuff that before were often only ideas or theories: network-level badging, earning badges across many informal learning experiences, leveling kids up through pathways and translating learning back into schools and local businesses. It’s a mini version of the ecosystem that we can see results of in a 3 month time period instead of 3 years, or whatever turns out to be. We need to do more of these. (And I don’t mean just ‘we’ as in Mozilla, but ‘we’ as the broader badging community. Mozilla will most likely do some but there are many that need to be defined, recruited for, designed, tested, communicated, etc.)

Local: Building off of the last one, there was a lot of interest in ‘cities’ at the summit - thinking about badges in a local context as a key set of exemplars. To me this is really exciting for a number of reasons, including the same thing I said before which is that we are building mini ecosystems, with all of the players - issuers, learners, validators, employers, schools, etc. - in the mix and at the table from the get-go. This is super powerful because it moves us away from some of the philosophical rabbit holes that we often get stuck in - like “How are badges validated? Do they have meaning?” - and make those questions concrete and addressable. City-level anything, let alone badge systems, are also really hard to do and there is tremendous learning involved. If we can make it work at the city level, then we’re in a good place for addressing needs at each org-level and even at the ecosystem-level in many ways. And finally, badges in the local community / city context have real meaning for those earners in their lives right away. So regardless of what happens in the broader ecosystem, those badges meant and will mean something to those learners. Let’s do more cities.

Small data: Another recurring theme, which I actually first heard at the DML conference, but then came up again at the summit was “small data”. The idea of personalized data tracking or even local community-level data, that can give you real-time feedback on who you are, what you can do, what you are doing, what role you play, etc., and help you choose your pathway or alter your behavior in the process. It’s the quantified self idea, but for learning. I’m not sure exactly what it means yet but I love the idea of learners owning their data and that being a powerful mechanism for driving choices, opportunity, evidence, etc. 

Learning GPS: As we sketched out our own perspectives on the current state of the ecosystem a new role appeared several times across the sticky notes. The idea of a person or an organization that helps learners choose pathways. We dubbed it “learning GPS”. This exists right now in coaches or career advisors, but badges actually makes this an easier and more powerful role because they can surface the universe or ‘map’ of learning opportunities, all backed by information and data to show the value and endorsements of each step along the way. Exciting possibilities!

These were just a few of the themes and reflections that I left with. I’m sure there are more and will try to add to this as I continue to process all of the goodness that came out of the two days in Toronto. 


Friday, August 9, 2013

Badge Vision Summit

This week kicked off with a meeting of badge minds in Toronto. Around 30 of us packed into the lovely Centre for Social Innovation to discuss the emerging badge ecosystem and how to drive the next era of the badge work together. We were, you know, socially innovating. :)

A common theme was that the badges work is bigger than one organization, certainly bigger than Mozilla. There is SO much to do, and there are many roles that need filling, and more everyday as the ecosystem and market(s) grow. We’re already seeing leaders emerging beyond the initial Mozilla, MacArthur, HASTAC work and this meeting was about celebrating and honoring that, as well as encouraging more ownership to tackle key pieces that the ecosystem needs. 

Day 1 was about visioning (what’s our shared vision of success) and level setting (what’s out there already). Day 2 was digging into some of the key questions, opportunities and challenges, with the focus on building working groups around them and getting actionable plans in place.

Core topics included:

  • Ecosystem: We talk about this all the time. But what does the ecoystem actually include/look like at this point? What are the roles to be played? What are the pieces that still need special attention? More to come - including a fancy visual - on this piece.
  • Sector specific needs: What are the specific needs and value propositions for badges from each sector? What’s the right messaging for each? What features, answers or examples do they need in order to move forward?
  • CGI: How can we get to 2M better futures in two years?
  • Exemplars: What stories do we need to tell and what are the partnerships, strategies and badges systems that we can help build to tell those stories. 
  • Cities: how can we capture all of our learning from CSOL in a way that makes this easy for other cities to do this ‘right’?
  • Federation / Toolstacks / Localization: How can we design the infrastructure, tools and services to support the most scale, adoption and contribution? Another way to say this, is how do we design and build for a healthy and thriving ecosystem?
  • Endorsement: This one is huge and means many different things to many different people. Let’s put some definition around it and figure out the short term plans for demonstrating the idea (hint: exemplars!)

We also have plans for a shared user research framework and outreach plan, building the overall foundation of research and findings to back the work, creating a shared resource repository, encouraging innovative assessments within the badge ecosystem, and more. It was a busy two days… 

There is a core documentation team that will be generating a report to share all of the conversations, plans, etc. Look for that in the next couple of months. 

All-in-all, I was excited and inspired by the two days and really looking forward to keeping the momentum going. Many thanks to the participants who traveled from far and wide, including across oceans, as well as our fantastic facilitator, Gunner, who kept the motley crew on task.

Additionally, its worth noting that this event was by no means the comprehensive set of leaders in the badge work. We wanted to ensure that key perspectives and specialties were represented, but above and beyond that, last minute plans, summer schedules, budget, etc. also influenced the attendee list. We hope and plan to pull many more into the conversations and work as we go (if there are any up there that you know you want to be part of, let us know!). That said, don’t wait for an invitation - keep doing what you are doing, share your work, jump into conversations, etc. The only way we win is together. 

More to come - thanks!


Monday, July 29, 2013

Badge Camp

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



Friday, July 5, 2013

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:

  1. Help every kid in Chicago, or even visiting Chicago, learn something and have evidence of that learning (i.e. get a badge)
  2. Provide pathways and encourage kids to learn more (i.e. discover and motivate more learning through the badges)
  3. 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!)

2. Technology

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. 


Thursday, June 13, 2013

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.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

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.


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)